Why It Works
- Warm butter provides moisture to hydrate the oats, which thicken the dough after a short rest.
- Dried cranberries or cherries balance the sweetness of the dough.
- Traditional all-purpose flour offers the right starch and protein content for tender cookies that spread as they should, so steer clear of unbleached alternatives.
I'm absolutely indiscriminate about good cookies. Snappy, chewy, sandy, crispy—whatever it is, I'll take two. I like making macarons, and florentines, and Oreos, and fussy cookies that take all day. I don't mind busting out a cloth cover to painstakingly roll out my aunt Donna's pepparkakor, and it's no bother to keep raw cane sugar on hand for absurdly perfect gingersnaps.
And yet, I find myself making oatmeal cookies more than any other. When I'm at home, everything else seems like Schrödinger's cookie: an interesting possibility. But oatmeal cookies are so real I can smell them, and once I've got that butterscotch-y aroma in mind, I can taste them. Warm and soft and chewy and crisp around the edges.
When it gets to the point that I'm fantasizing about imaginary cookies, I'm halfway to the kitchen.
The wild and unpredictable onset of my craving has taught me a lot about oatmeal cookies, because it makes me impatient. On the one hand, it's helped me develop a one-bowl recipe that comes together as quickly as I can scale the ingredients. On the other, it's shown me that certain corners refuse to be cut.
When is Butter Melted Just Right?
The first is melted butter, and little baby Goldilocks has to have things just right. Too cool, and the grainy dough refuses to spread. Too hot, and it's an oily mess that oozes in a puddle (though said puddle is tasty, all butterscotch-y and crisp). But when the butter is warm and fluid, about 105°F (41°C), give or take five degrees, everything's perfect.
Sugar dissolves a bit in the warmth, while rolled oats and flour soak up the water, making a dough that's smooth and easy to handle. The cookies themselves bake up chewy and crisp, though the first tray has always looked more irregular than the second, which never bothered me at all. I figured it had something to do with dough temperature, and the urgency of my cravings cared nothing for aesthetics. So far as I was concerned, it was a cook's treat: those funky, unpresentable bits that are always scarfed while you stand at the stove. I kept the uglies for myself and sent the beauties to friends and neighbors.
Most of the time.
How to Make Perfect Oatmeal Cookies
Eventually, my oatmeal cookie fascination got the better of me, and I stole a bite from the second tray. A light shone all around, and I basked in the glory of revelation: It wasn't the dough temperature, it was the oats!
Whether old-fashioned or thick-cut, rolled oats are made by roasting and steaming whole oat groats, then sending them through a roller. (Obscure knowledge bomb—instant oats are made the same way, but with steel-cut oats.) Anyhow, steam does something interesting: It pre-gelatinizes the starch, making rolled oats soluble in cold water.
That lets them swell up with moisture from the dough, and when grains swell, they soften. So the oats in the second batch get tenderer, the dough gets thicker, and everyone but me gets a better cookie. Oh, the irony of my impatience!
Since then, I've learned that perfect oatmeal cookies are worth the wait. Twenty-five minutes (roughly the time that passes between adding the oats and getting my second tray in the oven) of resting time is enough to see a distinct improvement; 45 is even better. After an hour, the baking soda starts to lose its strength, but you still won't notice any negative effect on your cookies until about the 90-minute mark. Holding the dough overnight is out of the question.
That's okay, though. You'll be making them again soon enough.
PS: Swap out traditional raisins for tart dried cranberries or cherries. They balance out the sweetness of the cookies so much better.
One-Bowl Oatmeal Cookies
6 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks; 170g), fluid and warm—roughly 105°F (41°C)
1 tablespoon (15ml) vanilla extract
1 large egg, cold (about 50g)
7 ounces light brown sugar (3/4 cup, gently packed; 200g)
7 ounces white sugar (1 cup; 200g)
2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt; half as much by volume if using table salt (7g of either kosher or table salt by weight)
1 teaspoon (3g) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (3g) baking soda
7 ounces old fashioned rolled oats—not quick-cooking or instant (2 cups; 200g)
6 ounces all-purpose flour, not unbleached (1 1/4 cups; 170g)
7 ounces dried cranberries or cherries (1 1/4 cups; 200g)
Adjust oven rack to middle position, preheat to 350°F (180°C), and line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment (not wax paper).
Combine butter, vanilla, egg, brown sugar, white sugar, kosher salt, cinnamon, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Stir until no lumps remain, then fold in rolled oats, followed by the flour and dried cranberries or cherries. Divide into 30 one-ounce portions with a roughly 2-tablespoon scoop and arrange on prepared baking sheets. Let stand at room temperature for at least 25 minutes, no more than 75 minutes.
Bake until pale gold around the edges, but still puffed and steamy in the center, about 15 minutes. Cool directly on baking sheets until firm, about 10 minutes. Enjoy warm, or store in an airtight container up to 3 days at room temperature.
#30 or #40 cookie scoop, 2 rimmed baking sheets
If the temperature drops below 70°F (21°C) in your kitchen, the cookie dough may solidify as it rests. If possible, set the trays of cookie dough on the stovetop, where heat from the oven will knock off the chill.
Due to the melted butter that brings the baking soda in contact with brown sugar, this dough will not keep overnight in the fridge.
In this recipe, unbleached flour will prevent the dough from spreading as it should.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 5g||7%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||15%|
|Total Carbohydrate 28g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 18g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|