Oatmeal-Raisin Philosophy

When it comes to homemade cookies, Americans usually fall into one of two camps: Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. Now, before going further, let me make clear that cookie persuasion does not in any way preclude one from enjoying the crumb of another. That is to say, despite one's undying love for a chocolate chip cookie at any hour of the day, every once in a while, a hankering for an oatmeal raisin surfaces and it must be satisfied. After all, it's important to experience life from a different angle and taste what another camp has to offer.

Oatmeal raisin cookies waiting to be dunked. (Kim O'Donnel)

Recently, I dipped my toes into the oatmeal-raisin pool, and I must admit, the water was lovely. It all got started during my Saturday morning shop at Arlington Courthouse farm market. While paying for a loaf of country white from the stand at Atwater's, a Baltimore-based bakery-café, I noticed bags of cookies for sale. I asked the nice woman who always bags my bread what was on offer and she spouted off at least five kinds, oatmeal raisin the last to be mentioned. The words were the music I wanted to hear.

And as it turned out, these cookies possessed all the right notes. Chewy, not soft. Raisin-y, slightly cinnamon-y, and just enough oat-butter ratio. The precious bag of jewels disappeared by the next day.

To my surprise, my hankering hung around, like a cat in a need of a scratch. I began to scour the cabinets for oats and pored through a few old reliable sources for recipe ideas. Many of them -- including Joy of Cooking, Nick Malgieri's "Cookies Unlimited" and the lid of the Quaker Oats container -- called for 2 sticks of butter, which sounded excessive. I wanted something offering a more of a happy medium.

I turned to my first cookbook, "The New Basics Cookbook," which I bought in 1989, the year after I graduated from college. Now stained and in need of new binding, this book got me through my early days as a home cook. On page 741, there was an adhesive arrow pointing to "Lacy Oatmeal Cookies." In spite of the archival reminder, I couldn't remember when I first made these.

As luck would have it, the recipe is more moderate, calling for 1 stick of butter and 1 egg. The results: decidedly chewy, with a nice crisp edge from the butter, plenty of raisins (maybe even a wee too much) and enough oats to feel hearty. Success!

In the course of my research, I learned that Nick Malgieri has tweaked his aformentioned butter-laden oatmeal raisin cookie recipe in a new cookbook, "Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories Per Generous Serving." (How's that for a title?) Applesauce is the magic ingredient, replacing much of the butter fat, but a little is retained for flavor. I'll report back when I try Malgieri's enlightened version.

To all chocolate chip members: Don't be mad at me; I promise equal treatment in a blog soon coming your way. For now, though, tell me, what is your cookie affiliation? Share in the comments area below, and if you've got a recipe to share, let's get busy!

Talk to me, today at noon, for the first of two live chats this week.

Lacy Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

1 ½ cups quick-cooking rolled oats
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1 teaspoon instead)
½ teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (packed) brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup dried currants (I used nearly 1 cup raisins instead)
¼ cup chopped walnuts (I omitted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets (I did so with cooking spray.)
Toss oats, flour, cinnamon and baking soda together in a bowl.

Cream butter and both sugars together in a mixing bowl until combined and a bit fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Slowly beat in dry ingredients. At some point, you may want to use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to incorporate mixture. Add dried fruit and nuts, if using.

Drop batter by rounded teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto prepared baking sheets and bake until golden, 10 minutes. Leave cookies on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool.

Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 14, 2006; 8:59 AM ET Cookies
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I have champion Snickerdoodles. Really -- I won a champion ribbon at our county fair a few years back with a batch of plain old cinnamon-topped Snickerdoodles. This recipe is standard in most Betty Crocker cookbooks (OOOOOHHHH, did I say a dirty word?) Betty Crocker was the patron saint of most high school home ec teachers back before you were born and when only girls took home ec and only guys took auto shop.

My mom first made Snickerdoodles in the mid-1950's from a recipe on a bag of Gold Medal flour. We kids thought the name was funny and now it has become an annual Christmas tradition to bake several batches and give tins full of them as gifts. My sister-in-law especially asks for them, and I make a batch for the teenager next door who cuts my grass in the summer. He loves them. My bosses get them, too, because they really appreciate home-made baked goods for the holidays. I believe it's a German or Pennsylvania Dutch cookie, it does NOT contain vanilla extract, chocolate or nuts of any kind. Just butter, flour, sugar, eggs, salt, cream of tartar, and topped with a mix of cinnamon and sugar. A real treat with a glass of cold milk or cup of tea.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | November 14, 2006 11:47 AM

LOVE plain oatmeal cookies (NO raisins, please). But I also love my grandmother's specialty, called "Rangers" that include oatmeal, Rice Krispies and coconut. YUMMY!

So, you have now solved my musings as to what to make as a suitable fall-inflected treat that is not (yet!) pumpkin pie.

Also reminds me of a oatmeal lace cookie my mom used to make. I'll have to dig out a recipe-- it was a thinner-than-usual dough that was placed onto foil for baking. When baked, it spread enough that it really did look like lace-- it was quite thin, with gaps between the strands of oatmeal lace.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Posted by: Meg | November 14, 2006 11:52 AM

I like dried cranberries instead of raisins in my oatmeal cookies. Instead of picking sides, use chocolate chips instead of raisins in the cookies!

Posted by: 20010 | November 14, 2006 12:08 PM

The small but vocal champions of the sugar cookie need some love! For my family thinly rolled buttery crunchy sugar cookies are a holiday tradition, iced with an oddly addictive multicolored powdered sugar/milk concoction. Sorry... the recipe is a family secret. :)

Posted by: Sugar Cookie | November 14, 2006 12:19 PM

We're usually an oatmeal chocolate chip family, but the cold, rainy weather on Sunday had me hankering for molasses cookies. The cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves define the flavors of autumn.

Posted by: Chapel Hill | November 14, 2006 12:22 PM

We've solved the problem: oatmeal-raisin-chocolate chip cookies! They're just about the only kind we ever make, and if you're rushed, make them in a pan as bars. Perfect!

Posted by: Cindy in Phoenix | November 14, 2006 12:35 PM

I'm more of a peanut-butter-cookie-with-chocolate-kiss-added girl (they're easy and yummy), and my boyfriend has firmly stated that ranger cookies (which have all kinds of things in them, but no raisins least how I make 'em) are his fave by far.

Posted by: C is for Cookie, Is good Enough for me! | November 14, 2006 12:47 PM

Down with raisins! Up with DARK chocolate chips or chopped dried mangoes or apricots or apple sauce!

Posted by: bigolpoofter | November 14, 2006 12:55 PM

With all due respect to the chocolate-chippers, I think oatmeal cookie people are what chocolate-chip people become when they grow up. When I was younger I used to love chocolate chips (who doesn't?). I spent a long time looking for the perfect CC recipe before I found that it's the Thick and Chewy version in the Best Recipe book from America's Test Kitchen--when my husband comes home from an overseas business trip, he never wants anything but a burrito from Chipotle and some of those cookies. But I think at some point I got all chipped out. Now the subtle, grainy, spicy flavor of oatmeal-raisin is what works best for me. Or, even better, molasses-spice cookies (also from the Best Recipe book), or pecan sandies (the recipe called Sand Tarts in The New Elegant and Easy Cookbook is the best I've found).

Posted by: Carmen | November 14, 2006 1:49 PM

My favorite is my aunt's oatmeal cookie recipe with coconut, raisins and walnuts! She gave it to me when I graduated from college and even my daughter likes them, even though she does not like nuts in cookies. They are chewy with a crisp edge.

Posted by: Anne | November 14, 2006 2:06 PM

i saw a recipe recently for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with orange rind. now that sounds like a great combinatio of the two. and i echo the comments above about betty croker cookbook and cookies. there is a "cooky cookbook" of BC that is a classic. it is being published anew. saw it on the shelves last christmas. it's a must have for all the classics.

Posted by: linda | November 14, 2006 2:40 PM

Ranger cookies! I agree with the post above -- they're my go-to cookie. I've always tried to recreate the pies, breads and cookies that one of our neighbors made while we were growing up. It took me 30 years, but I finally baked a batch of orange cookies that were close to the ones I remember --- cakey and really high. Unfortunately, I'm limited to baking only a few things a year for fear of wearing the extra pounds around my middle, so I don't get to practice much!

Posted by: alexandria | November 14, 2006 2:53 PM

I'm a big fan of Oatmeal Scotchies. That's oatmeal cookies w/ butterscotch chips in them. Recipe is on the back of the butterscotch chip package. Yum!

Posted by: jlr | November 14, 2006 2:55 PM

I like plain oatmeal cookies that are really chewy. I don't have a good recipe though! My favorite cookie by far is shortbread, and Mark Bittman's recipe in "How to Cook Everything" is a winner.

Posted by: butter nut | November 14, 2006 3:05 PM

I love that you are including recipes that are lower in butter/fat! They are much appreciated! I mean, I love a good cookie, but I don't love feeling like I've eaten a lb. of butter when I'm finished ... For some reason, I often make oatmeal cookies when I'm at the tail end of a cold - they seem to be the comfort food my body wants as it's recovering from being sick.

Posted by: nicole | November 14, 2006 3:18 PM

I highly recommend the oatmeal cookie recipe in The New Best Recipe: gigantic, chewy, delicious. The ginger variation is my favorite.

Posted by: Elizabeth | November 14, 2006 3:28 PM

I can't help remarking that your recipe has half the butter but also half the oats of the recipe I remember from the Quaker Oats box. I like my oats!

Posted by: Providence | November 14, 2006 3:55 PM

Hard to choose--oatmeal is the perfect fall/winter cookie to bite into yet chocolate chip is the great comfort standby. I guess my leaning to chocolate chip is due to there just aren't that many good oatmeal cookies out there, making me reluctant to try the unknown. But either way: one cookie of either is better than no cookie of neither!

p.s. I always add a full tablespoon (instead of the customary 1 tsp) of real vanilla extract to my chocolate chip cookies. It gives them a delicious, fuller flavor.

Posted by: DC | November 14, 2006 4:35 PM

Not a big fan of raisins in my oatmeal cookies. It has puzzled me for years why someone would ruin a great batch of oatmeal cookies by adding raisins to it. I find myself nibbling on the cookie to ensure that I do not ingest a raisin which ruins the entire experience. Don't get me wrong I am not anti-raisin. I like raisins in trail mix, cereal and all by themselves, but why ruin such a fantastic cookie by adding raisins to it?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 14, 2006 4:43 PM

Hi Kim,

I also have a "New Basics" that I bought 15 years ago -- and mine is also falling apart! I've been debating whether to buy a new one just so I don't have to replace all the pages that fall out whenever I open it, but I haven't been able to bring myself to buy a cookbook that I already have!

Posted by: Carrie | November 14, 2006 4:59 PM

I'm currently enjoying oatmeal raisin cookies up at school in Syracuse from Wegmans... if you have not visited one of the DC-areas stores, please do and get some of the bite-size cookies that are WONDERFUL! especially when you have little time or means of baking.

Posted by: college kid | November 14, 2006 5:22 PM

I have to second the dried cranberries. MMMMM It's a little tart (if you can find the ones without tons of sugar) in with the sweet.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 14, 2006 6:34 PM

Just made some banana oatmeal raisin cookies...used only half a stick of butter, and had no eggs so I used an additional banana as substitute. Yeah, I'm a guy. But the cookies were delicious.

Posted by: Dirk | November 14, 2006 8:01 PM

Give me the salty oat cookies at Teaism any day. But what's the recipe?

Posted by: JS | November 14, 2006 9:02 PM

My brother-in-law makes the best Chocolate Chip Cookies hands down. Regular Toll House recipie. I think it has something to do with how well he creams the butter and sugar. Mom had an oatmeal raisin cookie that called for bringing the raisins to a simmer, cooling and adding raisins and their liquid to the dough. Then there are a couple of cookies from the church cookbooks of my mother's hometown that I remember fondly: Iced Pumpkin Cookies and Mincemeat Cookies. Both types of cookies are soft, sweet, and spicy.

Thanks for the cookie memories.

Posted by: mel | November 14, 2006 10:26 PM

Well, if Carmen's hypothesis is correct, maybe I'm midway along the path to maturity! My all time favorites came to me via the Post food section during the Bush vs Gore election season; a cook-off between Laura Bush's "Cowboy Cookies" and Tipper Gore's Gingersnaps. Politics notwithstanding, the Cowboy Cookies were the hands-down winner. They are a chewy, cinnamon-y, choco chip, coconut, oatmeal dream!

Posted by: SEL | November 15, 2006 11:32 AM

I love both and crave them at different times! Funny you mention this, because a co-worker and I just recently had this discussion oatmeal raisin v. chocolate-chip. She prefers chocolate-chip.

Posted by: Lisa | November 15, 2006 5:36 PM

i have to admit that for a treat i love the quaker oat recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies. yes, they do call for 2 sticks of butter, but i think the recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies total or some crazy huge amount like that. anyway, just wanted to defend my old oaty favorites... don't write them off completely (just make them as a special treat...afterall, they are cookies, not health food).

Posted by: oat-ilicious | November 15, 2006 6:19 PM

I have never liked oatmeal raisin cookies much. But I tried this simple recipe from Gourmet magazine (that I've copied from epicurious.com) and it makes the best plain oatmeal cookies ever. They are just perfect -- you can taste every ingredient and yet the cookies taste like more than the sum of the parts. Slightly crispy, yet chewy. Try 'em.

Oatmeal Cookies

Active time: 25 min. Start to finish: 35 min.

1 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease baking sheets. Stir together oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Beat together butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined well. Add oat mixture and beat until just combined.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets and flatten mounds slightly with moistened fingers. Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 12 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes 24 cookies.

September 1999

Posted by: Chris in Vienna | November 16, 2006 6:04 PM

Oh! One more thing about oatmeal cookies...if you must make them with stuff in them, try a mixture of semi-sweet chips, walnuts, and dried tart cherries. Oh yeah, baby!

Posted by: Chris in Vienna | November 16, 2006 6:09 PM

My dentist requests my oatmeal cookies with just white chocolate chips. Very good, but I find that craisins also give them a neat splash of color, when added with the white chocolate chips.

Also: for a richer flavor, I use less white sugar and more brown sugar. Mmmm.....

Posted by: NCC - Laurel | November 17, 2006 12:14 PM

I replaced the raisins in a recipe with an almost equal weight of shredded sweetened coconut--yum! like a whole new cookie. omitted the cinnamon. My husband thinks they're the best cookies every. Didn't even notice the whole wheat flour (KA White Whole Wheat--will use this 100% next time)

Posted by: Kerry | November 20, 2006 2:40 AM

Hey NCC - Laurel, I hear ya on the King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour -- that stuff rocks in oatmeal cookies! I use it 100% in the recipe I posted above, and you'd never guess it. It doesn't work w/ Toll House cookies, but oh well.

My husband loves coconut; maybe I will try it in oatmeal cookies sometime. thanks

Posted by: Chris in Vienna | November 21, 2006 4:38 PM

Now I want some cookies.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 21, 2006 5:17 PM

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