Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving from A Book of Cookrye!

 Well it seems like we've collectively decided that the pandemic is over-ish. It also seems a lot of my friends and acquaintances are having merry gatherings with their also-vaccinated nearest and dearest, and we at A Book of Cookrye are no exception. This year, we were asked to make the rolls to go with dinner. Which we did. The entire batch was perfect on top. But if you turned them over, you could see a perfect demonstration of how unevenly the oven cooks.

That is not a shadow over the pan.


If you're not the person saying "I spent all night waiting for these to rise!" you might think it's really neat to see such a perfect gradient from lightly browned to a perfect charcoal black.

I thought about severing the tops of the burnt ones and turning them into croutons or something, but for once I just threw them out. This caused much relief in a household that has seen some increasingly suspicious attempts to repurpose culinary failures.

I think it's a pretty appropriate way to launch the first (not-)post-pandemic holiday season! Remember friends, get vaxxed if you haven't, and wear masks when you make pit stops during any long drive!

Thursday, November 4, 2021

The crispiest (attempted slice-and-bake) oatmeal cookies I have ever made

An interest was expressed in oatmeal cookies. I could have used the recipe in the big Better Homes and Gardens binder cookbook, but it uses only one egg in a recipe that makes like five dozen cookies. We do not have enough people to eat five dozen cookies in this house, (Well, we would definitely eat them all but I would have to start letting out everyone's clothes. If you do any sewing, you will know that letting out modern store-bought clothes usually involves coming up with a lot of extra fabric to insert into your to-be-expanded garment, which is a lot more work than making fewer cookies.)

Oatmeal Cookies
½ c shortening or schmaltz
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ c brown sugar
½ c white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1½ c quick-cooking oatmeal
½ c nuts*
¾ c flour

Cream shortening, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs and vanilla. Alternately add the flour and oatmeal, then stir in the nuts.
The recipe then tells you to shape the dough into logs, wrap them, and refrigerate overnight before slicing and baking the next day. I tried it and most of my cookie slices crumbled. If yours do the same, or if you want to save time, roll the dough into small balls and then flatten them between your hands.
Bake at 350° until just barely darkened around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Put in a tightly sealed container after they cool.

*I used raisins instead.
I added a few shakes of cinnamon as well.

Source: Mary Fedor (Streator, Illinois), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

Now, a word about ingedients. The recipe tells us to use either shortening or schmaltz (viz. chicken fat). We decided to almost use schmaltz, except with a change of species.


Back in the Before Times, we used to get the extra-lean hamburger and skip draining it. Now we have this big tub of economization in the refrigerator. 

We've already found that beef fat doesn't add any meat flavor to anything (if it did, we wouldn't have put it in shortbread twice). The recipe says we should use chicken fat (or shortening). I don't think Mary Fedor would mind too much if we used cow fat instead. 

And here we have the proto-cookie sludge! After this point, I looked at how much flour this sugary gravy is supposed to receive and decided the hand mixer couldn't handle it. Also, at this point I added some cinnamon because I like that extra flavor in oatmeal cookies.

At this point, I reached into the pantry for the oatmeal and found that-- horrors-- we only had the instant kind! Surely this meant the end of our oatmeal cookie endeavors until the next grocery trip. A lot of recipe guides will tell you to use the quick-cooking oats in cookies but never the instant kind lest your oatmeal cookies die a horrible death. In my baking class, when we made a massive batch of oatmeal cookies for some faculty lunch, we were given dire warnings about how using the instant oats would ruin everything. 

Oddly enough, no one ever says why. Since we weren't going to put this half-finished cookie dough in the refrigerator until we could get the proper, Fornax-approved oatmeal for the cookies, we decided to bear the risk of oven explosions and whatever other kitchen disasters might ensue from the use of incorrect oats. (Fornax, as you either already know or are about to, is the Roman goddess of the oven.)

This may be the picture of culinary ruin.

Usually, recipes tell you to get the cookie dough completely mixed before adding the oatmeal, raisins, or whatever else. I always figured it was so you could tell whether you had any unmixed flour clumps before they hid themselves amongst the oatmeal. But this recipe tells us to add them alternately, and I'm not going to argue with someone whose recipe got accepted by the Cookbook Committee (always capitalized). 

With the last of the oatmeal, I added the raisins. I like raisins as much as those children who get them while trick-or-treating. I was especially disappointed after one of those how-to-eat-healthy talks I went to for the free food. The registered dietician told us that raisins are basically candy as far as nutrition is concerned, leaving me to think about how many times I could have just eaten chocolate instead. But I like raisins in oatmeal cookies. They add little concentrated spots of tartness that makes the cookies so much nicer. 

The recipe tells us that these are icebox cookies. I want to warn anyone following along at home that there is no dignified way to make a log of oatmeal cookie dough.


Making a slice-and-bake log of oatmeal cookies is about as embarrassing as baking brownies in a cornstick pan. I thought it was bad enough making brown logs of chocolate icebox cookie dough, but these are worse. If you make these, be sure to have a frying pan ready to swing at any attempters of scatological humor. Otherwise the jokes will get too repetitive for the unarmed.

I could more easily keep a straight face while making novelty bachelorette party dingledongle cupcakes than making these.

Depending on your perspective, these lovely logs were either worse or better when frozen enough to, er, stand on their own.

All this business of refrigerated cookies to slice and bake proved a waste of time. This is what happened when I tried to cut them.

A few cookies came out intact, but I shouldn't have bothered. You may be thinking I should have used a sharper knife, or a different shaped blade, or suchlike. I tried half the knives in the kitchen, from chef's knife to cleaver. None of them were any better. Perhaps this is the dire fate that befalls those who try to bake instant oatmeal. 

I cut up half the log before giving up and got a few intact-ish cookies that I had to very carefully lift onto the pan. I then rolled all the crumbled cookie dough into balls and flattened them between my hands. Because the dough was still hard from refrigeration, the oat flakes scratched at my hands a lot.

If we look at the only intact slices I got out of this, we can see fissure lines showing how they may not have broken apart but they really wanted to.

While the first batch baked, I got out the other dough log and cut it up to see if it would do any better than log no. 1-- it didn't. But at least cutting the dough up helped it soften enough to shape into actual cookies.

Honestly I think the rolled-and-flattened cookies came out better than the sliced and baked ones. They looked just a little bit nicer.

When we bit into one of these, they were the crispest cookies I've ever made. If you've ever stacked three Pringles at once and ate them, you can get a good idea of what we had made.

We could have used these cookies to record the sound effects for those aggressively perky commercials where Florence Henderson sang about frying chicken in Wesson oil. Seriously, when you bit into one of these it sounded like a Doritos ad. Because one of the other people in the house found this even funnier than I did, we have audio.

The Sound of Cookie Snarfing

 You might think they were tooth-breakingly crunchy, but if we crack one open you can see they rose into thin flakes and layers. It was about one fourth of the way between cookie and something with phyllo dough.


I don't know if it was the beef fat or Mary Fedor's recipe, but these cookies are crispier than multiple fistfuls of potato chips. If you skip the refrigerate-slice-and-bake business and just shape them in your hands, you will love these cookies.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Hump-Day Quickie: Accidental blondie cookies: or, Sometimes your mistakes happened on purpose

Recently, an interest was expressed in blondies. By which I mean I said I wanted to make them and no one else minded. However, in the course of cutting the recipe in half, I made one tiny mistake at the very end. 

Blondie Cookies
¼ c butter, shortening, beef fat, schmaltz, or some combination of the two
1 c light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1½ c flour

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a layer pan.
Melt butter (or whatever you're using in these erratic grocery shortage times). Add the brown sugar. When mixed, beat in the egg. Then, stir in the baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Mix in the flour.
Roll into balls, then pat each one flat in your hands. Then they don't really spread, though they do puff and expand. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until just a bit browned at the edges.

I've made a lot of brownie recipes. While some make a batter as runny as chocolate-colored gravy and some make a thick concoction that needs a bit of help reaching the corners of the pan, I have never made a brownie recipe that you could crumble in your hands. I re-checked the recipe and realized I had cut every ingredient in half except the flour. 

In my defense, this recipe is unusually thick for brownie batter, so it's easy not to notice that the flour is making it unusually stiff until you've gotten it all mixed together. As you can see from when we gave in to popular demand (viz. one person in the house asked for it) and made chocolate-marbled blondies, these are almost too thick to be a batter but not quite thick enough to be a dough. 

We needed an awful lot of swirling with a spoon handle to get these to look properly marbled instead of like an inept attempt at a checkerboard.


Back to today's (mis)adventure. Two choices lay before us: mix every ingredient except the flour all over again then force it to mix with this brown-sugar clod in the mixing bowl, or just bake it anyway and see what happens. (We are assuming that "throw it away and start over" is unacceptable because I do not believe in wasting groceries.) I figured this impending failure looked a lot like cookie dough, so why not see if it can turn into cookies.

I didn't know if this should-have-been-brownie mixture would turn into a hot runny puddle when heated up, if these would turn into hard cookie-pucks, or if we would get actual cookies out of this. I didn't even know if they were the kind of cookies you just plop onto the pan, or if you need to flatten them first-- though the dough was so stiff that I figured a quick pat between the hands could only help. To protect against them running over and dripping off the pan, I made sure we had raised sides to keep the cookies contained in case they got a little bit too free-form.

Maybe it's not exciting to try to make cookies and then make cookies, but these things came out really well. We had to take them out just as the dough barely browned at the edges to prevent them over-hardening, but these are very similar to Mrs. George O. Thurn's slice-and-bake blondies without waiting for the cookie dough to harden enough to cut.

These cookies can easily be overbaked on accident, but if you take them out just as they're barely darkened around the edges you get a wonderful crunchy outer crust with a really dense, soft interior. If you like the brown sugar, you will be glad if you make these. And don't you think this is a much better way to deal with critical recipe errors than throwing your unbaked mess away?