Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cowboy Cookies

With the Labor Day weekend now over (unfortunately) this week begins the first few days of school for the kids who live near me. So as the long weekend ended, I thought I would bake up a batch of cookies to have them ready to be delivered at the end of their first day. Is there anything better than homemade cookies and milk after a long day? Okay there are other options, like wine and cheese, but don't we all still get a certain euphoria from recalling (and even better re-experiencing) some of our youth? Hopefully as adults we have retained our curiosity, our creativity, and especially our hunger for sweets to nurture that inner childhood! The consumption of sweets might be one of the things that actually keeps our spirits and hearts young. This could be a theory with some merit.

Okay, back to the cookies. I wanted to bake a cookie for the kids that I have not yet sent on the platter over the stone fence. As much as I love (and they love) the chocolate chip cookies, I wanted to make something different (even though I am who one does not believe there is ever such a thing as too much of a good thing. I just wanted to make sure everyone knew my cookie making repertoire went beyond the chocolate chip cookie!).  I found the inspiration I was looking for in one of my cookbooks. It is a cookie that has many variations but, in each variation there are at least three common ingredients: chocolate chips, oatmeal and dried cranberries. Some recipes call for nuts and/or coconut, but this version of the Cowboy Cookie is my favorite. And since the kids next door aren't fond of nuts or coconut in their cookies, I thought this might be the perfect first day of school cookie. To go with a glass of milk, of course.

While I am no June Cleaver (for those you who have never seen Leave It to Beaver, June was the matriarch of a family of four), I think the image of her serving freshly baked cookies and milk to her sons after school was permanently imprinted into my memory. At the time I wondered if it was only kids on television who came from school to warm, freshly baked cookies. For those of you whose parent embodied the best of June Cleaver and Aunt Bee, you would have known this not to be true. Consider this wondering part of my sheltered childhood.

Whenever a recipe calls for brown sugar, I like to either exchange light brown sugar for dark brown sugar or use a combination of both. There is something about the depth of flavor in dark brown sugar that transforms the taste of a cookie. So in my modified version of Rebecca Rather's Cowboy Cookie recipe I use equal parts dark and light brown sugar.

I love the combination of oatmeal, chocolate and dried cherries. These ingredients create a cookie so different from chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies but yet so insanely delicious you may never make another oatmeal cookie again. You can use dried cranberries, but there is something about the taste of the dried cranberry that takes them a little over the top.

Room temperature unsalted butter and the sugars and mixed until light and fluffy followed by adding the room temperature eggs and vanilla. Once the eggs are mixed in, all of the dry ingredients are added at once. The result will be a very thick, stiff batter. I mix in the chocolate chips and dried cherries using the paddle attachment on the mixer, but you can mix them in with a wooden spoon.

If you have not yet discovered the wonderfulness of using an ice cream scoop to make your cookies, maybe this is the cookie that will convince you to get one. I used a 1 1/2 inch diameter ice cream scoop to form the cookies and was able to have 12 cookies spaced two inches apart on each cookie sheet.

The cooking time for these cookies is 10 to 14 minutes. Yes, I know that is a wide range, but mine took 14 minutes to bake in a preheated 350 degree oven although I started checking them at 12 minutes. The cookies will be a light golden brown when ready to remove from the oven.

The baked cookies should be transferred to a cooking rack. I used to not think the step of transferring cookies to a cooling rack wasn't important, but learned over time that the hot cookie sheet will continue to 'bake' the cookies resulting in a sometimes drier cookie. When cooled, these cookies are supposed to be chewy in the middle. That is part of their deliciousness. 

Cowboy Cookies (slight adaptation of Rebecca Rather's Cowboy Cookie recipe from The Pastry Queen Christmas cookbook)

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar (1/2 cup dark brown and 1/2 cup light brown) Note: you can use all light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
12 ounces of chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups dried cherries (could use dried cranberries)
Optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
2. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy (approximately 1 to 2 minutes).
3. Add eggs and vanilla and beat at medium speed for another minute.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and oatmeal. Stir to combine.
5. Add the mixed dry ingredients and beat at a lower speed until combined.
6. Stir in chocolate chips and dried cherries. The batter will be thick.
7. Using a 1 1/2 inch diameter ice cream scoop, drop the cookie dough 2 inches apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. You will get 12 cookies per sheet.
8. Bake for 10-14 minutes or until cookies are golden. 
9. Transfer baked cookies to a rack to cool.
10. Serve immediately, package as gifts, or put in a covered jar or tin to enjoy.

It feels like forever since I posted a recipe to the blog even though it has been a little more than a week. The process of posting for the blog is very different than everyday cooking and entertaining and my energies last week were spent on creating meals for my sister and brother-in-law and not on creating posts for the blog. Go figure! Although I wished I had just taken just a few photos of the Plum and Raspberry Crumble we had for dinner one night as it was crazy delicious. This will be a recipe that you will see in the weeks ahead because it was that good that I need to share it with you. And plums are in season right now.

As I was making meals this past week I realized just how much my cooking has started to change over the past year. I am beginning to be so much more influenced by the vegetables and fruits that are in season when deciding on a recipe than I am about making a recipe because I like it. I already know I am going to be heart sick when the tomato season is over. And even though I have frozen some of the blueberries I had picked at the blueberry farm, I am already missing the taste of warm off the bush fresh blueberries. So as I was browsing through one of my Canal House cookbooks, I know understood why their recipes were organized by season. What I don't understand is why it took me so long to understand all of this. But better late than never, so they say.

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