COOKIES FOR JANUARY, 2014–OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES

We spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing cookies from October (Halloween cookies) through November (Thanksgiving themed cookies) to December (Christmas cookies). Then by January, most of the Christmas cookies have been eaten – or all that is left in the tin are broken cookies and some crumbs). The one exception to this was Bob’s hoarding his tin of Springerle that I’d break down and bake every few years—knowing full well he would let them get stale and rock-hard but he’d dunk them in coffee anyway.

Springerle, for the uninitiated are cookies with designs imprinted on the dough with a Springerle rolling pin or board, and then left to dry out overnight. When baked the next day, they will look frosted, like a two-tier cookie. This is a German cookie that goes back probably several hundred years. I used to have a penpal who collected the Springerle boards and rolling pins. I have one small rolling pin and a board with the designs which can be very simple or elaborate.

I thought I’d check with Google and see what else I can tell you about Springerle , from “What’s Cooking in America”

BRIEF HISTORY OF SPRINGERLE
“Springerle (SPRING-uhr-lee) – These have been and still are traditional Christmas cookies in Bavaria and Austria for centuries. Springerle are white, anise-flavored cookies, made from a simple egg-flour-sugar dough. Usually rectangular or circular in shape, they have a picture or design stamped on the top. The images are imprinted with specially carved rolling pins or flat molds (Springerle presses, or boards). After the cookies are baked, the designs are sometimes enhanced with edible food colors–or with tempera or acrylic paints, if the cookies are to be used as decorations. Hartshorn is the traditional leavening (it is an ammonia compound).

History: The name Springerle comes from an old German dialect and means “little knight” or “jumping horse.” Historians trace these cookies back to the Julfest, a midwinter celebration of pagan Germanic tribes. Julfest ceremonies included the sacrificing of animals to the gods, in hope that such offerings would bring a mild winter and an early spring. Poor people who could not afford to kill any of their animals gave token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads and cookies. Vestiges of these pagan practices survive in the baking of shaped-and-stamped German Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen, Spekulatius, Frankfurter Brenten, and Springerle.”
This is a good example of how I can easily get off track or digressing—what I want to write about today are cookies you might want to make for January. The most favorite cookie of my youngest son and his family are chocolate chip cookies – a lot of chips can go into the batter but no nuts! (This cramps my style occasionally because I love nuts, especially pecans, in my chocolate chip dough—sometimes when there is just enough dough left for half a dozen cookies, I add walnuts or pecans and keep those aside for me to eat).

I began making Toll House chocolate chip cookies when I was a teenager. When I was 12 or 13, my brother Jim was working part-time with Durkee foods which had a warehouse in Camp Washington; Jim often brought home foodstuffs that were going to be thrown out—canned biscuits was a family favorite; they would often pop open as soon as you began to open the tin; we didn’t care. I often made doughnuts with the canned biscuits. The only other thing I have a vivid memory of making were some packaged chocolate chip cookie mixes; I think all you had to add was water—possibly an egg or two. I imagine these were also outdated products and the mix must have been taken off the market because I don’t remember our getting boxes of outdated mix very long. Or it may have happened that Jim stopped working at the Durkee warehouse where one of our uncles worked as a salesman—when Jim graduated from high school, he immediately enlisted in the Air Force. Then I had to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch—but I also remember making peanut butter cookies, old-fashioned raisin cookies or oatmeal raisin cookies—recipes that were in my mother’s Service Cook Book by Ida Bailey Allen. Inexplicably, that was my mother’s only cookbook, kept in a kitchen drawer—but it was published exclusively for Woolworth’s which may explain why it was there at all. I don’t remember ever being in a 5-and-10 cent store with my mother—if I was with her shopping downtown at all, we visited department stores, such as Lerner’s. When I was old enough to go downtown by myself, my mother would have me make the trips for her. I began going downtown to make payments at Lerner’s for a coat my mother had in layaway—and although I remember making those trips—I was perhaps ten at the time—I don’t remember making the final trip to pick up her coat. She must have done that without my assistance.

In order to make any cookies, I had to find a recipe for which we had all of the ingredients on hand. We almost always had oatmeal, raisins, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa and basic ingredients such as flour, baking powder or baking soda, eggs and sugar on hand in the pantry.
All of this may explain my love for making cookies—it brings back many memories of my childhood. My two younger brothers, Biff (aka George) and Bill sat on the back steps outside the kitchen door and waited for anything—over baked cookies, for instance.

So, maybe Oatmeal Raisin cookies should be MY choice for January, 2014. When all the special holiday cookies have been eaten or too stale to eat and therefore given to the birds, oatmeal raisin cookies are a good cookie to refill the cookie jar with.

Favorite oatmeal raisin cookies

2 cups sifted flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
2 2/3 cup packed brown sugar or half brown & half white granulated
4 eggs
1 ½ c. Crisco shortening (original recipe) or 1 ½ c. butter spread
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
2 c raisins or a combination of raisins and dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Sift flour with soda and spices. Now add shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat till smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in oatmeal, nuts and raisins. Bake by heaping tsp onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 12-15m minutes makes about 7 dozen cookies depending on the size. ***
I had been baking batch after batch of oatmeal cookies trying to find the recipe in which the cookies spread very thin and turn out crispy and crunchy—voila! I found it one night in one of my notebooks. I was pretty sure this was the recipe and immediately started putting the ingredients out on the counter. I was so pleased when they came out of the oven – crispy and crunchy and very thin. I think I made these cookies last Christmas, dipping half of each cookie into melted chocolate to make Florentines. I was eating them all by myself .

Towards the end of my baking, I wondered if I chopped walnuts and dried cranberries into very small pieces, would the cookies still spread thin? They DID!

So if a crispy crunchy thin oatmeal cookie is something you would like to try, here it is:

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
8 TBSP (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
6 TBSP apple butter*
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, blend butter, apple butter, and sugars until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Blend. Add the oat mixture and mix until blended. Drop batter, about 2 tbsp at a time (I use a cookie scoop) onto parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven; cool slightly on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

*I didn’t have any apple butter. But I do have jars of homemade apple sauce on hand (any kind of apple sauce should do) – I dumped a quart of apple sauce into a crockpot and added some brown sugar and molasses. I let it cook down on medium, with the lid off, until it was thick.
To make a fancier holiday cookie, melt chocolate and dip the baked and cooled cookies halfway in. I have a Wilton Melting Chocolate pot and it’s wonderful for keeping melted chocolate at the right temperature. (Pick one up when you have a 40 or 50 percent off coupon—it’s the best time to get yourself one. My daughter in law loved mine so much that she bought chocolate pots for herself and her sisters last year, after using mine.

*One more note: this recipe says bake 18 minutes. Well, by trial and error, I have learned that what may be 18 minutes at sea-level will burn to a crisp in the high desert. These cookies baked completely in 12-13 minutes where we are (3000 ft altitude) – I can’t tell you how many sheets of cookies or batches of candy I burned the first couple of years living in the Antelope Valley. When I was making pralines, 234 degrees on a candy thermometer is too much at this altitude—I had to get the candy off the stove a lot sooner. I couldn’t believe that our mere “3000 ft elevation” could make that much difference—but it does. Just sharing that with you.

There are many recipes for oatmeal raisin cookies but the two above shared with you are my absolute favorites. Chocolate Chip cookies are next, for February!

–Sandra Lee Smith

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