Salty, sweet, heavenly cookie love

IMG_1885fbcookieswap2013_badgewhiteI never actually thought I would admit this, but I have completely fallen in love with a cookie.  If you’re anything like me, the romance of salty and sweet in a cookie – or any dessert, really – is irresistible.  Add a little chocolate to it, even better.  The great baker and cookbook author extraordinaire, Dorie Greenspan, advocates a sprinkling of salt across the top of her famous chocolate chip cookies as a final piéce de rèsistance.  What brilliant inspiration!

The particular object of my cookie affection doesn’t contain the typical bittersweet chocolate I go head over heels for – instead, we’re talking white chocolate.  The salt?  Flowery yet subtle fleur de sel.  The sweet?  A homey, caramel-flavored brown sugar cookie, studded with lots of old-fashioned oats for a little chew.  Have I tempted your taste buds yet?  If so… then ladies and gentlemen – I present probably my favorite cookie of the year: Shauna Sever’s Salted Vanilla Chip Oatmeal Cookies, from her fantastic book, Pure Vanilla.

I’ve said it many times, every time I’ve made them: “These cookies… damn… are like crack.”  They’re relatively easy to make, coming together like a typical oatmeal chocolate IMG_1880chip cookie.  I’ve lamented – several times (just skim back through my blogs on cookies) – my almost hopeless inability to make cookies that hold their shape while baking.  My perfectionist, ‘ideal’ cookie comes out of the oven with a thicker, almost plump, chewy center and a caramelized, browned, almost crispy edge.  This recipe is forgiving enough that I’ve nearly accomplished that result with only a few slight tweaks, and I’m happy to share those tweaks with you below (feel free to use them or make the recipe as is).

I felt so passionately about these cookies that when I discovered one of my favorite blogs, Love & Olive Oil, was organizing a cookie swap among food bloggers to raise money for children with cancer, I knew right away that: #1 – given the cause, I just had to jump in and participate, and #2 – I would have to participate with these cookies.  Much as, sometimes, I relish squirreling away fantastic recipes as secrets best-kept between myself, my Kitchen Aid mixer, and the four walls of my apartment kitchen, I decided that if I can pass along the salted vanilla chip oatmeal love, by all means, I will do it!

If any of the ingredients in this recipe make you even remotely happy, you will be grinning from ear to ear at first bite.  I dare you to eat just one.

SALTED VANILLA CHIP OATMEAL COOKIES

Recipe by Shauna Sever,
from her book Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques

Makes 3 dozen 3-inch cookies

IMG_18923 cups old-fashioned oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda*
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
⅔ cup brown sugar, packed
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped*
2 tablespoons Vanilla Fleur de Sel, for sprinkling*

*See my notes

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

In a large bowl, whisk oats, flour, baking soda, and salt to blend well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and vanilla extract on medium-high speed until blended and creamy.  Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time.  Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add oat mixture, then white chocolate.

Scoop batter, 2 tablespoons at a time, onto prepared baking sheets, about 8 cookies to a sheet.  Sprinkle a bit of vanilla fleur de sel onto each cookie. Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, but still a bit soft in the centers, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  Do not overbake.  Let cookies cool on sheets for 2 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

*NOTES:

  • I tend to like a cookie that holds its shape and is more plump and chewy.  Whenever I make this recipe, instead of adding 1 whole teaspoon of baking soda, I swap out a ½ teaspoon of the baking soda for baking powder to give these a little ‘lift’.  Don’t remove the soda all together; use a ½ teaspoon of each.  It’s good to have the two counter-balancing each other. Sift the baking powder in with the other dry ingredients.
  • Sever mentions that these cookies are best with chopped chunks of good white chocolate, but I typically use white chocolate chips, which are fine (I prefer Ghirardelli).  By all means, try them with chopped white chocolate – I’m sure they would be amazing and take the cookies to an entirely new level.
  • I don’t make these as large as Sever does – I use a 1 tablespoon-sized scoop and can fit a dozen to a cookie sheet.  Of course, keep an eye on the baking time if you make them smaller!
  • IMG_1881A fellow food blogger once provided me with the suggestion to scoop out, then chill, your cookies for a few hours – or for best results, overnight – prior to baking them off.  As you can imagine, this requires a good amount of planning, restraint, and patience on my part, but I’ve found that it’s totally worth it.  Completely chilling your cookie dough allows the fats in the dough to coat and bind the particles of all-purpose flour.  As a result, the dough almost ‘plumps up’ and dries out a touch more, the cookie is more likely to hold its shape (and not to spread) while baking, and the flavors meld beautifully – yielding an almost caramel-like finish to theIMG_1877 taste. These cookies – much like chocolate chip cookies – are splendid when the dough has been allowed to ‘age’ a bit in the refrigerator.  Trust me.  Do yourself a favor and let these sit for a while before baking them off.  Keep them in the refrigerator until just before you’re ready to bake them.  To aim for a more uniform shape, I like to gently roll the balls of dough between my palms before placing them on the parchment-lined sheets and sprinkling them with the salt.
  • Sever uses her own homemade Vanilla Fleur de Sel to sprinkle on top of these cookies, but I usually just use regular fleur de sel – does just fine.  Whatever you do, do not substitute table salt, coarse salt, or kosher salt for the fleur de sel.  It’s best if you can find a good-quality flaky salt, like Maldon, or just a reasonable fleur de sel.  You’ll pay a little more for it, but I hope I can justify the cost to you by promising you will find many more glorious uses for it (namely, making more of these cookies).  If you want to go fancy and make your own Vanilla Fleur de Sel for these cookies, I present Sever’s instructions:  “All you need is a box of good flaky sea salt (I love Maldon Sea Salt Flakes) and a whole, split vanilla bean or two.  Put them in a lidded jar and shake it every couple of days, letting the vanilla penetrate and perfume the salt for a week or so.  The result is a parcel of unexpected culinary genius that makes a perfect gift for those perennially unimpressed foodies in your life… A general rule, use about 1 cup of flaky sea salt per bean.”

I packaged up these cookies in a plastic bag, nestled down into a small shirt box with blue tissue paper and a copy of the recipe, as well as my business card.  I wrapped the shirt box IMG_1895with pretty silver polka dot paper and attached a message to my fellow bloggers letting them know what kind of cookies were inside.  3 boxes (1 dozen each) were then sent out to 3 different food bloggers:  Susan Dikeman-Nerenberg of The Foodette (Austin, Texas), Brianne Izzo of Cupcakes & Kale Chips (Somerset, New Jersey), and Brittany Everett of Kitchenette (San Francisco, California).  I hope they fell in love with these cookies as much as I did!  In return, I received 3 different dozens of cookies from 3 different bloggers in my own mailbox… all were absolutely scrumptious, and disappeared pretty quickly!  I’m thrilled that this fun cookie blog has connected me to more food bloggers who enjoy the art of baking just as much as I do – and contributed to such a worthy cause as well during the holiday season.

If you’re looking for another cookie to add to your Christmas cookie baking repertoire – or just for anytime –  I guarantee you will love these Salted Vanilla Chip Oatmeal Cookies.  While you’re at it, be sure to visit Amazon and pick up a copy of Shauna Sever’s fantastic book, Pure Vanilla.  It’s an absolute treasure trove of fantastic vanilla-themed recipes that even a complete chocoholic like me goes completely crazy for – not to mention a great gift for the vanilla fanatics in your life!

Happy Holidays and Happy Baking to all of you!

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8 thoughts on “Salty, sweet, heavenly cookie love

  1. Those are some lucky bloggers, Mark! I just adore these cookies too– so many wonderful flavors. (I’ll get around to blogging this recipe one of these days…) I just made a boat load of them for an event that I catered over the weekend, and I can attest to their tastiness and addictive quality! I did the same thing as far as scooping and chilling the dough– works perfectly every time. Nicely done, my friend– I wish you and Jake Happy Holidays! :)

    1. Hi Sally! Sorry for the delayed response. It’s been a little while since I baked these (believe it or not), but if memory serves me right, you should be fine with baking them for about 10-12 minutes. Ovens vary, so you really need to go by sight. Don’t let the cookies get too brown, but you don’t want them to be too gooey in the centers either. Good luck!

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