When I was growing up my parents had two close friends that we visited often. They were always a unit—Pat'n'Pam—and they were always fun to be around. I remember them playing Scrabble, I remember their laughs, I remember the living room of their house, and I remember the first time I ever ate lentil soup, sitting in their dining room. I do not remember Pam's Oatmeal Cookies.
Pat'n'Pam moved away when I was still young, and our families lost touch soon after. I've tried to find them over the years, and I think of them whenever I see a Scrabble box or eat lentil soup. Oatmeal cookies were, until recently, free of this bittersweet association.
The trials of being the youngest! The rest of my family remembers those oatmeal cookies fondly, even passionately: very small but thick, chewy and intensely oat-y.
A few months ago, the recipe, transcribed by my six-year-old self, was discovered in my mom's recipe files. She sent it to me, along with her notes from the one or two times she had attempted the recipe.
Perhaps I wasn't careful enough when I wrote out that recipe as a child; perhaps Pam had some secret method that I didn't know about. When I first baked the cookies, they spread, thin and lattice-like, to all edges of the sheet. They tasted delicious—the butter along the bottom browned slightly and the sugar caramelized into a satisfying crunch—but they were more useful for an ice cream mix-in than for eating plain.
Two months and half a dozen tries later, we have a cookie that is everything an oatmeal cookie should be: chewy without being tough, thick but not too big, unpretentious but tasting deeply of oats and brown sugar, and entirely without superfluity like raisins or chocolate.
I hesitate to call anything like an oatmeal cookie "perfect"—my blog, with a good dash of irony, is an exception. However, these cookies are the closest to perfect that I've stumbled upon, and they are already winging their way to my grandpa (happy birthday!) and dad (happy latelatelate birthday!). Bake these cookies until the edges are beginning to turn golden brown—they will still be very soft in the middle—then cool completely on the sheets. This will yield a chewy-but-not-tough cookie.
Perfectly Simple Oat Cookies
adapted from Pam's recipe
While these cookies could be made with nothing more than a spoon and some elbow grease, the dough is quite thick, so I recommend a mixer of some kind. You can also make big cookies easily, by using ¼ cup of dough per cookie (you may want only 6 per sheet).
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
3 ¼ cups rolled oats
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
generous ¼ teaspoon cassia or cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt (plus a pinch if desired)
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
Mix the flour, oats, leavening agents, and seasoning in a large bowl until combined.
In a very large bowl, cream the butter until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until light and creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla; beat until well combined.
Add the dry ingredients and stir or beat on low speed until well integrated. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least one hour; dough will keep well overnight in the refrigerator.
To bake, preheat oven to 350ºF. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls (about 2 tablespoonfuls each) and arrange on baking sheets. For best results, bake 8-9 cookies at a time.
Bake, two sheets at a time, rotating halfway through cooking time, until the edges are set and beginning to brown, 12-14 minutes total. Transfer sheets to racks and cool cookies on sheets until completely cool, 15-20 minutes.
Store at room temperature in an air-tight tin for up to a week.
Makes between 3 and 4 dozen cookies