Saturday, October 11, 2008

Composite Recipe: Oatmeal Cookies

Somebody asked me once at a cooking demo how I come up with my recipes. A lot of them are what I call composite recipes. I collect a few recipes that are close to what I want, and then contrast and compare. What I'm looking for is an implementation recipe: a basic, no-frills version of the dish that can be tweaked to my liking.

This is one such recipe. I don't know why I decided upon oatmeal cookies. They're not my favorite type of cookies, not by a longshot. But I do like them. And I like oatmeal. And I like dried cranberries, which I planned to use instead of raisins. So it worked out that I made oatmeal craisin cookies. First, the recipes:
Ingredients Recipe 1 Recipe 2 Recipe 3 Recipe 4 Recipe 5 Me
oven temp 375 F 350 F 350 F 350 F 350 F 350 F
bake time 8 - 10
11 - 13
10 - 12
12 - 15
butter 1 cup   ½ cup ¾ cup   1 cup
butter flavored
    ½ cup      
shortening   ¾ cup     1 cup  
white sugar 1 cup ½ cup ½ cup   1 cup ½ cup
brown sugar 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup
eggs 2 ea 1 ea 2 ea 1 ea 2 ea 2 ea
water   ¼ cup        
vanilla 1 tsp 1 tsp 1 tsp 1 tsp 1 Tbsp 1 ½ tsp
ap flour 2 cups 1 cup 1 ½ cups ¾ cup 1 ½ cups 1 cup
baking soda 1 tsp ½ tsp 1 tsp ½ tsp 1 tsp 1 tsp
salt 1 tsp 1 tsp ½ tsp ½ tsp 1 tsp 1 tsp
cinnamon 1 ½ tsp   1 tsp ½ tsp 1 Tbsp 1 ½ tsp
oats 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups
ground cloves     ½ tsp      
raisins     1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup
chopped nuts       1 cup ¾ cups  

What was interesting was the second recipe, which turned out to be from Quaker Oatmeal. Talk about a pure, unadulterated implementation recipe. Unfortunately, it also looks to taste somewhat horrid. Rather than real butter, they went with shortening and water. Because that didn't rob the recipe of enough flavor, they only used a single chicken egg and completely left out the cinnamon. Still, very tweakable. Part of me is pretty impressed. It's almost like it came out of a laboratory, with almost as much flavor.

There were interesting similarities between the recipes. All of them contained 3 cups of oats. I thought that was a good baseline, so I went with it. Each also contained 1 cup of light brown sugar. That was where the similarities started to diminish.

The recipes which included raisins all called for 1 cup. All but one recipe used 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. One used a full Tablespoon. Each recipe used either one or two eggs. Baking soda and salt both ranged between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon. Flour varied wildly, as did white sugar. Some preferred butter, some shortening, some a mix. One person decided that the addition of cloves made their recipe "spicy". A couple of people decided to add nuts.

Lastly, oven temp was 350F for everything except for Recipe 1, at 375F. Not surprisingly, the cooking time dropped on that recipe too. Everything else seemed to like being in the 10 to 12 minute range.

I completely ignored the directions on every recipe. I knew I was going to use the creaming method. At the time of this writing, I still have not looked at anything on the recipes other than ingredients, oven temps and cooking times.

You can see my recipe on the side. Obviously, shortening was out of the question; I went with unsalted butter. I completely guessed on the flour. There was nothing scientific or mathematical about it. I went with a lower amount of white sugar because I didn't want the cookies to be too sweet. That's also why I went with a full teaspoon of salt. Instead of light brown sugar, I used dark. I think I got the perfect balance. My wife didn't taste the salt, but I caught just hints of it. As far as sweetness, it wasn't too much or too little. Just right.

My measurement of cinnamon was a compromise. It seemed like a good mid-point. I didn't end up really tasting it, but my wife did. My vanilla measurement was a bit of a mistake; I poured it into the measuring spoon right over the bowl, trying to get just 1 teaspoon. At least another 1/2 teaspoon made it in. Honestly, I wouldn't lower it at all. It was good.

I thought that only one egg was going to add way too little moisture, so I went with two. The cookies had a lot of spread, which I'm going to blame on that. In the future I might drop it down to one egg plus one egg yolk, but the spread with two whole eggs wasn't objectionable at all.

Like I said, I used craisins instead of raisins. I also decided not to add nuts. They have no place in such a cookie, at least not in my kitchen. If you want 'em, go for it.

350F looked good to me, so I went with it. Each of my batches baked for exactly 12 minutes and came out perfect, at least to my liking. I let them get a little dark, but not burnt. Just nicely caramelized. If you're like my friend Delanie who seems to be afraid of burning anything, drop down to 11 minutes and you'll be okay.

All in all, it ended up a really good recipe. If I made it exactly the same way over and over again, I don't think I'd be disappointed. Really, it was a lucky first attempt. But I think you kind of get the idea now what goes into one of my composite recipes.

Um. Yeah. I, uh. Had to do some QA on the cookies. It might have been before I thought to take a picture. You know how it goes. This recipe yielded 38 cookies scooped with a #40 disher.

1 comment:

  1. I kind of do that to. I find a recipe I want to try, do it their way once, then change everything.


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