Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Browned Butter Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Cookies: Men should make passes at girls who wear glasses (and make oatmeal cookies)

When I was eleven I read a book called It All Began with Jane Eyre, about a young girl named Franny who liked reading Jane Eyre while sitting in her closet, gorging herself on sour cream and onion-flavored potato chips and dip.   Since I liked Sherlock Holmes and potato chips, I decided to emulate Franny, much to my mother's chagrin when she vacuumed the house.

  Jane Eyre proved to be both a good and a bad teacher. At age eleven, I much preferred Wuthering Heights, which told the tale of Catherine Earnshaw and her fondness for brooding stableboys named Heathcliff. Unlike Emily Bronte's heroine Cathy, Charlotte Bronte's plain Jane waits for Rochester's mad wife Bertha to die and gains an independent income before she marries. Jane decides not to become Rochester's mistress and lose all social legitimacy and become dependent on him.  Catherine weds a weathly, socially powerful, and wimpy guy named Edgar, spurns Heathcliff and ends up in a loveless marriage and dies in childbirth despite her fondness for wandering the moors in childhood.  Jane is her own woman, Catherine is shackled until freed by death.

But I still liked Catherine best.

Also, I have come to the wisdom that salt and vinegar is a far superior flavor than sour cream and onion for potato chips and the idea that a plain girl could burn with an inner fire that would snag a hot and sexy man is about as realistic as suddenly discovering that a poor orphan is actually a heiress. 

You'd think, growing up in New Jersey, I would have known better when I fantasized that a guy could overlook my inability to apply eyeliner.  I mean, when I was chosen to play the romantic lead in a community theater production because no one under the age of fifty auditioned, the director was so saddened by the enforced casting of a short, brunette with curly hair he plastered me with more makeup than a drag queen and put a wig over my hair. The sixty-year-old woman with bright red hair who thought SHE should have been cast as the twenty-year-old romantic lead kept saying: "She looks so plain."  Ah, NJ--the only state where the motto is--'get all dressed up and then look in the mirror and put something EXTRA on."
As opposed to take that one thing off, for understated elegance.

The literary geek in me thinks that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights should be required reading for all junior high kids because of their use of first person narration and literary doubling (respectively).  The wise woman within me thinks that the triumph of plain Jane Eyre over pretty rich girls with big ta-tas like Blanche Ingram makes the book better classified as science fiction than literary romance. And the idea that a girl is always going to pick the rich guy over the stableboy in Wuthering Heights makes it a book filled with 'teachable moments.'

Have I tantalized you to make these oatmeal cookies yet, Mr. Rochester? 

Beneath the healthy surface lurks the intense flavor of browned butter.  Whip off the glasses of the pretty girl's face (she never seems to need them in the movies), ignore the flavorless sugar cookies with artificially-colored sugar on the plate and grab these instead.  You won't be sorry!

Browned Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins and Walnuts

Adapted from Alice Medrich

-makes 32 small and 24 large cookies-

2 cups rolled oats (I used quick oats)
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt (and more for sprinkling on the cookie)
1 large beaten egg
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins (I used 1/2 cup golden raisins, 1/2 cup dark raisins)

1. Place the oats in a bowl and soak in the water. They will be 'clumpy.'
2.  Sift flour, baking soda, spices, and salt
3. Brown the butter--bring to a bubbling simmer--over medium heat.  Remove from heat and add sugar, vanilla, salt, and after the mixture has cooled, then add the egg (make sure the butter isn't so hot that the egg will cook).  Stir in the flour mixture and then the oats, one cup at a time, then incorporate the walnuts and raisins.
4. The original recipe suggests chilling overnight or for at least 2 hours.  I chilled it for 1 1/2 hours and was still pleased with the result.

One warning with the chilling--I have read that chilled oatmeal dough can get very stiff and hard to scoop, unlike chilled chocolate chip cookie dough, so I 'scooped' the dough onto parchment sheets and covered them with plastic wrap in the refrigerator so the cookies would be pre-made and ready to pop in the oven. 

When making the cookies, use 1 or 1/2 tablespoons of dough.

5. Preheat the oven to 350F and bake for 10 minutes for small cookies, 12-15 for large cookies. Rotate halfway in between.  Cookies will be soft when taken from the oven, so make sure to cool completely before removing from the rack and serving.


  1. OK, so now I have two food cravings- cookies, and salt and vinegar potato chips! I'd love to make a companion piece of homemade potato chips when I can leave the lair of the Death Eaters and Wolf Thing and regain my magic powers...

  2. Fellow runner and dog/ horse lover popping in to say hi! These look SOOO good!

  3. This is so cool! I get to respond to two ducks today!

    @The Blonde Duck--these are total 'fall carbo-loading' perfect cookies! I bet horses would like them as well...although, in my experience, there are few cookies horses don't like.

    @MD--cookies and salt and vinegar potato chips sound like a perfectly balanced meal! I haven't made them--yet--but I've seen cookies with crushed potato chips in them, to create a balanced salt-sweet flavor profile.

  4. I love your writing and you make some strong arguments, but it is my opinion that Sour Cream and Onion is superior to Salt and Vinegar :) (though I would trade both for some Doritos or SunChips :)). And the cookies look fantastic good oatmeal cookies are few and far between and I love the nuttiness that brown butter brings. If I wasn't so worried about constantly burning butter, I'd use it more often :).

  5. @Adam--thank you so much! So far I haven't burned any butter yet, but given my usual klutziness, it's something that is bound to happen soon! I also forgot to give a shout-out to ketchup-flavored potato chips, which I know are even more popular in Canada. Re: Doritos--on NPR's 'Sandwich Monday' feature, there was actually a recipe for a Dorito sandwich...although I haven't given that one a try, I must confess.