Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Best No-Bake Cookies in the Universe

 It’s been a lonely two weeks from where I stand but I’ve had some good cookies to bake.  Thanks to everyone who sent me recipes and ideas, I will put them to use. 

My fiancé, Spyros, moved back to Greece last week.  While living on my own has offered me more time to read and write (which is a bit like taking your multi vitamins, for a writer), without another person in the house, I lose track of time and the rhythm of the day.  I also don’t cook as much.  As I discovered last week, one batch of ratatouille provides at least a week’s worth of meals for one person. 

  But I am still baking. It’s an activity well-suited to solitude.  Cookies, cakes, and bread require concentration, accurate measurements, and slight adjustments in mixing speeds...

 My good friend, Marla, sent me her grandmother’s recipe for no bake-cookies last week. To be honest, I’ve never been one for no-bake cookies.  No-bake cookies seems like another term for candy, something I don’t have a taste for. Too many gummies and Laffy Taffies landed me under the dentist’s drill as a child.  My fault entirely, I realize, but I'm still suspicious of the stuff.  I like cookies because they are not candy.  They are miniature, soft cakes of butter, flour, sugar, and sometimes spices.  But according to Marla these are “the best no-bake cookies in the Universe” and a favorite recipe of her late grandmother, Hazel Shorts Work.  So I was curious to try them.  Late last Friday I whipped up a batch.

I heated a saucepan over my electric stove, poured in the milk, sugar, and cocoa powder.  Drowsy, I questioned my sanity for baking in the first place.  Besides me, who else would eat the sweet treats? And nine-thirty at night was hardly a reasonable hour for baking.  But I continued on:

The recipe said, “Stir the sugar/milk mixture constantly until it reaches a rolling boil.” 
I stirred and stirred, rotating my wrist like a baton twirler. My eyes fixed on the mixture and nothing else. Small whiffs of sweetened milk travelled up my nostrils.  I felt cozy and not so alone anymore. A pot of milk depended on me.

When the mixture reached its rolling boil, I set the microwave timer for one minute.  When it rang, I removed my mixture, and stirred in the peanut butter, butter, oatmeal, salt and vanilla. Like Halloween, my kitchen smelled of peanut butter cups and I felt that surely the apartment wasn't empty.  My thoughts cleared; I knew what I needed to do to complete the cookies and the rest of the evening.

In her recipe, Mrs. Work recommends letting the cookies set at room temperature.  But since it was a hot evening, I placed them in the refrigerator.  Later that night, when I had settled on the couch with a glass of red wine and Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte, I remembered the cookies. I peeked into the refrigerator, and saw that Hazel’s No-Bakes had set with a beautiful gloss.  I took a bite of one and widened my eyes a little.  It had the consistency of a cookie and a piece fudge all at once. Without planning it, I took another.  I had to leave the room to prevent myself from taking a third.  These are the best no-bake cookies in the Universe and my parents and younger sister agree. Thank you, Hazel and Marla.  

Hazel’s No-Bake Cookies 

In a medium saucepan combine:
1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Cocoa powder)
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla 
1/2 cup milk  (skim and whole milk work in this recipe but Marla says whole milk yields a tastier cookie)
pinch of sea salt 

Over medium flame, uncovered, stir the above mixture constantly until it comes to a boil.
Stir ONE MINUTE at a rolling boil then remove from heat.

While still stirring, add:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 stick butter 
3 cups Rolled QUICK oats/minute oats

Drop by heaping teaspoons onto waxed paper
Let harden at room temperature or in the refrigerator. 

Marla’s warning - if the first ingredients are cooked too high or boiled too long, it seems to impact the way the cookies set (or don't set).

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