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Winning recipes: Peanut butter cookies get added oomph from toasted oats and nuts

Toasted Oatmeal, Pecan and Peanut Butter Cookies. [LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI | Special to the Times]
Published Jul. 29

Think classic peanut butter cookie, but with a combination of toasted oats and pecans that intensifies all that nutty flavor. That's what you'll find in this week's recipe.

Why toast the pecans and oats? Without the heat added in that process, the flavors don't have much of a definitive taste in this recipe.

For best results, spread the nuts and oats on a tray and toast in the oven until faintly beige and fragrant. The toasted taste becomes heavenly, with a depth of flavor, intensity and nuanced aroma unimaginable 10 minutes earlier. Think of the difference between granulated sugar and caramelized sugar, or between straight-from-the-package butter and browned butter. Kicked-up flavor in just a simple step.

Why do we toast the spices, too? Toasting cinnamon along with the oats and pecans brings out the essential oils in this spice and intensifies the flavor.

These cookies do not spread very much, so flatten to the thickness you like before baking. I like a thicker cookie with the edges golden brown and the middle soft and chewy. Smooth and creamy peanut butter helps these cookies bake into a soft and chewy middle, with a crunchy crisp outside.

For the chocolate, use a good-quality 4-ounce semisweet chocolate baking bar coarsely chopped into ½-inch chunks (about 1 cup). Reserve ¼ cup for pushing a few pieces into the top of each cookie. Use a sharp knife and a cutting board to cut up the bar, making sure to use all the chocolate shards on the cutting board too — they will melt into the cookie and create even more chocolate flavor.

Don't you hate when you waste ingredients stuck in your measuring cups? Coat your measuring cups and spoons with a quick spritz of cooking spray. The ingredients simply slide out. Try this with the peanut butter and honey in this recipe when you measure.

Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. This column features recipes that have been entered in contests across America and updated for readers who love to bake. Contact her at lorrainestevenski@gmail.com.

MODERATE

Toasted Oatmeal, Pecan and Peanut Butter Cookies With Chocolate Chunks

¾ cup old-fashioned oats

½ cup pecan halves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup creamy peanut butter

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar

¼ cup honey

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks, coarsely chopped from a 4-ounce bar; reserve ¼ cup for the topping

¼ cup Demerara sugar, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange 2 racks in the middle of the oven. Line three half-sheet pans with parchment paper.

On a half-sheet pan, spread the oats, pecans and cinnamon. Bake just until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature. When cool, pulse the mixture just until coarsely ground in a small food processor.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cooled oat mixture, flour and baking soda. Set aside.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the peanut butter, butter, brown sugar and honey until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat just until smooth.

On low speed, add the oat mixture. Beat just until a dough forms. Stir in the chopped chocolate by hand, reserving ¼ cup for the topping. Using a 2-tablespoon cookie scoop, form the dough into balls, roll in the Demerara sugar and arrange 8 cookies on each cookie sheet. Use the serrated side of a meat pounder to flatten each cookie, or use a fork to flatten and make a crisscross design. Thickness is up to you as these cookies do not spread very much. Push a few pieces of the reserved chocolate chunks into the top of each cookie. Bake until slightly puffed and golden brown around the edges, about 14 to 16 minutes. Cool 15 minutes on the pan and then remove to cool completely before storage.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski

Here are some variations to try

EVEN MORE NUTS: Add ¼ teaspoon almond extract to the dough. For the topping, pulse the following in the food processor a few times: ½ cup sliced toasted almonds and ½ cup Demerara sugar. Roll 2 tablespoons of cookie dough into a ball, then roll in the topping. Flatten as per recipe description.

EVEN MORE CHOCOLATE: Toast ¾ cup oats and 1 tablespoon cinnamon, then let cool. Process the cooled mixture with ½ cup pecan pralines, just until coarsely ground. Use ½ cup each white and semisweet chocolate chips. Roll 2 tablespoons of cookie dough into a ball, then roll in granulated sugar. Flatten as per recipe description.

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