Chewy oatmeal cookies with maple sugar and drizzled icing
And, we’re back! I mean that in two ways; we’re physically back in Eugene at Brett’s parents’ house for about a month before we head abroad again, and that means I’m finally back in a place where I can cook and post recipes. Back in two ways, and I couldn’t be happier about both of them. We are exhausted and happy and it absolutely does not feel like three and a half months have passed since we left Claremont, but we certainly feel every single one of those 16,000+ miles we’ve put on our car since July 9. (16,000 miles! That’s more than halfway around the world, you know.) Our last night on the road we stopped in a tiny town in the middle of Idaho – at least I think it was tiny, we arrived and left in darkness – and splurged on a Best Western that had a hot tub. I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever felt anything so wonderful in my life as the 20 minutes I spent there. We had driven 14 hours that day, my head was pounding, and nothing would let me forget that I was only one day away from sleeping in my own bed.
But now we’re here! We’re here for a full month so Brett can do his graduate school applications and so we can prepare for the next four plus months abroad. And I will cook. Oh boy, will I cook. Unpacking my stand mixer today felt almost as good as that hot tub in the middle of Idaho. There are only four days in the last month that we didn’t spend more than 6 hours in the car (think about that for a moment – seriously, think about that), and among the many, many other things I did to pass the time in the car I made a fairly lengthy list of things I want to cook while we’re here in one place and with all of our kitchen belongings. Hopefully I’ll be sharing a lot of them here, a combination of things I love that I’ve never gotten around to posting (like butternut squash soup with tarragon) and things that have been on my to-do list for a long time (like paté and croissants) and things I dreamed up while we were driving back and forth across a continent.
This recipe can be included in that last category, I suppose. The dreaming up of this one started on Île d’Orléans, an island outside of Quebec City where we spent the better part of a day. It’s one of the country’s earliest Quebecois settlements and now almost entirely inhabited by farmers, artists, and other artisans, and within a 30-minute drive from the city. A single road rings the entire island, and the tourist bureau provides a map listing the hundred or so farms, wineries, cider houses, sugar shacks, cheesemakers, and other such places one can visit. It was a food-lover’s dream, and one of my absolute favorite travel days of the entire trip. I could write at length about every place we visited, like how at the place where we bought patê I asked if I could see the ducks (not in a suspicious or critical way, just in a super nerdy way) and the guy said “oh yeah, they’re just out back,” and that meant they just kind of roamed around in the grassy area back behind the building, not fenced in or anything, with a beautiful view of Quebec City across the St. Lawrence Strait. Or like how at the cidrerie we visited, we tried dry apple and pear wines, with absolutely all sweetness removed, and my tastebuds and brian experienced a complete and utter disconnect that drove me crazy.
But the best experience of all on the island was the sugar shack. I’ve never seen maple production before, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out why there was plastic tubing running from tree to tree. I mean, I realize how maple syrup is harvested, but it was still strange to drive into a lime green grove of maple trees and see bright blue tubing spiderwebbed amongst them. I’ve actually never been a huge fan of maple syrup, an unfortunate result of having eaten exclusively Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima or some other ridiculous tragedy of a thing for all of my childhood and adolescence, but the maple syrup we tried here was … otherworldly. I didn’t even know maple syrup could taste like that, so pure and sweet and potent. We hadn’t planned on buying any when we walked in, but one sample and we immediately looked at each other, each of us already nodding in that “yeah, this is happening” way. We bought some syrup for us, some as a birthday present for a friend, and a small bag of maple sugar as a particularly special treat for me. The idea behind maple sugar is simple – boil syrup to evaporate water content,then grate the solid left behind. The resulting consistency and texture is similar to white granulated sugar, and can easily be substituted in most recipes. I’d seen it mentioned in food writings now and again, but it can be hard to come by and I honestly don’t know that I ever crossed paths with it all the way in Southern California. But I bought myself a little bag, especially after watching the namesake of the sugar shack grate it himself on a wooden counter, in front a window facing out on some of the most beautiful maple trees I’d ever seen. It was kind of a non-negotiable thing, buying this maple sugar.
So ever since Quebec – through the rest of Eastern Canada, down through New England, across the Midwest, and west over the Rockies – I’ve been thinking about what to do with my precious little bag of maple sugar. I focused on cookies, which I figured would really showcase the maple flavor, and narrowed my ideas down to something sort of chewy and oaty and something sort of crisp and sugary and shortbready. I made both today, naturally, after being unable to decide on which to try first. (Who is surprised? No one. Especially not Brett.)
I was a little nervous about getting back into the kitchen after a few months of camp cooking and eating out and letting our friends cook for us, but both of these recipes turned out extremely well, and I’m already kicking myself for not buying more maple sugar. I know it’s not necessarily an easy ingredient to come by, but the reason I’m sharing this one of the two recipes first is that I know this one would also be delicious with normal granulated sugar (in fact, the original recipe from which I drew inspiration doesn’t have maple at all). You could certainly make the maple glaze to add back in some of the flavor, even if you don’t have maple in the cookies. King Arthur Flour sells maple sugar online, though of course it can’t be as good as something you get directly from a sugar shack, and I’m sure there are other places to find it if you don’t have a good source for it. (VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE: My dear friend Erin has alerted me to the fact that Trader Joe’s is now selling maple sugar! And it’s even organic! It’s likely just for this season, but still … go get it!) I’m hoping to even make it myself some day, though I’m not sure where I think I’m going to get enough delicious maple syrup without spending a boatload. And should you find yourself somewhere that sells maple sugar that looks handmade – a little inconsistent in texture, perhaps in a hand-labeled bag, maybe even from the establishment that made it – you better get yourself some, and you better make something fantastic with it.
I’m not exaggerating by saying these might be the best oatmeal cookies I’ve ever had. Nutty and toasty and perfectly salty and perfectly chewy, with the added smokiness and depth of maple in both the dough and in the icing. Maple and oats were made for each other, something I’ve known since I was 7 eating instant Maple and Brown Sugar oatmeal packets for breakfast every morning. I’m generally wary of oatmeal cookies that use a high proportion of food processed oats because I find they often become too dense and cakey, but this recipe calls for all of its oats to go into the food processor first, and I love it. It makes for a deeply satisfying chewiness, with a texture that melts a bit in your mouth but that also tries to put up a little fight about it each time you bite down.
I’m sure these cookies would be good unadorned, but the icing really does add something special, especially in adding even more maple flavor. And it’s easy enough to make – just maple syrup, powdered sugar (make sure to sift it first) and a bit of heavy cream (or half and half, or whole milk, or, heck, even skim milk would do just fine), drizzled back and forth across each cookie (or whichever way you might like to drizzle it, or otherwise apply it; I am all for freedom of expression where icing is concerned).
I’ll share the other cookie recipe later sometime soon – maybe early next week? – so as to not overwhelm you with desires for all things maple, and in between now and then I have plenty of other things planned as well. (Such as: OLIVE OIL COCKTAILS. Get ready to have your socks knocked the heck off.) Until then, you can entertain yourself by looking at the ridiculously long list of cities we slept in between July 9 and yesterday, over at our travel blog.
Chewy oatmeal cookies with maple sugar and drizzled icing
Adapted heavily from Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
- 2 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. oats
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup maple sugar (or granulated sugar, though maple flavor will be diminished)
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 cup (8 ounces or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and at least slightly cooled
- 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp. heavy cream (half and half or any grade of milk would work here, too)
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, or grease with butter or cooking spray.
- In a food processor, grind the oats until it resembles coarse meal, with some large flakes showing but mostly powdery and clumpy.
- In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.
- In a small bowl, whisk together butter, maple syrup, and eggs.
- Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix together until combined.
- Scoop balls of dough about 2 Tbsp. in size onto cookie sheets, about 3 inches apart. (To get a fairly consistent size without a scoop, I scooped out 1/4 cups of dough and split each in half, equaling balls of 2 Tbsp. each.)
- Bake for 14-16 minutes, rotating and switching the pans halfway through. Cookies are down when the tops have evenly browned. Cool the cookies on wire racks (on the parchment or silicone sheets, if using and if not needed for another batch). Let cookies cool completely before icing.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sifted powdered sugar and the maple syrup until almost combined, then add the cream and continue whisking until icing is smooth. Add more liquid or sugar as needed for the right consistency, where the icing will flow smoothly but fairly slowly from the end of a spoon. Drizzle over the top of each cookie. The icing should firm after sitting out for about 30 minutes to an hour, though the cookies can certainly be eaten before then.