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9 am Sunday: oatmeal ups the ante

I accepted the challenge, and I conquered: I cooked breakfast for Jimmy, the reigning king of Sunday mornings, and dear reader, he asked for the recipe. Never mind the fact that I had help (Brandon), or that the majority of the menu was decreed from above (Rebecca). I did it, and I did it my way, daring to use only the amount of butter called for—no more, no less—and tossing in a reckless amount of a “healthy” ingredient, oats. Certainly, there would be plenty of sugar and saturated fat, but this morning, we would really throw caution to the wind.

The plot was hatched a few weeks ago, when Rebecca returned from a trip to her native land of St. Petersburg, Florida, singing the praises of what she called “cheesy grits.” I came home from work one day to find a lengthy message on my answering machine, describing them in minute detail and, as you might expect, featuring prominently the word “butter.” Apparently, while in St. Pete’s, Rebecca had breakfasted each morning at a local greasy spoon, where she ordered eggs, white toast (with butter), and the aforementioned cheesy grits (butter and cheese included).* Like a woman possessed, she returned to Seattle able to speak of little else. As luck would have it—and because I too have a bit of the South in me—I had a bag of stoneground South Carolina grits in my freezer. It was as simple as that: before I knew what I’d done, I had volunteered to take the reins for our next Sunday breakfast at Jimmy’s. The only stipulation, Rebecca said firmly, was that our grits must be accompanied by eggs and bacon. So the menu was set, and I would deliver.

Now, grits are very good, and a well-scrambled egg is exquisite, but frankly, the ante needed some upping. Jimmy has within his arsenal more than a few simple showstoppers, and I was itching to show off a bit myself. The situation clearly called for a dessert course, and a revolutionary dessert at that—one that would make salt-, starch-, and sugar-loving Rebecca eat a substance not only condoned but actually endorsed by the American Heart Association.

It was a tall order, I thought, but oatmeal cookies, if big and buttery and pitched properly, might fit the bill.

And because he has uncanny timing in such matters, it would happen that Brandon came home shortly thereafter from a thrift-shopping outing with a copy of The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook and a sharp hunger for its hazelnut praline recipe. Within seconds, an inspiration was born: to make thick, chewy oatmeal cookies, slather them with creamy brown-butter frosting, and sprinkle them with crunchy caramelized hazelnuts. A few days and a bit of researching later, we hit the jackpot, and we took it to Jimmy’s as the surprise finale for our cheesy grits extravaganza.

It goes without saying that the grits were indeed good—although not as great as I’d hoped—and the eggs were nice too, big soft curds that sat up stoutly on the plate to ward off the runny, molten grits. The bacon was likewise found acceptable, with Rebecca eating the entire package, save two strips for her straight husband John, before the meal was even served. But my small, private victory came with the cookies.

Rebecca gave hers a good, solid slathering of the deeply caramelly frosting and, noting that this might be the first oatmeal cookie she’d ever agreed to eat, threw it back like a regular oat aficionado.

And as if that weren’t enough, Jimmy, always brainstorming where baking is concerned, asked if the recipe might be up for grabs. I swooned happily into my oaty crumbs and brown butter, not a bad place to land on a Sunday morning at 9 am.

*I am quite confident that Rebecca also ordered bacon, although the memory is a bit faded and the message now long since erased.

Oatmeal Cookies with Brown-Butter Frosting and Hazelnut Praline
Adapted from The New Joy of Cooking, Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, and The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook

This three-part, country-meets-city-sophisticate combination brings together complex and fragrant flavors—from brown sugar to butter, dark caramel, toasted hazelnut, and even toffee—and the textures, chew to crunch, are perfect foils. For extra pleasure, serve it as we did: the cookies on a platter, and the frosting and praline in bowls alongside. Your guests can smear on the frosting as thick (or thin, I suppose) as they like, and nobody seems to mind a little praline dust on their fingers.

For the cookies:
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 3/4 cups quick-cook oats

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer), beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Stir (or gently beat, if using a stand mixer) the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Stir (or gently beat) in the oats. Do not overmix.

Cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for one hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two cookie sheets, or line them with silicone baking mats.

Use a large ice cream scoop or a 1/4-cup bowl-shaped measuring scoop to pack the dough into generous domes. Place the domes on one of the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 3 inches apart (roughly 8 cookies per sheet). Return the bowl of dough to the refrigerator. Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned all over and set, about 12 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through for even browning. Remove the finished sheet to a rack, and let the cookies rest for about 20 minutes, until cool and firm. Transfer them to a rack to cool. Repeat the baking process with the remaining dough, one sheet at a time, remembering to keep the dough chilled between batches.

Serve the cookies with bowls of soft brown-butter frosting and hazelnut praline.

For the frosting:
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks)
2 2/3 to 3 1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
4 to 5 Tbs milk (nonfat is fine)
2 tsp vanilla extract

Put the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and stir until it turns a dark golden color, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the butter from the heat, and strain it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a large bowl to remove the butter solids and any sediment that may have formed as the butter browned. The butter should smell deeply caramelly. Set the bowl aside, and allow the butter to solidify to a soft, thick paste; this step can be sped along in the refrigerator, but be careful to avoid getting the butter fully solid. When the butter is ready, beat in half the sugar, or enough to make a stiff mixture. Alternating milk and remaining sugar, beat the frosting until its consistency and sweetness are to your liking. Add the vanilla extract. Serve the frosting in a bowl alongside the cookies, allowing guests to smear their own cookies with a healthy glob of it. Top with a sprinkling of hazelnut praline.

For the praline:
1 1/2 cups raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toast the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet for 7-10 minutes, or until fragrant. Rub the nuts against each other in a kitchen towel to remove the skins.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the counter, and spray it with cooking spray. Set aside.

Slowly heat the sugar and water to boiling in a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat, add the nuts, and stir until evenly coated with syrup. The sugar will start to crystallize; don’t panic.

Return the pan to medium heat to melt the sugar again and caramelize the nuts. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the nuts begin to color. Stir in the vanilla. [If the mixture begins to smoke, remove it immediately from the heat. Allow it to cool slightly before continuing.] Continue to cook and stir until the nuts and syrup turn a nice golden color. Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter.

Spread the praline mixture on the oiled aluminum foil, and let stand until completely cool. Break the cooled praline into pieces, and pulse them briefly in a food processor until coarsely chopped.

Serve the praline in a bowl alongside the frosting and cookies.

Yield: About 20 cookies


Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Decadence, decadence! And of course you got away with cooking for the butter master Molly - if anyone could do it, it would've been you!

1:45 AM, July 11, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

Being a Yankee, I came late to grits but once I tried them, fell in love. I made cheese grits (according to the Joy of Cooking recipe) only once and was disappointed with how much the cheddar overwhelmed the mildness of the grits. I think I prefer butter, salt, and lots of black pepper.

Along the same lines, I love a good plain pizza, a good plain bagel, and an oatmeal cookie without flair (like raisins or chocolate chips). But I must admit that these look like some seriously delicious gilded lilies!

2:31 AM, July 11, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

It's a good thing I never read your Sunday morning breakfast posts until mid-workday Monday, so that there's simply no chance I'll give in to temptation and whip up your sinfully tantalizing masterpieces for breakfast myself... Those cookies look amazing!

4:40 AM, July 11, 2005  
Anonymous Jimmy said...

Hey Molly,

Thanks so much for indulging me and publishing this recipe on the blog. I will attempt a batch as soon as I return from my storm interrupted vacation in Key West. Thanks also for taking command and "breaking in" my new kitchen.

6:00 AM, July 11, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

That is one impressive cookie, Molly. Ordinarily I don't know if I'd go for a frosted oatmeal cookie, but with that praline how can I resist?

6:41 AM, July 11, 2005  
Blogger Kerri said...

Hi Molly,

I've been stopping by (link from Clotide's blog) for a bit now, and figured I'd say hi and introduce myself. I don't have a public blog, but I've been known to post an unusually high percentage of food pictures on my website at times.

Anyway, between the tortillas and chocolate scones - both of which I'd like to try soon - I consider myself inspired! Have a good week.


4:04 PM, July 11, 2005  
Anonymous arielle said...

i've been reading for a little while, and i must say, your 9am sunday posts are my favorites. not only do i favor baking, but breakfast foods are highly prefered above all others.
this was no exception. i'm a big fan of multi-part creations.
these look beautiful, and i can't wait to try my hand at them, too.

5:48 PM, July 11, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Zarah Maria, you're right--they're nothing if not decadent! But they go down awfully easy, even for someone like me, who isn't generally such a big sweets-at-breakfast-time

Amy, I'm with you on the grits. I usually make mine (cooked in milk, of course) with just butter and salt, but this time, I added some sharp cheddar from Trader Joe's, and it was oddly funky. Cheese grits can be wonderful (given an appropriate cheese-to-grits ratio), but this cheese was weird. I should have just bought my favorite sharp white cheddar. Hmph. Sorry, Rebecca. At any rate, Amy dear, I think you'd love these oatmeal cookies, plain or gilded. They're very tender, with a lightly crisp edge and the slightest hint of spice.

Melissa, yes, it might be best to read these posts from the safe distance of Monday. But then again, these cookies are pretty tempting (for me, at least) any day, any time.

Jimmy, the pleasure was all mine. Your new digs are lovely--it must be that "silvery" light--and your stove works like a charm. Looking forward to your return from Key West...

Nic, I ordinarily wouldn't go the frosted route either, but this brown-butter frosting is astoundingly good, if I do say so myself, and then there's the hazelnut praline. The brown butter gives the frosting a deep, almost spicy caramel flavor--Nigella has worked up a recipe that's even tastier than I would have dared to imagine--and the hazelnut praline is very sophisticated, toasty and toffee-y. Definitely worthy of your baking sheet, I think.

Kerri, thanks so much for making the trip over from C&Z! I just took a look around your website, and your food photographs are beautiful! I especially loved the recent shots from Scharffenberger (mmm, nibs!) and your recent dessert creations, as well as that chocolate souffle from back in May. Lovely.

And arielle, thanks so much for your comment. Always happy to meet another reader--and a fellow baker at that! I hope you get a chance to give some of Jimmy's breakfast recipes a try, as well as these cookies (which, I might add, I like even better after the breakfast hour).

10:11 PM, July 11, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

You impressed Jimmy! That is no small feat I imagine. Im quite jealous of your sunday morning breakfasts. Its a pleasure just to read about them, I can only imagine how much fun you actually have when you are there :)

12:45 AM, July 12, 2005  
Anonymous conny said...

Hi Molly,
I just recently found you and am just blown away. These cookies look AMAZING! I'll definitely have to try these out. Your photos are just stunning and your prose is ever so lovely, as always.

11:48 AM, July 12, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Michele, our Sunday mornings are indeed a pretty rip-roarin' good time. Rebecca does a great job of keeping us all entertained, and well, it goes without saying that we're always well fed, no matter who's at the stove. Want to stop by sometime?

And conny, thank you! I take your compliments quite seriously, because I just took a spin around your *beautiful* website. Keep up the great work.

9:41 PM, July 12, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Molly, yes, its me again..
If I was John Travolta and I had my own plane I'd be there first thing on sunday morning!

10:33 AM, July 13, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

I will never cease to be amazed at the treats you manage at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. If I have a bowl of cereal and the paper at that time, I consider it a luxury! Oh, and if Michele is making her way over in her private jet, I may force her to pick up a stowaway from Canada!

2:27 PM, July 13, 2005  
Blogger red said...

i'm craving for them oatmeals...
i need to link you up, lest i forget...can i?

8:59 AM, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Tara, truth be told, I'm most often a cereal-and-paper girl myself. Except for the fact that my cereal is granola and yogurt, and my paper is usually online. Not the most romantic morning picture, I know, but it does spare me the black newsprint smudges on my fingers.

And red, these oatmeal cookies are definitely worthy of being craved. By all means, link up--and thank you!

5:42 PM, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Niki said...

Amazing looking cookies. I seriously feel a craving for one.
Re: the brown butter frosting, doesn't Nigella's recipe ask for 'unrefined' icing sugar? i.e. the brown powdered sugar? It is in our Australian/UK edition of the book. My version of the brown butter frosting came out definitely caramel coloured.

11:06 PM, July 18, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Niki, the cookies taste pretty amazing too, if I do say so myself. Since you are familiar with this frosting, I'm sure you can well imagine the flavor combination! As for the issue of the brown powdered sugar, hmmm, well, as far as I know, such a thing doesn't exist here in the States--or it is very, very hard to come by, at least. [I'm sure someone imports it and sells it somewhere, but it's not at my local stores, even the gourmet and specialties places.] The U.S. version of Nigella's recipe calls simply for powdered sugar, straight up. I imagine, though, that the frosting would be even more delicious with an added hint of caramel flavor from brown powdered sugar, if I could find it.

9:48 PM, July 19, 2005  
Blogger Niki said...

I had a feeling the US book left out this (vital!) clarification, and I suspected it must be because it's not available there, which is a shame. Tasting it was a revelation for me; it's not as sweet as normal powdered sugar, but has a definite toffee-like bitterness about it. In Australia we can get the Billington's brand from the UK, but only in very posh and expensive supermarkets. I make my packet last for a very long time - but quite simply, I've never imagined plain powdered sugar and water could taste so spectacular. She also calls for it in her Winter Plum Cake, and that icing transforms the cake. Well worth purchasing a packet if you ever locate it.

10:36 PM, July 19, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Niki, thanks so much for the details. I will definitely keep my eyes open for the elusive brown powdered sugar...

11:41 AM, July 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely Molly! I think this recipe is missing from your recipe index.

The tale that led me to this discovery:

A friend from northern CA is in town - I'm working in the DC area for a few days, staying in a beautiful old farmhouse on 4 or 5 acres. I thought, "Perfect, I'll invite her over for an east coast fall dinner -- soup it is!" I gathered chestnuts from one of the stooping old giants on the property here and set to work on Clotilde's carrot-chestnut soup. And I thought warm cookies for dessert would also be appropriately bundle-up-with-a-scarf autumnal.

But lo, I'm not in my own kitchen, and the weary blender here was just not up to the task of grinding oats into flour for the recipe I'd chosen. And I'm fine winging it at the stove but the stern old matronly oven is another thing entirely.

But my friend was due to arrive for pick up at the metro station in under an hour -- what to do??

"Surely Molly can save me," I thought with great calm. And I remembered this recipe, but couldn't, in my rush, locate it. I did find your oatmeal chocolate chip cookies recipe which worked a dream --they were, as you say, toothsome, and quite delicious. The 8 and 11 year olds next door agreed. And the (scant) leftovers made a tasty breakfast too!

"But I SWEAR she also had a recipe for frosted oatmeal cookies!" I cried to my mother over the phone. She's a trusty patient sort, and she steered me to the spot.


p.s. I don't think I told you: but thanks to you, David Rosengarten's Frosty Gin & Tonic was a welcome personal-happy-hour-on-the-terrace companion all the sticky summer long! Thanks!

11:20 AM, September 29, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Lisa, your comments always slay me. I'm so glad to hear that you've been eating oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies and getting your fill of perfectly crafted gin and tonics! I am not glad to hear, however, that I accidentally deprived you of this oatmeal cookie recipe by forgetting to put it in my recipe index. Ooof! No one should ever be denied brown-butter frosting. Many, many thanks for the nudge! I owe you one, m'dear.

6:54 PM, September 29, 2005  
Anonymous Noni said...

It's 8:50AM on a cold winter's morn here in Nasville. Normally, I'm not a morning person...but this recipe caused my left eye to open halfway...salivary glands drooling from those tempting pictures of your hazelnut iced oatmeal cookies...only one question remains to be answered...When is the next batch due out of the oven & can you fax a copy of directions to your home. My imagination thanks you...now for that second cup of coffee.

6:57 AM, February 02, 2008  

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