I love my Auntie Stella for many reasons.
For her love of life and contagious laughter.
For the way she can dissect the games of Nadal and Federer with gusto.
For her uncanny ability to spot and pick out every speck of dreaded green onion or cilantro in any dish she eats.
And for her cherished Christmas presents to me when I was a child.
You see, my Auntie Stella used to work for the company that distributed Snoopy and all the other Peanuts characters collectibles.
Every Christmas, I’d find under the tree, something bearing Snoopy’s likeness — sleep shirts, a coin bank, ornaments or a big plush dog, which I carried everywhere for the longest time.
Along with the Snoopy presents, there was also another regular treat from her under the tree.
It was a festive-wrapped cardboard box, which my aunt would dole out to each of her relatives. Inside were freshly baked Danish cookies from a local bakery that were lined up in rows like tiles. There were probably about five different kinds of cookies inside. But there was one that my oldest brother, Alan, and I always reached for first. They were rectangular ones with rounded edges, and a crisp, nubby texture.
I wasn’t even sure what was in them. I just ate them happily, adoring the way they crumbled in my mouth.
When my aunt retired from her company, which had a partnership with the bakery, the cookie box at Christmas time went by the wayside.
I never experienced those particular cookies again.
When I baked a batch of oatmeal cookies using a recipe from “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion” (Countryman Press).
There are many variations of oatmeal cookies in this wonderful cookbook. In the past, I’d often used the one for “The Essential Chewy Oatmeal Cookie.” But this time for a change, I decided to see how “The Essential Crunchy Oatmeal Cookie” recipe compared.
For even more variation, instead of raisins, I substituted dried white mulberries, which I had toted home from Australia. But you also can find them at specialty stores in the Bay Area, including the Spanish Table in Berkeley. The tiny, dried berries have a wonderful, sweet, date-like flavor.
This dough uses both unsalted butter and vegetable shortening to give the cookies a light, airy crunchiness. Brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, vanilla extract and chopped pecans or walnuts add a boost of flavor.
After the cookies emerged golden from the oven and had cooled on a rack, I carefully picked one up and took a bite.
It was Christmas and Snoopy all over again. It shattered in my mouth in the same way as those Danish cookies of yesteryear.
It may have taken decades for me to find this particular recipe. But it was worth the wait to find what is now my new — and old — favorite oatmeal cookie.
The Essential Crunchy Oatmeal Cookie with Dried Mulberries
(Makes 4 dozen cookies)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dried mulberries, packed; or raisins (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugars, butter, shortening, salt, baking powder, spices, and vanilla, beating until smooth. Beat in eggs. Stir in oats and flour, then the mulberries and nuts.
Drop dough by tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets. Using the flat bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar, flatten each ball of dough to about 1/4 inch.
Bake cookies for about 20 minutes, until they’re golden brown; these are supposed to be crunchy, so don’t underbake them. Remove from oven and transfer to a rack to cool.
Adapted from “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion”