Thursday, January 7, 2010

White Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies, with Simple Hot Cocoa

Today was a snow day for me. It doesn’t snow too often in St. Louis – usually just a few times each winter. So when we have four inches of accumulation, most schools and many businesses go ahead and call off. I was given the day off! Great! Besides, it was really one of those days where you might as well just stay indoors curled up in a blanket, sip on a hot chocolate, and enjoy a good book…and I had off from work and didn’t have to go anywhere, so that’s exactly what I did.

I knew I wanted to bake something today. With the beautiful – but cold – blanket of sparkly white snow just outside my kitchen window, I wanted to make something that would heat my kitchen up and ward off the chill. I also didn’t want to have to go to the store to collect ingredients – it was just too cold outside! Fortunately, I had all the ingredients at home for oatmeal cookies…

And, I’ve been craving oatmeal cookies lately. My version is a soft and moist cookie, spiced with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. They are studded with sweet Lambert dried cherries, compliments of my mom’s summer cherry harvest (thanks, Mom!). White chocolate chips are folded into the dough – they give a creamy flavor counterpoint to the sweet cherries.

White Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1-3/4 cups 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
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-3/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2-1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c dried cherries, either sweet or tart will work, but I used sweet, because that is what I had on hand
3-1/2 cups oatmeal (not instant!)
1 c white chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, use a whisk or a fork to mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set this aside. (I tend to measure my nutmeg and cinnamon generously, like the next picture…)

Place the butter and brown sugar in a clean large bowl, preferably one that goes to a stand mixer. Beat the butter and brown sugar together until it is well-incorporated. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until a smooth batter has formed.

While the batter is beating, roughly chop the cherries to approximately the size of a raisin. Set them aside.

Once the butter mixture is smooth and well-mixed, add the flour mixture, stirring only until the ingredients are combined.

Add the oatmeal, cherries, and white chocolate chips. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated. (The batter is very stiff – this is definitely a recipe that is easier to make in a stand mixer.)

Use a small ice cream scoop to portion out 1.5-ounce balls of dough, approximately the sized of a ping pong ball. Place the cookie dough balls about two inches apart on a cookie sheet covered with a sheet of parchment paper or a Silpat.

Bake at 350 degrees until the cookies are pillowy and are almost firm to the touch, 6 to 9 minutes. They should appear slightly underbaked. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit on their cookie sheet, undisturbed, for five minutes. Transfer the parchment paper to a cooling rack and let the cookies sit on the paper until they are firm enough to transfer directly to the cooling rack.

What goes better with cookies on a cold winter day than…hot cocoa! Its super easy to make and tastes so much better than the stuff that comes from a packet. I don’t own a microwave, so I just make mine on the stovetop, but if your kitchen is so equipped, you could zap your milk long enough to heat it just until its steaming hot.

I have several small mixing bowls, so I mix each drink’s cocoa individually, that way I don’t have to worry about evenly portioning the cocoa mixture. I just use a fork to stir up each bowl of cocoa.

Simple Hot Cocoa
For each drink, you’ll need:

1 cup of milk
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
A teeny, tiny pinch of salt

Scald the milk over medium heat. (That is, heat it over medium heat, but don’t let it boil. It should be steamy and warm, but not bubbling.)

While the milk is heating, in a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar, cocoa powder, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk it together with a fork until it is well-incorporated and all of the large cocoa chunks have been disintegrated into powder. Pour the cocoa mixture into the bottom of your mug; top with the warm milk and stir to incorporate.

If you’re feeling particularly decadent, top your hot chocolate with whipped cream and a drizzle of homemade caramel sauce.

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