How can an oatmeal cookie this good contain no butter or white sugar? We’ll show you.

There are probably as many different recipes for oatmeal cookies as there are bakers who make them. For me, the best oatmeal cookie is crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, with good oat flavor and a nice amount of plump raisins. And for me, the ultimate cookie doesn’t contain lots of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Before I set out to develop my vegan version of this classic cookie, I decided to make my first batch of dough with traditional ingredients – butter, sugar, eggs, white flour, and oats – so I’d be able to compare the differences as I went along. This was a valuable exercise. The traditional dough is very rich, yet has a certain lightness to it. When the oats are added, they seem to melt right into the batter. The dough can simply be dropped onto the baking sheet and the cookies rise beautifully. It was going to be tough to achieve these traditional cookie characteristics with nontraditional ingredients. Here’s how I met the challenge.

The Butter Replacement

Butter melts, allowing traditional dough to spread as it bakes. To avoid dairy and hydrogenated spreads like margarine (butter contains saturated fat, and margarine has transfatty acids, both of which have been linked to heart disease), I turned to canola oil. Unlike solid fats, oil does not contain any water or other ingredients, so these cookies had to be pressed into shape. This did not, however, affect their texture.

The Sugar Replacement

White sugar adds sweetness to traditional oatmeal cookies and contributes to the crisp texture as the crystals melt and recrystallize when the cookie cools. I substituted Sucanat (granulated cane juice that is not bleached) for the white sugar. I also added some maple syrup to make up for the liquid usually supplied by eggs. This combination of wet and dry sweeteners worked beautifully.

The Egg Replacement

I didn’t need one. Eggs provide binding and leavening in traditional cookies. Between the oil and the maple syrup, I had enough liquid to bind the dough. The cookies held together very well. A small amount of baking powder gave them the slight lift they needed.

The Flour

In order to keep the refined ingredients to a minimum, I had hoped to use only whole wheat pastry flour. But this gave the cookies an overly wheaty flavor, and I wanted the oats to dominate. So I compromised, using half whole wheat pastry flour and half unbleached white flour.

The Oats

Aiming for the texture and flavor of oats, I chose a 2:1 oat to flour ratio (two cups oats to one cup flour). Some recipes call for a 1:1 ratio, which, in my opinion, does not constitute an oatmeal cookie. I’ve always preferred the texture of cookies made with old-fashioned rolled oats, hut they posed a significant problem in my tests. They did not melt into the dough the way they had in the traditional recipe, nor did they bake very well in the oven. The cookies looked like bumpy rocks with an oat coating. (Quick oats did not provide a significant improvement.) So I ground half of the old-fashioned oats to a coarse meal and left the other half intact. This not only made the dough easier to stir, but also gave the cookies traditional texture and appearance.

Shaping and Baking

Because these cookies are not made with butter and therefore won’t spread as they bake, they need to be pressed into shape. I dropped the dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet (unbleached parchment paper is available in the baking aisle of most natural foods stores) and pressed them down to a thickness of 1/2 inch so that each was about three inches in diameter. I baked one tray at a time. (Doing two trays at once resulted in longer and uneven baking.) The cookies were quite soft when they came out of the oven and needed to cool about 30 minutes. During this time, their flavors mellowed and they firmed up, becoming crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. In that 30 minutes, these turned from good cookies into amazing cookies.

MASTER RECIPE FOR OLD-FASHIONED OATMEAL COOKIES

Makes 10 to 12 large cookies

These are not cookie-jar cookies. They’re best the day they’re made. That’s why I’ve developed a small recipe yielding just ten to twelve large cookies. If you want to keep the cookies for a few days, press them thinner (to about 1/4 inch) before baking. They will not be quite as chewy as thicker cookies, but they will hold their crisp texture for a few days.

  • 2    cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2  cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2  cup unbleached all-purpose flour teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2/3  cup canola oil
  • 1/2  cup maple syrup
  • 1/3  cup Sucanat or maple sprinkles
  • 1    teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3  cup raisins (optional)
  1. Set oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Pulse 1 cup of oats several times in food processor until oats resemble coarse meal. Transfer to large bowl. Add flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir well with wire whisk and set dry ingredients aside.
  3. Whisk oil, maple syrup, Sucanat (or maple sprinkles), and vanilla in medium bowl until thick and thoroughly blended.
  4. Fold into dry ingredients with firm rubber spatula until combined. Stir in remaining whole rolled oats and raisins, if using.
  5. Drop dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls, about 2 inches apart, onto prepared cookie sheet. With your fingers, press dough into rounds that are 1/2-inch thick. Bake in preheated oven until edges begin to brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. (Halfway through baking, rotate cookie sheet from front to back.)
  6. Remove from oven. With metal spatula, carefully transfer cookies to wire rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Repeat with remaining dough,

PER COOKIE: 247 calories, 3g protein, 14g fat, 29g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 108mg sodium, 4% calcium

COCONUT OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Follow Master Recipe, adding 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut to dry ingredients and substituting 2/3 cup vegan chocolate chips for raisins.

PER COOKIE: 315 calories, 4g protein, 18g fat, 37g carbohydrates, 2.5g fiber, 118mg sodium, 4% calcium

DATE PECAN OATMEAL COOKIES

Follow Master Recipe, substituting 2/3 cup pitted, chopped dates for raisins and adding 2/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped, along with whole oats. (Toast pecans in 350-degree oven for 6 minutes.)

PER COOKIE: 316 calories, 4g protein, 18g fat, 38g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 108mg sodium, 4% calcium

CRANBERRY WALNUT OATMEAL COOKIES

Follow Master Recipe, substituting 2/3 cup dried cranberries for raisins, and adding 2 tablespoons minced orange zest and 2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped, along with whole oats. (Toast walnuts in 350-degree oven for 8 minutes.)

PER COOKIE: 297 calories, 4g protein, 18g fat, 32g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 108mg sodium, 4% calcium

GINGER OATMEAL COOKIES

Follow Master Recipe, substituting 1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger for raisins.

PER COOKIE: 255 calories, 3g protein, 14g fat, 31g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 110mg sodium, 4% calcium

TOASTED ALMOND OATMEAL COOKIES

Follow Master Recipe, adding 1/4 teaspoon almond extract to liquid ingredients and substituting 2/3 cup almonds, toasted and chopped, for raisins. (Toast almonds in 350-degree oven for 8 minutes.)

PER COOKIE: 290 calories, 5g protein, 17g fat, 31g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 108mg sodium, 5% calcium