Seven years ago Sean gave me one of my most treasured possessions. It was my birthday, and he had found a copy of the out-of-print, rather unknown, favourite book of my childhood.
Whereas my original copy had long ago lost whole sections out of overuse, this new copy was pristine perfection; the story intact and whole again.
Flipping through the pages, my enthusiasm for a tale of little mice and their adventures to a faraway land came rushing back. With the glee of a six-year-old, I pointed out the illustrations that had inspired me the most, explained to him the nuances of each character and hugged the book like the long-lost friend it was.
What made this gift all the more special, was that Sean and I had not known each other in childhood. It was only through my mentioning the book that he realized the importance to me. Having it now was a window to that youth, an opportunity for him to know the girl I had been.
Lucky for me, we have many ‘relics’ of Sean’s early years - our son Benjamin now plays with some of the same toys and is even measured on the same growth chart against which his father stood tall. But beyond all these, one of the most meaningful of legacies are the recipes I have been given by his family.
Whether it be the cheesy pasta salad that appears at every family gathering, or the apple cake that heralds fall, or Grandma's famous (and decadent) butter tarts, each of these recipes is inextricably tied to memories from the family I now call my own. Though unshared by me, I feel a part of those reminisces with each bite, and hopefully in the future, with each time I serve them.
Munching on a bakery-bought cookie a few days ago, I came to think of the recipe for Oatmeal Date Cookies from my dear Mother-in-Law. Passed down from her mother, it was the recipe noted with the scribble “Sean’s favourite” in the margins of their church’s fundraising cookbook.
Chewy, fat and unapologetically old-fashioned, these are the stuff of cookie-jar glory. I have dressed them up a bit with shards of almond butter toffee and chocolate chips; but that was just my mood that day. These are the perfect canvas for whatever strikes your fancy - white chocolate and dried cherries, perhaps? It doesn't matter the specific flavours of your childhood, as long as you remember to visit them once in a while.
Almond toffee oatmeal cookies
My own variation, based upon a recipe by my husband's maternal grandmother. They may look like your typical oatmeal cookies, but the salted toffee adds and unexpected depth of buttery flavour. I prefer some of the toffee pieces on the smaller side, so they melt into the batter when baking.
For the almond butter toffee
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup flaked almonds
For the cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup, golden syrup, honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 batch almond butter toffee, crushed into bits
To make the almond butter toffee
Grease a half sheet pan (13"x18") or cookie sheet.
Combine all ingredients, except the almonds, in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat, stir until the butter is melted. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer reaches 300ºF (150ºC). This will take about 25-30 minutes. If you do not have a candy thermometer, carefully drip a small amount of the sugar mixture into a cup of cold water; if it has reached the right temperature it will collect into a hard ball.
Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high heat, spread the almonds in a single layer. Toss the nuts occasionally to prevent scorching. Once they are light toasted brown and aromatic, remove from pan and set aside.
Mix nuts into butter toffee mixture. Working quickly, spread the toffee over the prepared half sheet pan in a thin layer. It will not fill the entire pan. Set aside to cool completely.
When cooled, break the toffee into irregular bits. I find it easiest to put pieces into a large, loosely sealed food storage bag and pounding the toffee into submission with the bottom of a skillet. You should end up with about 3/4 cup of nubby gravel.
For the cookies
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, beating well. Mix in vanilla.
With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the oatmeal, chocolate chips and crushed toffee.
Drop 2 tablespoons of dough into mounds (I use a disher that is 1 1/2” across) onto parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets. Space mounds about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly golden around the edges, but not crisp, about 10-12 minutes.
Cool on sheets for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 2 dozen.
• If anyone would like Sean’s Grandmother’s original recipe for Oatmeal Date Cookies, please leave a comment to that effect; I would be happy to oblige.
• Due to the buttery toffee, these cookies will melt and spread while baking. If you would like to reshape them, take a wide glass or bowl and swirl the slightly cooled (maybe after 10-15 seconds out of the oven) cookies in a circle. The edges will collect together neatly, as pictured.