I was a happy little butterball when I was a kid. Sweets were my thing, desserts in particular. And chocolate desserts most of all. The one exception to the rule? My grandmother's oatmeal cookies.
They were sweet, of course, but also lacy and crispy. Back then I didn't know or care that oatmeal cookies were a healthier choice than most other treats (thanks to the oats, which are a concentrated source of fiber and nutrients). But healthfulness alone has never done it for me.
During my hippy days, I was well aware of the nutritional benefits of granola cookies — which are, in essence, soft oatmeal cookies stuffed with dried fruit and nuts — but they struck me as more like medicine than dessert. Besides, I missed the crispiness of my grandmother's version.
This is an embellished rendition of Grandma Ruth's cookies. We start with a pure base: oatmeal, butter, white sugar, a whole egg and vanilla extract. No low-fat ingredients. I firmly believe that a modest serving of a full-fat, full-sugar dessert is more enjoyable than a larger serving of something with no fat or fake sugar.
In a festive nod to the holidays, I've spruced up the basic recipe with chocolate and orange, a combination that plays beautifully together. Bittersweet chocolate chips are my chocolate of choice, but you're welcome to substitute chopped bittersweet chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips, if you prefer.
If you're not the most accomplished baker, but like the idea of whipping up a homemade treat for family and friends during the holidays, these are the cookies for you. They're so easy that even my husband could make them. And yet they come off more like a specialty item from a fancy bakery than a prosaic little oatmeal cookie.
Also, they'll stay fresh for several weeks in an airtight container at room temperature, which allows you to keep eating when your guests and the holidays are gone, but your cravings remain!
CHOCOLATE ORANGE LACE COOKIES
Start to finish: 50 minutes (30 minutes active)
Makes 2 dozen cookies
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (about 1 orange)
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with kitchen parchment.
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest, then beat until light and fluffy, about another 4 minutes. In another medium bowl, mix together the oats, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.
Scoop the dough a tablespoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, arranging them about 2 inches apart and about 12 per baking sheet. Use the back of a spoon to lightly press down on each mound to slightly flatten it. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, on the oven's center rack until the edges are browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the cookies to a wire rack immediately and let them cool completely.
Nutrition information per serving: 50 calories; 25 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 3 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 1 g protein; 40 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."