Thursday, December 9, 2010

chocolate salty oats

They say a new child is born in the U.S. every seven seconds. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that, if you tracked the number of artisanal food stores popping up around Brooklyn, the statistic would be something close to that.

Of course, I’m not complaining; but, as much as I appreciate any opportunity to pick up a new small-batch jam or specialty vinegar, I’m resigned to the fact that none of these stores—not even their own tiny LES Market branch-let—can fill the void in my heart left by Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA.

What makes Formaggio so special? Maybe the cheese selection (perfectly curated and cared for), or the sidewalk barbecues, or the complimentary honey tastings, or the ham and cheese croissants, or the homemade stock, or the Mulino Marino flour, or the tea cakes, or the syrupy whole-candied fruit. It’s all of those things, certainly. But for me, you could probably narrow it down to just one item: the Salty Oats cookie.

Formaggio didn’t invent the Salty Oats cookie (credit for that goes to Terri Horn), but they did introduce me to it about five years ago, and they’re the only place I’ve found that keeps them regularly in stock.

Let’s be very clear—any pre-conceived notions of the oatmeal cookie do not apply here. Whether it's their original oatmeal-raisin (which manages to redeem a fatally flawed concept), or their coconut-flecked Chocolate Salty Oats, these are paradigm-shifting cookies to which I am deeply, fanatically devoted. Texturally, they’re perfect—equal parts chewy and crackly—not to mention the crystallized flakes of sea salt that pop in your mouth. (Introduced in the late 90s, Salty Oats were pioneers of the now ubiquitous sweet-and-salty movement.)

I love both variations, but, when forced to choose, will almost always opt for the Chocolate Salty Oats. (Because, well, it’s chocolate.) Until recently, our visits to Cambridge meant that I was able to get a regular fix. But since K. and A. moved, we’ve all been forced to acclimate to a world without Salty Oats. It’s not an easy thing.

Two weeks ago, when I was heading down to Baltimore for Thanksgiving and asked if there was anything I could bring, K. responded, a little wistfully, “Chocolate Salty Oats.” Usually I would not take this request to heart, but given her sleep-deprived state, I decided (with perhaps a little hubris) that I would step up to the challenge.

At first I considered ordering some online, but, in search of a more sustainable solution, instead went out in search of a plausible imitation recipe. I found one, finally, in Salty Sweets by Christie Matheson, a woman who, I gather, was equally affected by her first Salty Oats encounter (also at Formaggio). With hours to spare, I baked up a quick half-batch, hopped on the train, and delivered them into K.’s unsuspecting hands.

I was a little scared to taste the results honestly—afraid to dishonor the original—but these cookies were absolutely delicious, with an even deeper chocolate flavor (and a freshness that's hard to get in packaged form). Not exactly the same, but just close enough to tide me over until my next trip to Boston.

***

Chocolate Salty Oats
Adapted from Salty Sweets, by Christie Matheson; inspired by Kayak Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks (I used a combination of the two, mostly bittersweet)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Using a fork, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and fine sea salt until well combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time.

Add the flour mixture in 4 to 5 increments, combing well after each addition. (Be sure not to overmix.) Stir in the oats, chocolate, and coconut.

Use an ice cream scoop to form balls of dough on the baking sheets. Sprinkle each ball very lightly with fine sea salt. (Keep in mind you will add more sea salt at the end, so use sparingly if at all.)

Bake for about 11 minutes, until the tops have just started to crack. Sprinkle with Maldon sea salt while still warm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. [The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to five days.]