It’s Birthday week at our house for my guy . . . Dad, Pops, Grampa. We’ll be gathering to celebrate with a meat and potatoes dinner, his grandaughter’s homemade bread, and daughter’s Pecan Cheesecake. His kind of feast. If you ask him what he might like as a gift, he’ll say the same thing every time, “I don’t want a thing! Pay a bill instead.” One Christmas his Secret Santa did just that. Paid her electric bill in his name and wrapped up a copy of the transaction. He was happy. “I’d be even happier if you’d paid one of mine!”

He’s a simple guy with simple needs. He could use the same dinner plate, bowl, fork, spoon, coffee cup, or glass every meal. He almost does . . . even though I am a collector of dishes. He only needs two of anything in each clothes category: underwear, pants, shirts, socks, shoes. Those two selections will vary seasonally in type only (not quantity). There are only two seasons. Warm and Cold. He’s shown up at a grandson’s wedding sans socks and at the bank this winter in the blue slip-free hospital socks they sent him home in, tucked in his shoes. It was two weeks later. This is the same guy who wore gray slacks, white dress shirt, red-and-black striped tie, and blazer every day as Head Wrestling Coach at the University of Georgia when I met him. He had numerous pairs of these slacks, shirts, ties, and blazers . . . all hanging one-inch apart in his closet. I’ve accused him of “false advertising” a few times since then. But he’s still the same guy I sat across from at the Holiday Inn Restaurant after wresting practice . . . just to watch him eat his late dinner. Those were our dates. I loved watching him eat. He could eat a lot! He had great manners.

One of his simple pleasures is a little bite of sweet after dinner . . . or lunch, or mid-afternoon when brother Bill comes over to chat. This is why we usually have fresh cookies in the house or rolls of cookie dough in the freezer ready to bake. In honor of his Birthday, I’m sharing two of his favorite Oatmeal Cookie Recipes, along with my “Secrets of Cookie Baking” shared at one of our Family Reunions at the cabin. Happy cookie baking!

Secrets of Cookie BakingAunt Becky

Shortening: Choose the right shortening for the right cookie. Use a mix of half shortening and half butter for chewy cookies. Use all butter for crispy cookies—shortbreads, sugar cookies, pecan crispies, coconut macaroons, Oatmeal Pecan Scotchies, etc. (Shortening=Crisco, coconut oil, organic solid shortening, or margarine sticks—not soft-spread margarine or cooking oil.) There are a few recipes, like Gingersnaps, that call for all shortening.

Mixing: Don’t overmix the dough! You can leave the shortening and sugar creaming away in your mixer on medium low—while you call your sister, put a load of laundry in, or make the bed—but once you add the eggs, mix only until incorporated. You want your cookies, just mixed, not whipped up like cake batter. That goes for the dry ingredients too. Once you add those, mix only ‘til blended. (It is a good idea to combine the flour, baking soda or powder, salt, and spices first, fluffing with a whisk, before adding a scoop at time to mixer.) Since cookies have more flour, proportionally, than cakes, overmixing can make them tough. Almost all cookies (except for meringues or macarons) can be made entirely by hand. Some of your best texture successes will come with that old-fashioned method.

Baking—A: Consider your baking pans. If they are nonstick pans, or dark and heavy—your cookies will be done in the least amount of time. They must be watched, and they may be thinner or flatter than you wanted. You will probably need to add a couple of TBLS of additional flour, right from the start if you use these kinds of cookie sheets. If you have a light-colored aluminum pan, cookies bake slower, develop the height that a chewy cookie needs, and rarely burn. (You really have to overbake a pan of cookies on an aluminum sheet to burn then!) Invest in a heavy aluminum professional-grade cookie sheet! I get mine at Ross, Marshall’s, Walmart, or TJ Maxx. Keep your eye out for one at a good price. I know some people are against cooking with aluminum, but baking cookies is a relatively quick process.

Baking—B: Bake Reservedly. That means, bake only what your household will eat in the next day or two. Homemade cookies don’t have any preservatives, so they only taste really “great” for about 24 hours, if they are chewy. Crisp butter cookies are probably good for 3 days. Contrary to popular family lore, nobody’s homemade cookies taste amazing after two days—even Aunt Becky’s! However, to quote Uncle Bill upon finding an empty cookie jar, “You know what’s worse than a stale cookie? No cookie.”

Baking—C: Bake Strategically. That means, when hubby is working hard and needs a break and a treat, when company’s coming, when you’re grumpy and need a lift, when you need to feel domestic, or need chocolate. Yes, it means turning the oven on again, but save part of the dough to bake another day if you don’t have a houseful. I almost always bake a pan or two, then lay out a couple of long pieces of foil (with the same size piece of plastic wrap on top of it) and make two rolls of cookie dough. (Obviously you’ll need more rolls for double batches.) Plop the dough along the middle of the plastic wrap, fold the plastic wrap over so you can squeeze the dough between your fingers to make a roll. Adjust the plastic (if it got stuck in the dough roll), tuck tightly around, then roll up in the foil so your roll is airtight. Label with Sharpie Permanent Marker: cookie name, baking temp & time. Freeze until ready for fresh cookies. Dough will keep in fridge for a week or freezer for a month or more. Slice into thick slices with sturdy, sharp knife and bake. No need to defrost dough. You may have to add a minute or two to baking time. Set for regular time first, and check. Remember, chewy cookies should look a little underbaked in the center when you take them out.

Storing: Store cooled cookies in airtight containers. Most cute cookie jars are not airtight. Christmas tins work well, or cookie or storage jars with a rubber or plastic seal on the lids. If you MUST bake them all at once—freeze half of the cookies in freezer bags (sandwich bags aren’t heavy enough to protect taste and moisture content) as soon as they are cool. Get out a dozen at a time and put in the cookie jar when you need them. There are some cookies, like Oatmeal Pecan Scotchies, that we love right out of the freezer!

Rex’s Favorite Oatmeal Cookies—from the family cookbook, Everyday’s a Picnic at Stonecroft (page 36 if you have a copy). I start this triple-batch recipe in my Kitchenaid mixer, all the way through adding the flour, soda, salt, and a rounded teaspoon of cinnamon (optional, not in recipe). But the batter will then have to be put in a bigger mixing bowl to stir in the oats, raisins, and walnuts. You can substitute pecans.

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Oatmeal Pecan Scotchies

This recipe is on the back of the Nestle Butterscotch Chips. I follow it exactly, except for doubling the cinnamon, and adding 1 cup of coarsley-chopped pecans. Rex prefers these crispy.

On more than one occasion, the camera has cut to me after a break as I'm still trying to swallow the last bite of cookie. Those of you who have thought to yourselves, 'That guy talks like he has marbles in his mouth,' should know that they are not marbles, but oatmeal cookies. —Lester Holt, American news journalist, NBC anchorman

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