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No-Bake Secrets

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Summertime circa 1985

I clearly remember being a girl, helping my Mom make No-Bake cookies by the wax-paper-sheet-full for our “BackYard VBS” summer meetings.  Once a summer, we ran out and invited kids from our neighborhood over to our backyard every day for a week.  I remember the bright sun, the healthy green grass, and our narrow kitchen where Mom let me help with her cookie preparation like I was a little sous chef.  What perfect delight.

So, it was the mid-80s in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  A group of happy, sweaty kids would run into our yard and crowd around my Mom as she told Bible stories for a few minutes.  We played backyard games like Red Rover, sang kids’ songs or did some kind of activity, and we ALWAYS ended with a snack.  A VERY YUMMY snack.  (I believe God cares about delicious food as much as kids do, and I am not kidding.)

I remember the first time Mom and I mused together over a newly-finished batch of No Bakes that there must be some hidden trick to making them come out right.  One which we did not always get.  Actually, we rarely got it right.  Perhaps it was the humidity, or the ingredients (if we ran out of something and had to substitute).  From one batch to the next we would sometimes get a gloppy mess.  Or, on the flip side, they might come out rock hard.  In the end, we did our best and dubbed them “Gooey Cookies” to signify how unpredictable they were.  We never stopped making them though!

Despite the rarity of a moist, soft No Bake cookie outcome, “Gooey Cookies” became a family staple.  I still have a seasonal summer craving after my childhood Backyard VBS experiences.  It became my go-to recipe for any hardcore chocolate needs, and it is the recipe I now pull out for quick-cookie situations.  If you’ve never had them, YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISSING OUT!  If you have had them and disagree, your recipe might just need a little TLC.

Here’s the run down from my kitchen.  Let me know how you do it if you see something different!

No Bake Cookies

In a 2-quart-ish pan, combine:
2 c. sugar (I have used as low as 1 1/4 cup successfully, usually use nat’l cane)
One stick butter (usually use unsalted)
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 c. milk  (usually use whole)

Begin heating the mix on high heat with candy thermometer (makes a difference but does not always ensure perfect cookies) clipped in place (not touching the bottom of the pan), and separately prepare:

3 c. oats (I usually use 5 minute but quick is also good).
1/2 c. peanut butter (I usually use natural)
1 tsp. vanilla
A counter lined with kitchen parchment paper or wax paper
A hot pad for the pan
A tsp.- or tbsp.-sized spoon for cookie dropping

Let the mixture on the stove boil til soft-ball stage.  **On non-humid days (below 50% humidity) this is about 1 1/2 minutes.  On humid days it can be three to five minutes (you can add a pinch of salt to lower the boiling point).  Soft-ball stage is when you can let a drop fall into a clear glass of cool water and it forms a solid/soft ball at the bottom — ideally, what you want your cookie to look like!**  Remove from heat and quickly add the other ingredients.  Stir quickly and begin dropping the cookies immediately.  They should set up quickly as they cool and you can eat them almost immediately.  If they don’t set, pull out a spoon or fork and go for it.  Yep, you heard me.  Right off the countertop.

What I have run into as the “problem” (never stopped me from eating them) is the variations possible on this recipe, causing the cookies to come out too hard or too soft.  In my mind, the cause could be anything: 5 minute oats or Quick oats?  Jiffy Peanut Butter or Natural (no salt or sugar)?  Butter or margarine?  Humid days or non-humid days (where I live, high humidity is a way of life for most of the year)!  Processed sugar or Cane sugar; Cocoa powder or baking chocolate (or Hershey’s kisses)!  The only thing I have not done successfully in any form is to double the recipe in one batch.  (I’m open to suggestions!)

My decided plan is to edit this post/update with the variations I have this summer what the occasion was for, and see what the outcomes each time were.  I am up for anyone else’s experiments too!  Let’s see how well we can do.

07-05-13.  Friends coming over!  Used 5-min. oats, cocoa powder, 2 full cups cane sugar, no-salt butter, natural PB, and boiled to just above soft ball stage (243 degrees-ish).  No added salt, Today’s humidity 34%.  GOOEY COOKIE outcome this time…. shaking my head.  I still ate them but didn’t serve them because they were way too grainy.

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07-07-13.  Anniversary day!  Used 1 1/4 cups cane sugar, boiled to well above soft ball stage (245 degrees-ish).  No added salt, but used a wider pan and added 2 c. raisins!!! Today’s humidity 50%.  Crumbly cookie outcome this time (as you can see, I could not get the whole pan scooped into cookie form before it dried out).  Shaking my head.  Still ate ’em!

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07-08-13.  Plumbers at the road needed a treat!  Used 1 1/4 cups cane sugar, about a 1/3 c. PB, boiled to almost hard-ball stage (more on that in a second).  Added a pinch of kosher salt, used my regular pot to cook in, and mixed up some powdered milk since we were out of whole.  Current humidity 60% (rained all morning).  It took forever to get to soft ball stage, then suddenly shot up to hard ball stage so I had to act fast.  It didn’t get as much PB or any vanilla as a result.  I mixed in the oats and PB I could scoop out super-fast, then dumped it out of the pan and patted it into a big circle, which I then scooped off into individual bites as the cookie mix stayed just soft enough just long enough.  Weird but true.  I have never done it that way before but I wanted it out of the hot pan.   Actually a really great cookie outcome!  They were soft and held together.  Yum!

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08-02-13.  Kids and Mommy needed a treat!  Used 1 1/4 cups cane sugar, a full c. of nat’l PB (the stir kind — not whipped), and also have increased the chocolate to 4 tbsp.  Added a pinch of sea salt, humidity was 63%.  Last but not least, I have finally decided to throw away my candy thermometer, and now I just use the method of dripping some of the “candy” into a cup of cold water to see if it’s soft ball stage yet.  It works the best for me because then I am ready to drop cookies at the right stage best on a picture of how they’ll come out, not what a thermometer says.  More hands-on.  I like that.  They came out deliciously perfect this time actually.

Are you still here?  Go make cookies!  Give some away if you need an excuse!

God bless you, friends.  Thanks for reading!

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