Norman Rockwell’s Oatmeal Cookies

So, I wanted to do something special for you for the upcoming Independence Day holiday here in the U.S. Last year I shared a frozen zabaglione with strawberries and blueberries. And there’s certainly no sane reason not to make it again this year. Or every year for that matter.

But as it happens, I was browsing through the cookbook section of our local used bookstore and found a new volume to adopt and bring home, Maida Heatter’s Cookies. She’s been called the “Queen of Cake” with nine baking-focused cookbooks and a James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame award.

Wolfgang Puck’s foreword opens with “Maida Heatter is the fairy godmother of anything sweet, spicy, crunchy, chewy, or fluffy that you could possibly imagine baking.” I was going to buy it and take it home with me already but, if I had been on the fence at all, this cinched it for me.

A quick search tells me that Mrs. Heatter is 101 years old now and living in Florida as I write this which, for some reason given we’ve never met, makes me happy nonetheless. One thing I know, her recipes work. Not every cookbook author is as universally regaled as trustworthy.

Now, maybe it was just happenstance. Reading through the book I discovered Norman Rockwell’s Oatmeal Cookies. I love Norman Rockwell’s artwork and his magazine covers for July 4th are instantly recognizable. This would work!

I made those cookies.

And they were scrumptious.

(It’s not a word I use very often but it seems perfect here.)

They went fast too. Which means I need to make them again next week. Oh, darn.

 

Rough Drafts

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Spirit of America,” 1974. Illustration for The Franklin Mint, 1974. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections. ©Norman Rockwell Family Agency. All rights reserved.
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Spirit of America,” 1974. Illustration for The Franklin Mint, 1974. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections. ©Norman Rockwell Family Agency. All rights reserved.

The internet search for Norman Rockwell’s Oatmeal Cookies yielded not only the recipe in Maida’s cookbook but also two letters typewritten with the recipe from Mr. Rockwell himself. One to the Saturday Evening Post for apparently posterity sometime in the late 1970s and one to a Miss Bauer, March 22nd, 1966.

Here’s the funny part: all three recipes are different. More than a little.

One is at 350°F, the second at 375°F, and the third at 400°F. One egg versus two. Stick of butter versus a stick and a half. One cup brown sugar versus one half cup. One quarter cup white sugar versus one half cup.

You get the idea.

It appears maybe over time the recipe evolved to use less butter and sugar, but the flour, oats, and walnuts don’t change.  And I can’t for the life of me figure out how the one published in the Post resulted in the picture they printed next to it – tall-ish, fluffy-looking cookies. These pups are supposed to be thin and crispy as far as I can tell.

I couldn’t help it. Out of curiosity, I decided to also make the other versions, loaded as they were with the butter and sugars, to see the difference.

I should’ve known better. Maida Heatter’s recipe soared above the others. (My son still ate the underachieving batches, no surprise there, so they were perfectly edible, just nowhere near as good.)

 

Baking Time

ingredients for Norman Rockwell's Oatmeal Cookies

“These are large, thin wafers that are crisp, crunchy, and fragile.” – Maida Heatter’s Cookies

Put a stick of butter on the counter to come to room temperature.

Preheat a 350°F oven. Shiny-side up aluminum foil on a baking sheet.

foil-lined baking sheet

I used my faithful and trusty handheld mixer, no reason a stand mixer wouldn’t work though, to cream the butter.

creamed butter in a mixing bowl

Add the sugars and beat for three minutes – it should be smooth and creamy.

In goes the vanilla, water, and egg. Beat well for another minute.

first mix of cookie dough in a bowl

Going slower now, beat in the dry ingredients (not the oats or walnuts but everything else). Scrape down the sides.

chopped walnuts and a knife on a cutting board

Then add the oats and chopped walnuts and mix well with a spoon.

fully-mixed cookie dough in a mixing bowl

Drop a rounded tablespoon of cookie dough for each cookie on the foil-lined baking sheet. Keep them several inches apart because these spread out like there’s no tomorrow.

balls of cookie dough on a baking sheet

Using a spoon that you dipped in a small bowl of water between each cookie, flatten the cookie dough balls into discs about ¼ – ½ inches tall.

flattened balls of cookie dough on a baking sheet

Into the oven for 13-15 minutes. This part’s a little tricky. Maida Heatter warns us, “If they are underbaked the bottoms will be wet and sticky and it will be difficult to remove the cookies from the aluminum foil; if overbaked they will taste burnt and bitter.”

I’ll personally vouch for the first part. At 13 minutes, and then fully cooled, they were a bit tedious to gently pry off the foil with a spatula. At 15 minutes, they slid right off. Fortunately, I had no trouble with overbaking.

cookies just out of the oven on baking sheets

And Shazam! Holy Moly, Captain Marvel! those are good.

Not too sweet.

Crunchy.

The oats and the walnuts play off each other so well.

hand holding a cookie

I’d also read somewhere that Mr. Rockwell occasionally also liked to crumble a cookie over ice cream. And there was some vanilla in the freezer. Genius.

plate of Norman Rockwell's Oatmeal Cookies

plate of Norman Rockwell's Oatmeal Cookies

Norman Rockwell's Oatmeal Cookies

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cookies, maida heatter, norman rockwell
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 18 cookies

Norman Rockwell was a wonderful artist and these oatmeal cookies were his favorite. Thin, crispy, nutty, and oh so good. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.

Print

Ingredients

  • ½ cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons water (measure carefully)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal
  • 2-1/2 ounces walnuts, cut medium fine, (about 3/4 cup)

Instructions

  1. Let a stick of butter come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, shiny side up.
  2. Using a mixer, cream the butter for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add both the sugars and beat for three more minutes.
  4. In goes the egg, vanilla, water, baking soda, and salt. Mix well for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add the flour. Set the mixer to SLOW or you'll wear the flour. Thoroughly mix.

  6. Now, with just a spoon, mix in the oats and chopped walnuts.
  7. Drop by tablespoons onto the baking sheet, each cookie several inches from another.

  8. With a wet spoon, flatten the cookies to 1/4 - 1/3 inch.

  9. Bake for 13-15 minutes.

  10. Let cool completely. Remove from foil.

Recipe Notes

Store in an airtight container.

As is undoubtedly obvious by now, me finding a new cookbook to devour happens quite often. Nature of the beast. And if we ever move houses again, which I sincerely hope we do not but one never knows, I think moving into an old library and crafting a home inside might be the quicker, less expensive way to go. That said, Mrs. Heatter’s books are a welcome addition to the archives and I am grateful.

Thanks for stopping by.

Be well. Cook for each other.

Bill

I hope you enjoyed this and found it useful. If so, please consider sharing it. And I'd really appreciate a recipe rating below if you made this dish at home. Thank you!

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