Holiday gift ideas: Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe is one of my favorite cookie recipes ever.  It can be adapted in so many ways, and the cookies always turn out chewy and delicious.  Whether you choose to incorporate chocolate chips, tree nuts, peanuts, candied fruit, or (as in the case of this post) dried cranberries and white chocolate, the end result is always wonderful.

The recipe actually comes from a Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies cookbook from 2000.  I think my husband picked it up many years ago from the bargain section of the large chain bookstore for which he works.  I have tried several of the recipes from this book, and all of them have been successful (I especially like the Lemon Pistachio Biscotti), but this is the one I return to time and time again.

This year I’ve adapted it slightly, in that I subbed white whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose, and I used a combination of dark and light brown sugar instead of the light brown sugar and granulated sugar the recipe called for.  The reasons for this are two-fold: first, I’m trying to cut down on the amount of refined flour I use for baking; second, because of the addition of whole wheat flour (which doesn’t absorb moisture as readily as its all-purpose counterpart), I needed to increase the amount of moisture in the mix – brown sugar contains molasses, which has hygroscopic properties, and the darker the sugar, the more molasses it contains.

In years past, I’ve used Craisins and white chocolate chips in this recipe.  This year, I had a new toy I wanted to try out, so I did things a little differently.  As a late birthday/early Christmas present, my mother gifted me a fancy new food dehydrator.  I had a huge bag of fresh cranberries, so I decided I was going to make my own unsweetened dried cranberries.  It took quite a bit of trial and error (and two or three days of drying time – not because my dehydrator doesn’t work but because I apparently can’t read directions very well), but I was finally left with dried cranberries.

Now, they are VERY DRY.  Not leathery like Craisins, but dry like freeze-dried fruit tends to be. You could grind them and have cranberry powder (which, believe you me, I’m tempted to do and see what I can do with it).  So, for this application, I decided to reconstitute them a bit using about a cup of hot apple cider and a tablespoon or so of Agave nectar.  I just let a cup and half of the dried fruit steep in the cider mixture until they were soft.  Then I drained them and drank the residual cider – it tasted wonderfully of cranberry and apple, with just a hint of added sweetness from the Agave.  It makes me think you could make cranberry tea from the dried cranberries, sweeten it slightly with honey or agave and have a lovely warm winter beverage.

I also decided to use chopped white chocolate instead of chips.  The chunks of white chocolate held up better during baking than the chips do, and the flakes that result from the chopping get incorporated throughout, lending a bit of white chocolate flavor to every bite.

Last, but not least, I grated about a teaspoon of orange zest into the mix, just to perk up the flavor a bit.
  Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
prep time: 25 minutes
bake time: 9 minutes
yields: 80 cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 cups whole-wheat flour
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
4 oz. white chocolate, chopped
  1. Preheat your oven to 375F
  2. Line cookie sheets with silpats
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the sugar, baking powder and baking soda; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
  5. Beat in the eggs, milk, vanilla and orange zest until well combined
  6. Add the flour gradually, with the mixer on low speed
  7. Add the oats
  8. Add the cranberries and white chocolate.  You may have to incorporate this using a wooden spoon – the batter will be quite stiff at this point.
  9. Drop by rounded tablespoons two inches apart onto your prepared cookie sheets
  10. Bake at 375F for 9 minutes, or until edges are golden, but centers are soft.
  11. Cool on cookie sheet for on minute; transfer to a rack to cool

The resulting cookies are chewy, soft and full of flavor.  The whole-wheat flour gives them a bit of a bite, but not so much as to be distracting.  The cranberries are just tart enough to contrast nicely with the sweetness of the white chocolate, and the oats give great texture.  Feel free to substitute with the add-ins of your choice – these are such versatile cookies, and they would be a great addition to any holiday cookie swap.