Did you know that we're in high cookie season? No, it's not Christmas; those powdered and jeweled cookies won't come around for a few months yet. As much love as cookies get during the winter holidays, I feel that that's only one moment of glory. Full cookie season is right now, in the fall, as folks go back to school and work, lunchbox in hand. A cookie, you see, is my idea of a lunchbox mash note.
Today I have the sweetest of all lunchbox love notes for you — maybe my all-time favorite cookie recipe — a buttery, chewy oatmeal cookie topped with a dollop of chocolate fudge. It's almost as good as a kiss.
I've made these cookies for years and years (I think I first shared them here in 2007!). They were inspired by my favorite bake sale treat — oat bars with a layer of fudge on top. I like the recipe better in cookie form, though, because you get chewy edges and a soft middle on every cookie, with your very own splash of fudge to nibble around.
These cookies were the first thing that came to mind when my husband came home from his first week of the semester (he's a professor, teaching water science), and told me, with that winning grin he has, that he had promised "baked goods" to a small class of graduate students if they solved a problem he had set for them. "They're getting pretty close," he said, "Maybe next week?" He hinted at buying doughnuts but he knew I couldn't resist the chance to send him to campus with something home-baked. College students and cookies — I married this guy for a lot of good reasons, but one of them was the opportunity to test my recipes on eternally grateful graduate students.
But these cookies, while they bring joy and gladness in the lunchbox or the classroom, are so easy — just a gilded version of the old-fashioned oatmeal cookie. Don't be intimidated by the fudge — it's nothing more than sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips, melted down and spooned on top of the oatmeal cookie dough. You can even make the dough ahead of time and then assemble the cookies; they hardly take longer than ordinary oatmeal cookies.
And the result is so worth it, in my humble opinion. That dark bittersweet of the chocolate sets just firm enough so you can stack these up for bake sales, but stays soft enough so it crackles and bends when you bite into it.
The walnuts are optional; by all means leave them out if you don't do nuts. But I love their autumn flavor and savory touch.
And so did that class; my husband told them firmly they weren't to send back even a single cookie, and sure enough, the container arrived home happily empty. Students, teachers, even professors — everyone deserves a cookie on their desk this time of year.
Fudge & Walnut Oatmeal Cookies
1 3/4 cups shelled walnuts
1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1/2 hour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until toasted, stirring halfway through. Grind them in a food processor until they are in pieces about the size of mini chocolate chips. Remove all but 1/4 cup from the food processor, then grind the remaining 1/4 cup quite fine, like sprinkles.
In a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and beat briefly until just combined. Stir in the oats and 1 1/2 cups of the larger walnut pieces by hand. (At this point the dough can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
Over medium-low heat, warm the condensed milk and chocolate chips in a small saucepan until the chocolate chips are completely melted. Stir to combine and keep on very low heat.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet and dollop out small rounds of the cookie dough by the spoonful. Flatten into nests with the back of the spoon or your fingers.
Spread a teaspoonful of the chocolate mixture on top of each cookie dough nest. Cover the dough nest almost completely; the cookie will spread out around the chocolate. Sprinkle some of the remaining 1/4 cup of finely chopped nuts on top.
Bake at 375°F until just lightly golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes then remove to a cooling rack.
Store in a covered container for up to 5 days (or however long you can make them last).
Updated from recipe originally published November 1, 2007.
(Images: Faith Durand)