Kitchn Love Letters

This 1960’s Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner Is the Only Holiday Cookie I Need

updated Dec 22, 2020
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Four oatmeal caramelitas are stacked on a wooden cutting board.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

I spent nearly every day of my college swim season hungry. It wasn’t for lack of trying. While I never quite managed to crack Michael Phelps’ 12,000-calorie diet — three egg sandwiches, an omelette, oatmeal, French toast, and pancakes for breakfast alone — my teammates and I considered the buffet-style dining hall open season, piling up plate after plate after plate. We kept boxes of cereal, protein bars, and chocolate chip cookies ready in the locker room just in case we needed refueling after a grueling two-and-a-half-hour practice.

So when my parents made the long drive up to Maine for the first swim meet of the year in December, I eagerly accepted the Tupperware of early Christmas cookies. (Mom was smart enough to hand it to me after the meet was over.) I disappeared into the locker room to change, and after being discovered by my teammates, the crackly chocolatey-caramel cookies quickly disappeared, too. I handed mom the empty Tupperware a few minutes later.

In My Family, No Holiday Season Is Complete Without Oatmeal Carmelitas

Now, these aren’t your classic holiday cookies. They’re not sugar cookies, or snowballs, or gingerbread, but rather Oatmeal Carmelitas, a Pillsbury Bake-Off-winning recipe from 1967 that my family has since adopted as our own.

Once these cookies come out of the oven, I know the holiday season has begun. They’re the perfect mix of chewy and crunchy, and decadent but not too rich, and that’s what makes them the best cookie of the year. We save them for special occasions and holidays, but they’re so simple you can make them anytime. 

You’ll start by mixing up a buttery oat crust, which is baked until golden. Then, while the crust is still warm from the oven, you’ll drizzle on caramel ice cream topping and sprinkle with a generous helping of chocolate chips, chopped nuts (we always use pecans), and more oats. As it bakes a second time, the nuts and chocolate slowly seep into the caramel and the whole thing solidifies into a blondie-like texture. It’s like combining the best parts of a chewy cookie with your favorite ice cream sundae toppings (caramel and chocolate), plus the structure of a candy bar. We’d leave them out for Santa, but by the time Christmas rolls around, they’re already long gone.

Get the recipe: Oatmeal Carmelitas

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.