Saturday, October 13, 2012

Oatmeal Creme Pies

The Setting: Hoosband's much-anticipated fall break!

The Soundtrack: The League.

Steaming up the Oven: Cookies.

The Scenario: An homage to a childhood favorite.

When I was growing up, I loved to spend time at my grandparents' place. Many of my earliest and fondest food memories took place when I was in their care.

My grandmother always said of my grandfather and herself, "He likes the meats, and I like the sweets."

She was known for her love of dessert, and the sweet tooth didn't fall far from the tree.

One of our all-time-favorite treats to share was the Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie.

Though my grandmother was an excellent cook and always made an array of homemade desserts for holidays, she'd inevitably have a box of Little Debbies stashed in the pantry for picnics, trips to the farm, or the occasional (okay, frequent) snack.

She was a very proper woman and never would have admitted it, but between the two of us we could easily have taken out an entire box of these moist, chewy treats in one sitting--I know one of us has done it all on her own at least once or twice.

Somewhere along the line I gave up prepackaged convenience foods with complicated, scientific-sounding ingredients and became obsessed with making everything from scratch.

Creating an Oatmeal Creme Pie recipe was at the top of my list from the very beginning. And yet, somehow, it's taken me more than a decade to attack it. I guess I've been intimidated.

I've seen pictures of and eaten other homemade versions of this classic that just didn't measure up to my childhood memories.

Some were made of cookies that were too fat or too dry; some had cream that was too...well...creamy.

(Some had raisins, which was just wrong.)

The challenge was to create a thin, but not too thin, oatmeal cookie that would be soft, moist, and chewy, and a "cream" that would be stable enough to be stored at room temperature and firm enough not to all squish out after the first bite.

Brown sugar, honey, oil, and yogurt in the cookies help create moistness and the right balance of texture and flavor.

A mixture of coconut oil and butter are used in the filling because butter has a higher melting point (it's less likely to melt at a warm room temperature), and coconut oil softens the flavor of the butter so it's not too rich. The melted white chocolate and the powdered sugar also aid with firmness and stability. 

The goal was to be as true in taste, texture, and appearance to the original as could be, while remaining as all-from-scratch as possible. I'd call this a win-win.

Oatmeal Creme Pies
It is important to slightly under-bake the cookies so that they create that familiar, soft, chewy Little Debbie sensation when paired with the filling.

~for the cookies~
3 T butter, room temperature
3 T vegetable oil
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
6oz plain nonfat Greek yogurt (I use Fage)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
2 cups oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp fine-grain salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

~for the filling~
4 T unsalted butter
1/4 fine-grain salt
1 1/2 T refined coconut oil, cool room temperature (solid but soft)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup white "chocolate" chips, melted and cooled but still pourable (I used Nestle)

Thoroughly beat together the butter, oil, brown sugar, and honey, scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the yogurt, egg, and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together the remaining cookie ingredients. Add the oat mixture to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed to begin, and finishing on medium speed.

Cover the dough bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Using a medium-sized cookie scoop, place cookies at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake one sheet at a time on the center rack of the oven at 350 degrees F for 9 minutes. Cookies should look a little underdone. Allow to cool for 3-5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Repeat with remaining cookies.

To prepare the filling, beat the cold butter along with a very small pinch of salt until smooth. Add the coconut oil and vanilla, beating just to combine. Add the powdered sugar and beat till well-mixed. Beat in the melted white chocolate. The mixture should be thick, white, and almost dough-like.

Transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with just a coupler or to a disposable pastry bag with a 3/4-inch hole cut at the bottom. Squeeze out 4-6 disks-blobs (yes, that's a technical term) on half of the cookies, using your fingers to flatten the blobs out slightly if necessary. Gently press one of the remaining cookies on each topped cookie. Resist the urge to press too hard, or the cookie might tear.

I like to wrap each creme pie separately in plastic wrap and then store them all in a couple of zip-top gallon bags at room temperature. Stored this way, they'll last up to a week...that is, if the chef everyone in your house doesn't eat them all first!

Makes about 12 sandwich cookies.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

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