Friday, February 15, 2013

Dark Chocolate Haystacks

These cookies hearken back to my childhood and one of my favorite desserts from school.  I came from a small town, and our school only had 2 cooks, but they were 2 of the best lunch ladies around.  These women were amazing - they managed to make home-cooked meals for about a hunded kids and teachers, give or take a few, that tasted good, too.  Sue and Peggy did this day in and day out, all with smiles on their faces and kind words for each and every child.  I can remember looking forward to the days when chocolate haystacks were on the menu because I knew that, if I went in to the kitchen before school, when the cookies were freshly made, Sue would let me have one.  It helped that she was our neighbor and family friend, but she would have done it for any of the kids.  These were women who truly cared about the children that passed their lunch line.  When I was old enough, I begged Sue to teach me how to make these.  Of course, she had to scale back the recipe, but I got the gist of it, and it was a major victory the first time I got them right.

Over the years, and a few major moves, I lost that original recipe, and almost forgot about those cookies.  Then, just after I moved to North Dakota, my family put together a cookbook for one of our reunions and within its pages was a no-bake cookie recipe.  I had to adjust it a little to get it close to what Sue and Peggy made, but once I did, they quickly became a favorite of my husband's.  Since it was his birthday today, I made these for him.  And, now I'm going to share them with you.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Stick unsalted butter
2 1/4 Cups sugar
1/2 Cup milk
1/4 Cup cocoa (I know that doesn't seem like enough to make it dark chocolate, but trust me!)
1/2 Cup peanut butter, chunky or creamy (We like the peanut chunks.)
3 Cups quick oatmeal
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 Tsp. salt

These set up quickly so it's important to do a few things first:  have all the ingredients measured out in advance and handy, set out a couple of sheets of wax paper and have a potholder close to the wax paper.

Place butter, sugar, milk and cocoa in a large saucepan turned to medium heat.

Stir every now and then, to mix ingredients.  When butter is almost melted, and you see tiny bubbles forming, like this:

Turn to medium-high heat until a rolling boil forms.

Set timer for 1 minute, 45 seconds, and stir constantly.  When timer goes off, pull immediately off heat, and add remaining ingredients.

Working quickly now, mix ingredients very well.

Move to the potholder, and using a tablespoon, start scooping cookies out.  These are going to set up quickly, and you don't want them to do that in the pan, so you have to go fast.

This is what our haystacks look like, before they have hardened up.  See how they are still glistening?

Once they've hardened up enough to eat them, a few minutes later, they will turn a flatter color.


*Note:  The boiling time is very important.  If you go too long, the cookies will be crumbly and won't stick together.  If you don't boil long enough, they will remain soft and won't set up.