If you loved the no-bake cookies from your 1970’s school cafeteria, I have news for you: this isn’t your recipe. Undoubtedly many of my peers thought those cookies (actually ours were bars, apparently the scooping of no-bake cookies being too time consuming) were just the grooviest things ever to land on their little plastic lunch trays. But not this chick. An unnaturally burnt peanut butter taste (not to mention smell) lurking in what appeared to be an innocently all-chocolate/oatmeal cookie made me highly suspicious of what else those lunch ladies were cooking up back there. Then one day I became a lunch lady and realized they were just following orders, ma’am. They weren’t trying to gag me every six weeks (well, more often than that- that’s just how often these particular cookies seemed to come ’round): they were just making what they were required to make the way they were required to make it. Which, apparently, was overly-peanut buttery, burned, dry, and crumbly. No wonder I was a skinny kid.
My mom never made these when I was growing up. She wasn’t much of a cookie maker, but leaned more to pies, puddings, and cinnamon rolls, and banana nut bread. Things that few of my friends’ mothers ever made and certainly nothing like what I was offered at school. Occasionally she might make cookies if required for a class party. She preferred anything but chocolate: she never made chocolate chip, for instance, but would make carrot cookies (time-consuming, but soooo good) or snickerdoodles. And she loved oatmeal raisin cookies. So I went to school with my “ain’t like mama makes it” attitude and looked down my freckled nose at whatever the lunch ladies tried to pass off as cookies, especially their nasty no-bakes.
Fast forward quite a few years (and three kids) later and I’m a regular cookie-making mama. Our whole family loves loves loves cookies, and between school and home baking I’ve made literally tens of thousands. But it gets hot in Kansas in the summertime and no-bake treats are especially welcome then. Enter this recipe, origin unknown. As I’ve stated before in this post, I’m pretty persnickety about peanut butter stuff. It can’t be too overwhelmingly peanut butter tasting, like peanut butter pie or peanut butter milkshakes-or overly peanut buttery no-bake cookies. Most recipes for these cookies have at least a half cup of peanut butter, while this one has a paltry one tablespoon. Why even bother with one tablespoon? It’s how the recipe was written, obviously by someone who was my picky pb peer. Maybe I’m crazy (don’t waste time speculating on that), but I’m certain I can taste that tiny, itty bitty bit of peanut butter in the cookie. And it’s just right.
The key to these cookies is your undivided attention. Get everything ready before you start. Every cookie sheet, every measuring cup, every ingredient needs to be ready to rock and roll. The French have a phrase for this: mise en place. It literally means “everything in it’s place.” It doesn’t mean your sock drawer is organized. It refers to having everything ready to go for food prep so your cooking operation runs quickly and smoothly. A smart idea all around, but especially necessary when making a recipe that’s time-critical, like this one. Timing is basically the difference between a dry, dusty (or alternately, runny and sticky) no-bake cookie and one you actually want to eat. While you’re making these the kids will have to fight, the dog will have to whine, and snapchats of you being a bomb cookie maker will have to wait for 15 minutes or so.
Most no-bake recipes don’t call for nuts. This one has a small amount and it’s another reason I like this recipe. If you don’t think you’d like the nuts, they could probably be omitted, although I always include them. Evaporated milk is used in these cookies. If you don’t cook much, look for the tiny (5 ounce) cans of evaporated milk so you don’t have so much left over, although you can use the remaining evaporated milk in cakes, scrambled eggs, french toast batter, or as a coffee creamer. You could make another batch of cookies, too.
I highly recommend a small cookie scoop to get these on to the cookie sheets ASAP. Rich and very sweet, make each cookie no more than a tablespoonful. Scoop quickly to get all the cookies on the sheet while the mixture is still slightly shiny. These really aren’t meant to be perfectly round cookies, however after you’ve scooped them all, you can gently mold the still-warm cookies with a spoon or small rubber spatula if the shape is important to you.
These are still a summer mainstay in my kitchen, although I make them at Christmas, too, when the oven is likely to be full of other goodies. They don’t need refrigeration, even in summer. Just store in a covered container at room temperature. After 24 hours they will have lost all shininess and, unless it’s very humid where you are, will be slightly drier, but not crumbly. If presentation is terribly important, make and serve the same day.
Although timing-and stirring-are critical with these cookies, they aren’t really hard to make. And even though these are by far the least attractive cookie I make, they’re also one of-if not the-most popular. Let me know if you make these and become popular. I wanna sit at your table.
Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies
- 1/3 c. evaporated milk
- ¼ c. baking cocoa
- ½ c. butter
- 1 ½ c. sugar
- 1 Tbs. peanut butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 ¾ c. quick cooking oats
- ¼ c. chopped pecans
- Step 1 Line one large, or two small baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper.
- Step 2 Pour the evaporated milk into a measuring cup and add the cocoa. Whisk it together to make a slurry.
- Step 3 Pour the cocoa/milk slurry into a heavy saucepan and add the sugar and butter.
- Step 4 Heat on medium, whisking continuously, until mixture comes to a full boil. Boil two minutes (keep whisking).
- Step 5 Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla with a wooden spoon.
- Step 6 Stir in oats and nuts and continue stirring (do not beat, just stir) for exactly two minutes. Mixture should still look a bit shiny.
- Step 7 Immediately drop by tablespoon onto baking sheets. A cookie scoop is helpful for this.
- Step 8 Let cool until set completely, about 30 minutes. Store in a covered container at room temperature.