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Incredible Cookies from Lousy Ingredients and Pedestrian Recipe

So here's this weird thing. I've been really into these oatmeal cookies baked by a mysterious guy in CT for years (he's a friend of several friends, and they save me a couple of leftover cookies whenever he visits, and when he visits he usually brings cookies).

After a very long time, I finally met the guy, and told him how much I loved the cookies. His attitude was a mixture of exasperation that I'd make such a big deal, but also obvious pride, because he clearly knows they're ridiculously great, even though it turns out he's using crap ingredients and using the recipe on the Quaker Oats box.

Yes, you read right. The recipe on the Quaker Oats box. Some of the best cookies I've ever had, which I've been admiring for years, are made from the Quaker Oats recipe. I've tasted dozens of results from that recipe over the years, but none were anything remotely like this.

So the question is: how does the magic get in?

I videotaped him to try to find out. View the video, plus the EXACT recipe he uses (which does integrate a few minor tweaks) at http://jimleff.blogspot.com/2011/11/e... .

I'd love your feedback about this mystery!

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  1. If that is (and it looks like it) a variation on the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal cookies -- yes, they're the best oatmeal cookies on the planet.

    I don't know what alchemy happens, but they come out moist and chewy and wonderful every time.

    (but with Heath chips? OMG)

    15 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      Ok, that's helpful, thanks. It IS a really good recipe (Quaker certainly has incentive to make the most delicious recipes possible, to create incentive for you to buy lots of their product!).

      But Von has passed this recipe to lots of people, and reports (as he says in the video) that no one seems to get the same results.

      Which brings up a huge question no one seems to ever focus on, though it's really the most important question any of us can ever ask: why do some people, working from the same ingredients, recipes, and equipment, create deliciousness while others don't? Two violin students of the same teacher, with the same violin and same music, will not move you equally. I could give a thousand - ten thousand! - other examples. But the fact is that there is something immaterial that makes some renditions beautiful, inspiring, and/or delicious, and others less so.

      Knowing that this particular recipe is a Mozart concerto helps. But one experienced pianist can make you cry with a Mozart concerto, whereas another will leave you cold. And there's one somewhere out there whose performance will change your life......as Von's cookies have done for me.

      And that's the enigma.

      I've eaten a lot of cookies. I've eaten a lot of great food (for those who don't know, I'm a restaurant critic known for ferreting out great stuff, and I founded this site). I'm not easily impressed - especially not to this degree. I've eaten widely in 25 countries and nearly every state for thirty years, but I've hardly ever had cookies this good!

      1. re: Jim Leff

        The magic gets in the same way my great grandmother Bessie could turn flour, butter and nuts into magic baked goods-it's their hands. Their touch. Their nonchalance about it all. Bess had these walnut cookies that drove the men in her neighborhood well, nuts and the women could never replicate them. She said she found the recipe off a bag of whole walnuts and committed the thing to memory. Baked thousands of walnut cookies in her 94 years and never could quite figure out what the big deal was.

        I watched the video days ago on your slog and thought Von and Bessie would get on famously.

        I've made the walnut cookies dozens of times and they just aren't as good as Bessie's.

        1. re: HillJ

          Great story, HillJ, thanks (my grandma was a Bessie too, btw).

          Hey, we can easily just sigh and nod our heads, and chalk it up to "one of those things". We've all met such people and eaten their magical food. We're grateful when we do, but I think it should inspire greater curiousity.

          I've long been driven to figure out what it actually IS. Not spiritually, but on a physical level. What's that THING? In fact, I've been working on a book about just that (working title: "The Roots of Deliciousness"). I'm writing it "on spec", because I don't want to rush. As years go by, my understanding deepens.

          But Von threw me. I didn't see much love and care and touch. In fact, he seemed pretty darned blase about the whole thing. EXCEPT (as I noted in the video), the shaping of the cookies onto the parchment paper. I saw, there, some juju. Did it convey for you at all?

          1. re: Jim Leff

            As a matter of fact it did. Basic tools, don't make a fuss-what I'm referring to as the nonchalance. What you call blase here. Bessie used two spoons to form the cookies; not parchment-brown paper bags. But she also used the two baking sheets together that Von used to keep the cookies from bottom browning too much. Must be the distrust of appliances (Bess never found a stove she trusted).

            Roots of Deliciousness sounds spot on for a book on spec. Keep interviewing the folks, Jim. The (THING) story IS IN THEM.

            1. re: HillJ

              HillJ, we agree on a lot, but I couldn't disagree more on "Keep interviewing the folks, Jim. The (THING) story IS IN THEM."

              They never know, and they can never say. Some of them can tell you a story, but it's just a story. They don't know any better than anyone else. If it were "knowable", in a rational way, then it'd have long ago been distilled, disseminated, and everyone could do it. I think that's self-evident. It will never be reduced to formula, or explained in a way the analytical mind would find satisfying.

              And that's why I talk about it in suitably hushed tones, using loose terms like "magic". I don't think we can ever pin it down. But I do think I can explain, for those who've never been touched by this whatever-it-is, what it sort of is and sort of how it gets in. I've already approached it from several angles on my Slog (e.g. in the articles linked to in the cookie video link). I present the cookie video as a pretty keen and tidy koan reduction.

              1. re: Jim Leff

                Such an excellent point.
                My love of accidental story tellers is showing.

            2. re: Jim Leff

              Jim, my chocolate chip cookies are straight off of the back of the Nestle's Toll House Morsels bag -- and people BEG me to make chocolate chip cookies for them.

              I've baked countless hundreds of dozens over the years -- as the football team mom, I was churning out 10-15 dozen a week (sometimes TWICE a week), so I have it down to a science, and can turn out that amount in only a little more time than it takes me to turn out 4 dozen (the standard recipe).

              I don't do anything weird or special or different -- but people swear that they can never get them to turn out like mine...and I have no idea why - but it's transferred through several moves, both within the US and internationally, so the ingredients obviously change...and still no one can replicate them.

              1. re: sunshine842

                sunshine your post reminded me of another interesting aspect of this experience-the gratefulness that comes when someone makes one thing well, over and over, and the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy them. Bessie's cookies were spectacular but so was the idea that we could walk into her kitchen any day of the week and eat a batch just out of the oven. That's also the juju.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  sunshine: also, your oven's changed with those moves. Several people have theorized that ovens are unique and personal. But your experience disproves that.

                  Mabye you and Von and others like you ought to form an elite society. You could wear lapel pins, so you'd know each other. People would be constantly hitting on you for cookies. You'd have supermodel-like cache in society.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Those always taste good, but look awful when I make them. they spread out too much.

                    I have tried every chocolate chip recipe I can find, and they always turn out flat. I've made sure to buy brand new baking powder or baking soda, depending on the recipe, and still...flat cookies.

                    My oatmeal cookies rock, but chocolate chip cookies hate me.

                    1. re: Acantha

                      There's so much I could post about improving your chocolate chip cookies but it doesn't belong in this thread. If you post a new thread asking for advice, I'm sure you'd be inundated. Chowhounds are great at diagnosing problems.

                      1. re: Acantha

                        Just a quick word about choc chippers. My chocolate chip cookies improved when I began chilling the dough before baking. They don't spread as much then.

                        Even if you are unsatisfied with your cookies, I imagine your family appreciates them.

                        1. re: Acantha

                          I'm with the chilling crowd. I age my dough in the fridge and often make extra and freeze it so I don't have to wait 36 hours for cookies. When it's fresh out of the fridge it resists flattening, and when I bake from frozen they're nearly half domes.

                  2. re: Jim Leff

                    One variable--I think a lot of people don't take into account the loss of heat from an oven when you open it (and/or have ovens that aren't accurate temperature-wise). Since they bake so quickly, I think it's important to set the temperature a bit high for cookies before you open the oven door to account for the loss of heat (I usually turn it back down the last five minutes then crank it up again after I take the cookies out to get it ready for the next batch).

                    The other more intangible factor is that when you bake a lot of cookies, you know what the consistency should be and learn to make very minor (practically subconscious) adjustments to the cookie size, flatness, baking time, dough coldness, velocity at oven-opening/closing, etc. to get the results you want. Making cookies small in size is another very easy way to make them taste better, in my opinion--more of that golden crispy surface area, less potential for cakiness (which I abhor in a cookie!).

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      cooking is an art, as well as a science

                  3. I'll have a look at your video later tonight, but I really like your question. I don't know why your friend's cookies are better than your cookies might be. But there is probably a cookie, or other item that YOU can bake or make better than anyone else. You just have to find it. And, the oatmeal cookie recipe that I have made in the past from the Quaker Oat box always was pretty good. Sometimes the simplest things really are the best.

                    And here's a thought--what sort of vanilla does your friend use?

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: sueatmo

                      Stop and Shop vanilla extract...as a matter of fact Jim commented several times on the ingredient list. Even the oats Von was baking with on camera were Stop & Shop brand. No frills. When you watch the video sueatmo, you'll see the almost careless approach Von takes to make what's been described as cookie love.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        HillJ, I do try to keep my mind open to the notion that love can be injected without a big "thing" being made of it. In fact, chefs who go on and on about all the love and tenderness they inject are almost invariably lousy chefs. It's all posing and intention - i.e. all internal. It's about the "about", rather than about the doing.

                        So you can miss the people who actually do this. I sometimes see this myself: I'd do just about anything to help just about anybody, but I don't act warm and fuzzy, so people rarely notice. There are the people who immerse, and the people who make a show of immersion. It bugs me that the former don't get much attention (hence Chowhound, where we shine a spotlight on underappreciated gems).

                        Von's an extreme example. So blase! And you almost never spot any level of care at all (except, as I said, for his left hand, quietly nudging the dough behind his more noticeable right hand). My theory is that his heart is absolutely melting into the things (he likely doesn't even realize). And just 'cuz he's declining to grimace in dramatic spiritual catharsis doesn't change anything.

                        This stuff just fascinates me. Sorry to go on and on. But I spent a decade hunting down and writing about people (and restaurants) like Von. And I spent another building this site so kindred spirits could pool notes. I guess I'm spending this decade trying to get to the bottom of what that "thing" actually is. I've read lots of "aesthetics" philosophy, but none of it really gets there for me.

                        1. re: Jim Leff

                          If you find it, I'll be reading along.

                          1. re: Jim Leff

                            Jeff -

                            Years ago my husband and I went to a Japanese Festival in Torrance, CA. And one of the events was a sushi chef judging. My husband was chosen as one of the audience judges (probably because as a pale red head he looked so out of place!) and we thought it would be just a lark. Because the rules were, everyone got the exact same ingredients from the exact same supplies. All restaurant chefs. And they were to make the same thing. And yet - my husband said there was an ENORMOUS difference between the dishes.

                            It was such a demonstration of skill and touch, we have not forgotten it.

                            I'm off to watch your cookie video!

                            1. re: happybaker

                              happybaker, I had a formative experience like that, too. It will, in fact, open the book I'm writing (per my reply to HillJ, above).

                              In 1992, I had a week-long gig at the Olympics in Seville. Like lots of gigs, they kept the band so far out of town that there was nothing to eat (chowhoundish musicians suffer unbearably). Me and the sax player strolled over to a convenience store to buy identical boxes of lousy pasta and jars of lousy sauce. We brought them back to our identical convenience apartments, with identical stoves and pots, and we both cooked up dinner. Mine tasted like convenience store pasta topped with convenience store sauce. His wasn't exactly great, but it had unmistakable pizzazz. It tasted ITALIAN (he was, in fact Italian). I searched his apartment for oregano or EVOO, but there was none.

                              The Von video is one crystallization of this phenomenon. But the pasta experience was as stark as one could imagine. And it's what's brought me down this path. I've been thinking about it ever since.

                              What WAS it about Ralph's pasta? I do have an answer, but I'm developing it for the book! But the upshot is this: I'm quite sure that this question is the crux for everything that inspires me about human life on Earth. I live for the "greater" part of "greater than the sum of its parts". That's all that matters to me. Everyone else pays attention to the parts, but I'm completely obsessed with the magic part of the equation. And it IS magic (not like making rabbits disappear, or stirring cauldrons; this is, I believe, what magic really is). And once you start paying attention to it, you can't settle for less.

                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                Oh you make me smile.

                                My grandma Helen could take potatoes, boil them - and they would be nirvana. Better than any boiled potato you'd ever had. Just potatoes, margarine, salt and pepper. But somehow she knew how to watch and adjust and - magic. My dad was what they now call a "broilerman". He could grill and broil like no ones business. And my mom? Her recipe for stuffed cabbage ends with "The dish is done when the cabbage is soft and the liquid tastes like wine."

                                Most of their stuff I can replicate, some I cannot. I know it's the magic in their fingers and in their heads. I take comfort in the fact that my oatmeal cookies? A tweak from Joy of Cooking? No ones replicated them yet : )

                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                  Could he have put a bouillon cube (caldo) in with the water when it boiled? A lot of people here in Spain cook pasta this way and those cubes are ubiquitous in kitchens (and much tastier than their generic American counterparts).

                                  1. re: butterfly

                                    ¡Sin caldo!

                                    He promised, he added nothing. And I believe him.

                          2. I don't get why this is a "pedestrian" recipe. Common, yes, but a lot of the great recipes are this simple. There are no gimmicks or hard to find ingredients, sure, but deliciousness has never required these.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Isolda

                              Isolda and Georgia,

                              I wasn't trying to sound snobbish. I'm actually the furthest thing from that.

                              But if you'd spent several years intrigued by mysterious oatmeal cookies baked by a mysterious baker who was fairly guarded with details, and if you'd been eagerly driving miles and miles whenever friends got their hands on some, and, after years and years of effort, you'd finally met the guy and was told they're baked from the recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal Box, using standard supermarket ingredients, I'm betting you'd share my bafflement.

                              I didn't expect fanciness. I did, however, expect esoteric touches and tricks. Grain shipped in from a nephew at an oatmeal farm in Gdansk. A subliminal pinch of earl gray. Leave the brown sugar out in the sun. Butter from a cow meandering around his yard. Something!

                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                but it's also a nudge to remember that it doesn't HAVE to be esoteric to be special -- sometimes the simple works the best.

                            2. On the back of Kraft PB jars, there is a recipe: peanut butter, sugar, egg. Oh sure, I can make fancier cookies with good fresh organic peanut butter and fancy sugars, but they're so classic as printed.

                              1. Lousy ingredients? Pedestrian? Huh.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Georgia Sommers

                                  I wonder if it's not an instinct, the smell of the cookies when they are approaching the "done" stage, the attention to the color of the cookies (or whatever they are cooking), the timing of the cookies to be done when they seem done rather than the designated period of time. Fwiw, I usually set my oven to 325F for cookies regardless of the instructions and set the timer for every 5 minutes, turning the sheet and checking for when they "look" done. Pie crust, I set a higher temperature.

                                2. You've piqued my curiosity, as someone who believes in baking being a science, not about magic. I would love to try the cookies to see what they taste like but they are not the vanishing oatmeal cookie recipe on Quakers box which calls for a stick of butter (1/2 c). He uses a stick of Crisco which is a cup of shortening. If you double the recipe to match butter/margarine amount, the sugar/flour would be off.


                                  Have you made his recipe? I'll give it a try. I'm wondering if others trying this recipe would get good results. Doing a quick google search, I found this, a recipe from someone's grandmother, so this recipe is an old one but not common since these are the only places I see it. This might just be a great lost oatmeal cookie recipe?


                                  As the cookie sheets go, I've found they make a huge difference. Making the same batch of dough, baking side by side (as comparison), I get tall cookies on my cheap Target nonstick cookie sheets and much more spread on the heavy stainless steel ones. So, doubling thin, old cookie sheets will matter. Replicating that would be hard w/out the sheets.

                                  Finally, ovens, as finely calibrated as they can be, make a big difference, too. Right out of college, I moved into an apartment where my roommates told me the oven made the best cookies. They were both avid bakers and baked everywhere but they were adamant that our (very old, like Von's) made better cookies than anywhere else. I was soon convinced. Even as I've gotten better w/ my tools, techniques, 20 some years later, those were the best cookies we baked. Maybe, like your violin analogy, it's like a stradivarius, better but elusive. If you took Von out of his kitchen and had him use the same ingredients, I wonder if he'd get the same results.

                                  Either way, I need to get some Crisco to give this recipe a try.

                                  23 Replies
                                  1. re: chowser

                                    "Maybe, like your violin analogy, it's like a stradivarius, better but elusive"

                                    Do you doubt that two musicians playing the same notes on the same strad with the same bow in the same hall, with the same training from the same teacher, and the same number of years of practice, would yield extremely divergent results, and affect listeners in very different ways?

                                    To me, it's pretty inarguable. But I'm grateful to have your contribution to the thread, since everyone else seems to share a lot of my assumptions. It's good to have the other side stated!

                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                      My comment about the Stradivarius is about the oven, not the musician. I was throwing out the hypothesis that the oven could make a difference.

                                      As a violinist, I don't think the violinist analogy is appropriate since it's far more complex than baking oatmeal cookies. I think there is a skill to baking cookies but one that can be much more easily reproduced. It's more akin to paint by numbers. You can teach the skill, with good results.

                                      My two questions still remain:

                                      1) Has anyone tried this recipe, since it's not the one assumed that's on the box, to see if it's the recipe? This does not seem to be a common recipe, as proportions go, and could be a superior one. It's not pedestrian,as in your title, and I'm surprised that everyone still thinks it's the same as the Quaker Oats.

                                      2) Can he reproduce superior results, even if not as good as the ones from his kitchen, outside of his kitchen? A master violinist will sound amazing on a terrible violin, just not nearly as good as on a superior instrument. Is it his skill, or his equipment and recipe?

                                      I'm not downplaying Von's ability to make good cookies and don't doubt what you're saying about they're being the amazing. I'm just being devil's advocate and asking if it's that unique or if it can be reproduced. I'm betting it's a good recipe and he has the technique nailed, over the years. And, that it can be replicated, unlike Joshua Bell's skill.

                                      Adding on, people tell me I'm an excellent baker. I tell them it's only that I've assembled excellent recipes and as long as they have the desire to learn how to do it, they can, too. I've never told them that about the violin.

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        No it's not the Quaker Oats cookie recipe as written or demonstrated. Von said the recipe was taken from the box. But as you can see he's a no frills baker. I got that after watching the trailer. Another CH mentioned tweaking the recipe. Could be the case over time the saving $ on ingredients, thinking of convenience. Afterall, Von doesn't see what all the fuss is about even knowing people enjoy them. All Stop & Shop ingredients.

                                        I asked my sister for her take on Jim's thoughts regarding Von and our great grandmother and she replied that our great grandfather had a word for her juju: gift. Sis said, back in the day Great Granfather Nathan said Bessie had a gift for baking walnut cookies and not just anyone has the gift. But my entire family is very nostalgic about food; especially baking.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          Apparently, it's the "vanishing" cookie recipe from the box, not the standard cookie recipe. Or so I'm told.

                                          Many people have tried his recipe. As he says in the video, no one has come close to his results. And I'm pretty sure he can reproduce it anywhere (as can the several individuals discussed by others in this thread with a similarly magical touch).

                                          As for skill, I need to point out that Von professes none. And exhibits none (except, as I said, in the forming of cookies on the sheet). Check out the video for yourself!

                                          And IMO his cookies are not excellent. I've had scads of excellent cookies in my time. These are profound. Different thing.

                                          And, fwiw, not a fan of Joshua Bell... ;)

                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                            I did see the video. There is skill there, maybe not studied, but he's pretty darn good at creaming sugar and shortening by hand which takes patience. He quickly mixes oatmeal into the dough and incorporates it well, w/ little effort. It's like watching a grandmother whose made biscuits for years. As I've I'll maintain, it's not the vanishing oatmeal cookies or any oatmeal cookie on Quaker's site (or on the box which I have). And, I've only found it one place online. It's not a common recipe. I'd love to try his cookies to see what makes them "profound". But, maybe as you don't like Joshua Bell, not everyone would think these are profound.;-)

                                            As for trying the recipe, I've given my recipes to people who say it never turns out as good. I've shown a few how to make it, going through the steps, as Von did with you, and they had good results. As I've said, it makes a big difference having someone over your shoulder so you can see what it's supposed to look and feel like at each step. And, CHs could try the recipe and unless you try them, we couldn't compare. What would it take to convince you that it was replicable?

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              "not everyone would think these are profound.;-) "

                                              That is actually a very appropriate point to raise. So here's my basis for making such a pronouncement (and I won't use "reputation" or "credentials" or any of that stuff, because lots of people with credentials have lousy taste!).

                                              First, there is no doubt at all that my appraisal would be argued. Just like every nearly-unanimously-loved place on Chowhound inevitably has at least some detractors. But that doesn't mean everything's randomly subjective. If it were, there'd be no use for Chowhound or for criticism in general.

                                              So, two answers for you. First, it's alluded to in the video that Von's friends and neighbors revere his cookies. Indeed, you don't see a lot of people biting into one and shrugging. Second, after decades of finding a great many diamonds in the rough, and not always feeling sure whether 1. I was being quirky or if 2. I was really onto something, but finding confirmation in people I trust (or, simply by confirmation from large numbers of people), I've developed the confidence to assume #2. Though, per my topmost sentence, I've also layered in an expectation that someone will inevitably dissent (and I like this complexity; no total objectivity, no total subjectivity, but enough objectivity to make opinion sharing useful!).

                                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                                Honestly, I do trust that if you found them profound, that I'd believe that there was something different about them. It's one of the benefits of CH that you find people whose opinion you trust. At the same time, on these boards, even among CH who I trust, there is a wide diversity in opinions on say, how a brownie should be and what a great brownie is. Nonetheless, it's bugging me that I won't be able to taste these cookies because I am very curious.

                                                As for others loving cookies, I've been to far too many potlucks where people rave about brownie mix brownies that I don't trust everyone raving about it. As it is, my go-to brownies recipe is the Nick Maglieri supernatural brownies--I think they're okay, not great but they come together quickly and people rave about them, as do many CHs. So, how good are they?

                                                I did buy everything to make them. I'll have to modify because I can't use nuts (allergies) so hopefully it won't affect it that much. I'll forgo my stand mixer and do it all by hand. I think the hardest part is how he portions them out and smooshes. I like my cookie scoop.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  Supernaturals are a great example - if you're a fan of who created them and of who's promoting them especially on this site, because when you're raped long enough with a recipe you will start believing that they are The Ultimate. As for people raving about them, when you bake enough folks will rave about anything, including other brownies.

                                                  I'm convinced that something is getting lost in the translation of the recipe, between the op, the video and those who are making the cookies. I'm sensitive to shortening in cookies, so again I believe this is all very subjective and influence many times has an upper hand.

                                                  1. re: lilgi

                                                    I believe this is all very subjective and influence many times has an upper hand.


                                                    I do agree. The minute I baked Von's cookies I had several thoughts. a) Bessie's walnut cookies kick ass over these b) Von makes alot of people happy with his cookies even if they didn't wow me and c) Jim's onto something interesting and I look forward to hearing about what comes next.

                                                    With holiday baking on our minds it reminds me how many of us have tried and true favorites in our own files, sourced from family, hand me downs, friends and countless printed material. We share, swap and bake like mad. The quest for the cookie (baked good) that stands apart is a constant. Happy to add Von's to the file, happier yet that Von's story hits a nerve.

                                                    I can't wait to hear from CH's that also give baking this cookies a try and report back. Feedback is pretty cool around here.

                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                      I'm glad to have seen this video though - brought a big smile to my face, he's just adorable beyond words.

                                                      1. re: lilgi

                                                        Absolutely, what's not to appreciate about such unassuming characters!

                                                      2. re: HillJ

                                                        I'm somewhat leary of Crisco cookies, too, but am willing to give this a try based on Jim's description. It might be a few days, though, since I have a big batch of cookie dough that's been sitting in the refrigerator and need to be baked. Anything to be aware of? Could you replicate the scooping and flattening? How about deciding how far apart to place the dough since you don't know how much they'll spread? I'm guessing it's not a lot, given that it's Crisco. Did you weigh or measure?

                                                        Oh Bessie's walnut oatmeal cookies? Can you share the recipe on a new thread? Thanks!

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          chowser, no not really; you'll rip thru the dough in minutes. I did try my best to replicate and based the space btwn cookies on what Von put on the sheet (noted coming out of the oven). They didn't spread much at all. I always weigh dry.

                                                          Re Bessie's walnut cookies (no oats in those). Sure.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              Just remember, Bessie was just as unassuming in her baking skills and was a professional Russian baker most of her adult life once she landed in NY.

                                                              eta: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/817762
                                                              Bessie's Walnut cookies are posted.

                                                        2. re: HillJ

                                                          The minute I baked Von's cookies I had several thoughts. a) Bessie's walnut cookies kick ass over these b) Von makes alot of people happy with his cookies even if they didn't wow me

                                                          But you didn't bake or have Von's cookies. Just his recipe.

                                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                                            Which is why I said this below, Jim:

                                                            What I take away from the experiement is that experiencing Von’s oatmeal cookies is not the same as experiencing Von’s recipe…for all the reasons we’ve been chatting about above.

                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                              fwiw, my husband and my neighbors husband loved Von's cookies this evening. All but four are left and chances are dh will take them to work.

                                                              Personal preference here, if I had left the Heath bits out of the recipe, it wouldn't have been the one Von's makes, but I would have enjoyed them more. But altering the recipe wasn't the point.

                                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                                Oh, man. Von is so all about the Heath bar bits.

                                                                My favorite line is when I ask him if he makes choc chip cookies, and he's seriously taken aback, and practically spits at the very idea. Why? The chips would conflict with the Heath Bar bits! But....but....you don't need to add Heath Bar bits! And that's when the conversation immediately steered elsewhere!


                                                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                  Funny, I felt the same way when chowser asked me if Bessie's Walnut Cookies would work sub'ing almonds....Bess would provide ample lip service at such sub-ing. They are WALNUT cookies for a reason she would say (hand on hip of course).

                                                                  I'm a subber....but only after I've road tested the original.

                                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                                    this is probably my main complaint with chowhound ( though i love it pretty unreservedly)

                                                                    ".. made your chicken paprikash recipe the other day, (did not have chicken, so substituted duck, had no sour cream, ended up using yogurt, cut the salt in half and have an allergy to pepper, ...it was terrible!"


                                                                  2. re: Jim Leff

                                                                    The Heath Bar bits are his secret ingredient for great cookies - mine are cinnamon chips. They're not easy to find, but they're magic.

                                                                    1. re: Kajikit

                                                                      Hey Kajikit. Where do u find cin-chips? wonder if we can get them in Canada?

                                          2. I sat next to well known restaurant owner at dinner one night and she told me that the reason some recipes are perfection only when made by the author...chef's surprise...they leave out an ingredient or a technique is not fully explained. You however, have the entire process taped. My thoughts on why they are so good: he doesn't use a mixer...does it all by hand. Second...his shaping method. Doesn't pack them.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Tripper

                                              "My thoughts on why they are so good: he doesn't use a mixer...does it all by hand. Second...his shaping method. Doesn't pack them."

                                              I think that plays a huge part in why recipes work better for some than others. My mom is a lousy cook. She follows all recipes to the T. If it says cook 20 minutes, she's cooking it 20 minutes - not longer if it seems like the flavors might deepen, not shorter so the protein isn't overdone. When she makes cookies she'll measure them all out in exacting amounts, cook for 8 minutes whether they're pale or burnt, etc.

                                              I really believe the difference is in the cook's touch 99% of the time.

                                            2. I LOVE this thread! People are mysterious, and that's what makes life so great, and so interesting.

                                              My mom -- the world's most haphazard cook -- forgets ingredients, does 8 other things while cooking, burns stuff, etc. etc., makes the best pie ever. Unfailingly. And it's PIE -- pie is hard to make!

                                              I believe it is like in the old saw about the king or emperor who asks a famous artist to draw him a rooster. The artist tells him it will take one year. The king is impatient, but the artist insists. At the end of the year, the king comes to the artist's studio and sees on the walls thousands and thousands of drawings of roosters. "Which one is mine?" the king asks. The artist takes a sheet of paper and a pencil, and in thirty seconds scrawls out a rooster. "Here's your rooster," he says, and the rooster is perfect.

                                              Moral: if you bake the same cookies thousands of times, you just know exactly how in your bones. That's your rooster!

                                              26 Replies
                                              1. re: visciole

                                                "if you bake the same cookies thousands of times, you just know exactly how in your bones. That's your rooster!"

                                                But I don't think it's a question of repetition. Consider how many crummy chefs make the same dishes thousands - even tens of thousands - of times.

                                                If you've got some juju going in the first place, lots of repetition surely helps. But it's not the repetition itself, I don't think....

                                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                                  Sure, the guy was an artist to begin with!

                                                  But the talented artist, or athlete, or cook, or etc, will get even better with practice. So likely Von has some cooking mojo, which has been refined to the pinnacle of perfection by repetition.

                                                  (But also I agree with the person who said that hand-mixing helps....)

                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                    don't dismiss repetition so quickly, i agree it's not the whole story but i do think it's a BIG part of that rare juju you seek out.

                                                    i worked in a kitchen for a brief moment... there were a few recipes that i had a knack with from the start, and so those were the things I was asked to make most frequently. of course i got better and faster and more confident with those those recipes, until they seemed to take the least effort.

                                                    and those were also the dishes that gained the most compliments, and i would happily hear raves like 'my (---) always came out the best'.

                                                    practice is part of any art.

                                                    1. re: gypsy

                                                      Something one of my calligraphers told me that has always stuck with me, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." If you don't take it seriously and always do the letter wrong, it will always be wrong. Getting better comes with a want and a desire to get better.

                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                        Agreed! It is a combination of practice and focus, IMO. The focus comes from the desire to do it right, or to learn to do it right. Then later, whatever it is looks so very easy to the observer.

                                                        1. re: sueatmo

                                                          this thread also makes me think about how my italian grandmother cooked, everything seemed so effortless and casual when she worked her magic, and the results were always pure joy!

                                                          1. re: gypsy

                                                            I've always said the one thing I'd love is to have an Italian grandmother.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              I want an Italian grandmother too.

                                                              1. re: visciole

                                                                I dunno, y'all -- I had a Swiss-German grandmother, and don't think that being Italian would have made her food any better....

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  OK, sold, I'll take one of those, too! What did she make you?

                                                                  But I still want the Italian grandmother and for her to be expert at the home-made ravioli....

                                                                  1. re: visciole

                                                                    My grandmother was known for miles for her hand-made egg noodles -- paper-thin (so not too far from pasta!) -- hearty Midwest fare, mostly -- beef and noodles, chicken and noodles, homemade pie crust, mile-high angel food, putting food by for the cold months -- she was a stellar cook, and happily I literally grew up standing at her elbow watching her cook, and learning. As the oldest grandchild, I'm now called on by my cousins for recipes and techniques that they weren't old enough to remember.

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      My grandmother's pie crust was so good. You wouldn't think it was possible with only a mixing bowl and a dinner fork, using Crisco. I can't duplicate it with a food processor.

                                                                      1. re: Antilope

                                                                        Y'know, I'm starting to wonder if the whole issue is a shaggy dog story, with the punchline being "Crisco".

                                                                        Nobody uses Crisco anymore. Nobody WANTS to use Crisco. People in this very thread have sworn not to.

                                                                        And few cookies impress like Von's.

                                                                        So.....could it be that Crisco is the Holy Grail?

                                                                        1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                          Yes Jim it could! My mother in law makes awesome pie crust - with Crisco. And I mean awesome, tender, flaky. I wish I saved you a piece of her apple pie from Thanksgiving. The pie went so quickly, I could barely get a picture before the last slice was scooped up. If you are ever doing a segment on pies and want to try a great one from a Connecticut grandma, let me know.

                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                            If nobody's using Crisco, there's a heckuva lot of dead inventory in every supermarket in the US.

                                                                            Everything has a use.

                                                                            My grandma used Crisco for her baking, too (and chicken was fried in melted Crisco, too)

                                                                            I think your basic assumption is what's faulty, here -- it's not "lousy ingredients" -- it's ingredients easily available to the average American home kitchen at a reasonable price -- and it's not a "pedestrian recipe" -- it's a tested recipe that works and produces great results.

                                                                            An awful lot of us were raised by, and taught to cook by, folks who used ingredients you could buy at any supermarket in the country on a budget. Most of us cooked that way because it's how we were taught, and as young adults trying to survive our own youth, it's what we had the budget and resources to buy.

                                                                            THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH USING CRISCO. OR STORE-BRAND VANILLA.

                                                                            We Hounds need to sometimes step back and remember that it doesn't have to have the finest, most obscure, most precious ingredients, combined with some recipe created by someone the press has anointed a master.

                                                                            It just needs to taste good.

                                                                            And that's EXACTLY what this recipe accomplishes.

                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                              "THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH USING CRISCO. OR STORE-BRAND VANILLA."

                                                                              Thank you!!! I completely concur.

                                                                              1. re: FitMom4Life

                                                                                say wha?...i never heard of criscocookies be4 :)

                                                                              2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                "It just needs to taste good." Yes!

                                                                                And wasn't Crisco reformulated to take out trans fats in the last decade or so?

                                                                                Somewhere, Alton Brown has written about how Crisco affects bakery goods. Someone here will know what he said.

                                                                                Now, I've got to tell you that I haven't used Crisco in probably 35 years. I made very good piecrust with corn oil margarine. This year, I used the Chowhound flaky piecrust recipe though that uses butter and shortening.

                                                                              3. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                Totally NOT true, for me at least. I have used Crisco routinely, in many cookie recipes, for many many years. Where do all these people come from that have never heard of Crisco in cookies??? Really odd!!!

                                                                                1. re: FitMom4Life

                                                                                  I don't think people haven't heard of it, but Crisco got a bad reputation a while back when people started becoming aware of the problem with fat. I haven't seen a cookbook or newspaper/magazine recipe using Crisco since that time.

                                                                                  If Crisco is used it is in old time recipes. The only thing I use it for is Polish Chirstmas cookies.

                                                                                  Also, in the days when Crisco was cheaper than butter, it was sort of the poor man's baking fat. So it doesn't have the cache of butter. It is the SPAM of cooking fat ... it doesn't get a lot of respect.

                                                                                  Given Von's age, and that he uses nothing special ingredients ... substituting quick oats for whole when the price is cheaper ... I'll bet somewhere along the line the price of butter came into play and that is when he substituted Crisco and ... voila!

                                                                                  However, reading thru this thread, I don't think it is just the Crisco that matters but the holy trinity so far that gets violated ... Crisco, DARK brown sugar and judicious use of Heath bits. That's what people seem to screw with the most when making these cookies.

                                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                                    Having made the cookies twice, I think it's more than just the ingredients, Crisco, dark brown sugar and Heath bits where people have gone wrong. Most on the boards have tried it exactly as he has and according to Jim, no one can replicate his results. For the record, Von has been making to cookies since early 90's, so it wasn't like he grew up making them. Most of us have probably been baking longer than that. The recipe isn't the vanishing oatmeal recipe he claims and having spent some time googling it, I have only found one recipe that is the same proportions (Heath bits aside) and that calls for Crisco.

                                                                                  2. re: FitMom4Life

                                                                                    It's not that people haven't heard of Crisco in baking. It was a 50's housewife staple. It's an aversion to it. Crisco gives a greasy mouthfeel. I can get much better results, if I want that flakiness, with lard. The taste of butter can't be beat.

                                                                                  3. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                    No, I think Crisco is part of it but not the whole equation. Who hasn't had Crisco cookies? It's just that they fell out of favor for the taste of butter, the taste alone can make an awesome cookie. Honestly, as much as I like these cookies, that's the biggest drawback--the mouthfeel of Crisco (and the cookie dough, one of my reasons for baking, is inedible as a result). Shirley Corriher advocated using it for making taller cookies and it's an ingredient in Alton Brown's tall chocolate chip cookie recipe. I've tried it and didn't like it. I think with Von's recipe, it's a combination of that, which gives it the texture, and the Heath bits which seem to melt into the cookie. I'd love to know, of his friends and family members who've tried the recipe, how many did it the way he did, same ingredients, etc. and, how many actually tried using the Vanishing Oatmeal recipe that he says it is.

                                                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  Have you posted her angel food recipe anywhere? I would love to learn to make it. So many sweet midwestern memories, but no one in my family made it.

                                                                                  1. re: butterfly

                                                                                    It was the Swan's Down Cake Flour recipe -- ignore the cream filling; the cake recipe here is the same as she used (and now I use)

                                                                                    Biggest thing is the sifting 5 times (once before measuring, then 4 more times) -- and handling the egg whites with kid gloves so they won't fall. (and no stomping around the kitchen!


                                                                                    I have the wire whip that she used to fold the flour into the whites - it looked like this:


                                                                                    I swear it's the reason that the cakes rise so well, because it doesn't break the whites at all.

                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                      Thanks so much sunshine842! I need to dig around my mom's kitchen drawers, because I know we had a whip like that. I forgot those existed. It's a little work of art!

                                                            2. I think the magic is his own particular mojo. He talks about precision, then demonstrates that he is not precise. He talks about the second tray, then puts a tray in without an underlying tray. I think it is a combination of senses and undefineable nuances in motor skills - how he stirs, how he knows when to atop, how he scoops it out. None of it is intentional, it is just his way, and would be difficult for anyone else to exactly replicate. I come upon this theory based on personal experience. I used to having powerful baking magic, baking standard recipes with spectacular results. When a medical issue messed with my fine motor skills, my cooking and baking skills went to h3ll in a hand basket. I was using the same recipes and ingredients, but suddenly with drastically different results. As I returned to normal function, the mojo returned. I was doing the same things, but my movements and senses were slightly skewed. I don't think it's much different than with anything else. Sure baking is a science, but undefineable skills naturally make some people great at it, and some not. Go visit a baking school, and you'll witness it in action.

                                                              Or it could be the Heath toffee bits.

                                                              1. Jim, i love the working title for your book, and the timing of this thread is perfect as i was just having a related discussion with Mom the other day. she wanted to know what i do differently that makes her coffee taste better when i brew it. the answer? absolutely nothing. i use the same beans, same grinder, same water, same ratios, same coffeemaker, all in her kitchen.

                                                                i've been going through this for years - i give someone a recipe, occasionally even make it while they watch me so they can see my methods...and they come back to me insisting that i must have left something out or added a "secret ingredient" when they weren't looking because it didn't taste as good or come out the same way when they made it. i've lived in numerous apartments on both coasts, some with gas appliances, some electric, some old, some new...the kitchen isn't the key. i wish i knew what was, and i really hope you figure it out. perhaps then i'll be able to convince the skeptics that i'm really not hiding anything from them!

                                                                1. Maybe someone who is a bad cook can give some insight … not using my board excuses of lack of talent and patience.

                                                                  There have been times when I wanted to cook well, took the effort and repeated something a zillion times.

                                                                  So I've spent a few decades pondering this question of why I can’t be good while others doing what seems to be the same thing are great.

                                                                  I can use top quality ingredients and suck while someone else can create greatness out of the ordinary or even bad.

                                                                  I believe in neither magic nor miracles. I think it boils down to science.

                                                                  It is why I love Harold McGee. If there is an extremely detailed instruction that he writes, I can usually succeed.

                                                                  So let me ask this question.

                                                                  Do you think if you stood in Von’s kitchen using his equipment and the ingredients he provided that you could replicate those cookies?

                                                                  In this thread you have dismissed a number of factors such as equipment or ingredients. However put together they can be significant.

                                                                  BUT, everyone has instincts. You just know when something is right or wrong. You can’t say why. Von has those instincts and the point is the uncovering the science behind them and articulating it.

                                                                  I think the written recipe is way too vague if the intention is to duplicate magic.

                                                                  In the recipe you write “At this point, move quickly, because the baking soda is working!”

                                                                  That could be one of the clues … what exactly does that mean time-wise?

                                                                  My mother had some recipes I could never duplicate because she would say something like “knead until it feels right.” There was science in that would need a McGee to articulate … “knead the dough for xx minutes, using this much pressure, etc, etc.

                                                                  Perhaps as Von mixes that dough until it feels right to him. Someone mentioned hand-mixing. Maybe some people replicating this use machines to mix the dough and that is why they fail.

                                                                  As to quickly … Von instinctively knows the exact timing … can you use the video to get the exact time?.

                                                                  There was the business you and other posters noted about the shaping “his left hand, quietly nudging the dough behind his more noticeable right hand”.

                                                                  That could be BIG.

                                                                  Tripper wrote “My thoughts on why they are so good: he doesn't use a mixer...does it all by hand. Second...his shaping method. Doesn't pack them.”

                                                                  Think of all the discussions on the board about hamburger patties, shaping them, pressing down on the meat, etc, etc. It changes the burger. The shaping was the only thing Von paid more attention to.

                                                                  Another poster in this thread commented on instinct …

                                                                  “I wonder if it's not an instinct, the smell of the cookies when they are approaching the "done" stage, the attention to the color of the cookies (or whatever they are cooking), the timing of the cookies to be done when they seem done rather than the designated period of time”

                                                                  If you noted that smell and color that might help. Ovens get hot and the first batch might have slightly different timing than others. It might help pin things down better.

                                                                  Someone else wrote “how he stirs, how he knows when to atop, how he scoops it out”. Look at that closely in the video. Replicate it. Document it.

                                                                  As to the rest, I believe it plays into the whole.

                                                                  Type of flour, baking soda, etc … Chowhound has taught me the differences, though slight. Again, if Von has changed these over the years, maybe with each change he has made some slight, instinctive adjustment if the first few batches didn’t turn out exactly the same.

                                                                  It might not be equipment because you say whether or not the cookies rise or fall, they taste the same … but still there might be something that contributes.

                                                                  If he has changed ovens over the years, maybe the first few batches of cookies on a different oven didn't come out so well, so maybe instinctively he adjusted accordingly.

                                                                  I think you would have to put an oven thermometer in there and see if it was indeed 350 degrees

                                                                  You have to know there are endless threads on this site about the type of oven used. A gas oven will differ from an electric oven for more minutia than could be documented in this post.

                                                                  The type of cookie sheet isn't insignificant as a gazillion other threads on this board indicate.

                                                                  Again, he might have changed equipment over the years, but adjusted instinctively each time.

                                                                  There is a potato salad from a deli in Petaluma, CA that has never been replicated because the deli stopped making it, lost the copper pots it used for decades, and nothing they have tried since makes it exactly the same. That was from the owner of the deli who posted about that on the board.

                                                                  As to how those two racks were positioned, the exact number of inches … another memory about my mom was some things that had to be placed in the sweet spot in the stove.

                                                                  I could go on but I’ll spare you. The question again becomes “If you cooked those cookies in his kitchen, with his equipment using ingredients he bought, would they taste the same?

                                                                  Given your poor quality pasta and sauce example I would say no unless you were able to answer the other questions of timing and methond.

                                                                  And if no, then something in your music analogy is the answer.

                                                                  Because it is about the whole and not the parts.

                                                                  “… one experienced pianist can make you cry with a Mozart concerto, whereas another will leave you cold. And there's one somewhere out there whose performance will change your life”

                                                                  The last pulls together experience, passion and instinct. Even on a bad, broken piano that person could be a life-changer.

                                                                  But that instinct can be broken down scientifically to the exact pressure on the keys, when they are hit, etc. Someday a computer will measure all these things and there will be nothing but great music. Right?

                                                                  If you uncover Von’s secret maybe Nabisco will be able to make great cookies.

                                                                  I hope some of the more cooking savy on the site are able to figure out the science behind Von’s instincts. It probably would give me the answer about how to be a good cook when I wanted to be.

                                                                  Until then … thanks for many reasons for this thread … but especially since I can link to it the next time someone on the board says “Homemade is so much better and so easy”.

                                                                  The devil is in the details.

                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                    Yes - and no.

                                                                    One of my problems with the lovely and well intentioned books on "Five minute bread" is that they are EXACT in their flour and water measurement - and that's that. But what if your flour is old and dry? Or it's a humid day so you need less? That's where it is science and experience and description AND adjustment. All of the above, not just one.

                                                                    And I don't know that you can ever, completely, write it out for all. Marian Cunningham (an incredible cook and writer) confessed that when Jeffrey Steingarden called for help in making a pie crust, she had to go and make one (and then many), so that she could tell him the specific feel at each step. And I just taught my 16 year old nephew to make biscuits - and he's a smart, smart scientific guy - but we had to do it twice. Once for me to demo and the second time to correct his hands as he did the second batch on his own, and check as he went.

                                                                    So yes, details ARE magic. But maybe there's even more : )

                                                                    1. re: happybaker

                                                                      Still, all those examples can be explained ... not that it is easy to do.

                                                                      If someone was able they could write exactly how to use your hands for the biscuits and other details.

                                                                      Cunningham was documenting the details. I believe someone working next to Von a number of times would get it. The problem is they too would have to articulate it.

                                                                      The books with exact measurements leave out talking about the variables. If they included them, there wouldn't be problems.

                                                                      I'm not saying any of this is easy. However, the point is to look at the recipe and video and pick out what are the reasons for what might seem like magic. Anyway, that was my impression. Some things like using senses other than sight such as smell and feel might need more one on one time with Von.

                                                                      And yes, it might need Von, if he was the type, to correct stirring or shaping.

                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                        I believe many of the variables are simply not able to be accounted for. Such as: are your hands hot or cold? Just how much pressure do you use when mixing? Do you mix on a high table or a low one? How hot or cold do you keep your house? How humid or dry is the air? What is your elevation? Where does your butter come from? What did the cow eat? How old or fresh is your leavening? How much do you worry each cookie as you shape it? Etc, etc.

                                                                        Whether you want to call it magic or whether you want to try to reduce it down to science, each person and each cooking episode is bound to be unique. That's life.

                                                                          1. re: visciole

                                                                            Very late to this party.
                                                                            "Some things like using senses other than sight such as SMELL and FEEL might need more one on one time with Von."[my emphasis]
                                                                            "I believe many of the variables are simply not able to be accounted for,"
                                                                            I guess that it is theoretically possible to write out a verbal description of this or any other recipe that accounts for all of visciole's variables. However I also think it might easily take an entire lifetime, when you consider just how many "variables" there are in doing anything.
                                                                            So far no one seems to have used the example of driving a car - but that's what I keep thinking of, particularly an old-fashioned standard transmission that requires that you use both feet and both hands. No one learns to drive a car from reading a written description of it - you have to actually drive the car to develop the muscle memory of driving. It's a complicated activity and is full of surprises - yet everyone who drives regularly has had the experience of driving a route to a destination they drive often (e.g., to work), zoning out and realizing with a start when they arrived that they had no memory of driving there.
                                                                            I think a lot of cooking, and especially dough making, involves kinetic memory of this kind. I suppose that Von could work on verbally explaining all the variables - but it would be tough since I'm pretty sure that's not how he learned them, and therefore not how he remembers them.
                                                                            Not that this really "explains" magic either. Great thread.

                                                                    2. I watched the video and it was interesting. I then cross referenced Von's recipe with the 3 Oatmeal Cookie Recipes in Jean Anderson's cookbook, The American Century Cookbook. Two of the recipes come from Quaker: Famous Oatmeal Cookies (WW II recipe developed to use shortening in place of butter, and apparently less sugar); Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies which is the 'newest' recipe from Quaker; and Pride of iowa cookies which was given to Anderson in the 1970s by a woman from Kansas.

                                                                      None of the recipes match Von's. My best guess it that he has shifted his ingredients around from his original to suit his taste and forgotten that he made the changes. The one ingredient I can't cross check is the shortening; the recipe doesn't state how much a stick of it is.

                                                                      I think the technique of using an extra sheet under the first pan, then shifting it above, and putting another sheet of cookies in its place is an interesting technique which he probably developed over time. I admire the perfect golden brown bottoms of his cookies.

                                                                      The other comments about practice ring true to me. It isn't only that he has made them so often, but that he has developed techniques that work for his oven. It is possible that hand mixing does create a better texture. I'm going to be honest here: I don't think there is anything mysterious going on. But it is a beautiful example of someone taking humble ingredients and making a very special thing for others to enjoy. Isn't this why most of us cook?

                                                                      Interesting thread.

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                                        I checked out the recipe, too, and found only one which was attributed to someone's grandmother (in her writing which is touching). I think the recipe is a big part of it. Hope someone gives it a try.

                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                          I'm following Von's recipe in the morning and I plan to use all of the Stop & Shop ingredients. We'll see. Since I haven't tasted Von's recipe I have no way of knowing how mine will measure up but my dh loves oatmeal cookies....and he's going to enjoy this story.

                                                                          Crisco sticks are a fairly new product...I wonder when Von started using it in this recipe. Jim, maybe the results differ because people are varying the ingredient by type & brand. Does Von always use S&S brand? We CH's tend to experiment, vary brand sources and tweak measurements.

                                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                                            Oh! Can't wait to hear how it goes!

                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              Please photograph the results!

                                                                              I'm pretty sure Von would by hysterical over the notion of fetishizing Stop and Shop ingredients. He doesn't shop there because it's some kind of destination. His point is that just any stuff will work. So making it a destination due to his using their stuff is just a riot!

                                                                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                No point in replicating the recipe and watching the video and not going to S&S! Besides I want to taste the cookie you tasted, Jim. Did you leave with a bag of Von's cookies? Have you baked them yet?

                                                                                I won't photograph tho, sorry. Professional conflict.

                                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                                  I did get some cookies, yeah (see photo). But I'm motivated to bake them like I'm compelled by a Yo Yo Ma concert to pick up a plywood cello and try to scratch out Bach fugues.

                                                                                  Really, I'm just basking in the afterglow...

                                                                                  Also, while you're there, check out S&S's house brand cookies (the fancy ones in the cardboard). Some of the best store-bought I've ever found.

                                                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                    Well, that changes everything.

                                                                                    >>> But Von has passed this recipe to lots of people, and reports (as he says in the video) that no one seems to get the same results.

                                                                                    Maybe it is just a great recipe ... there are great recipes using ordinary ingredients ... and if it is followed it produces life-changing cookies.

                                                                                    Not that talent, experience and a feel for baking doesn't count. I could follow that recipe and assure you the cookies would taste lousy. I screwed up Pillsbury refrigerated canned croissants yesterday. Who does that?

                                                                                    The thing is you don't know if the people he gave the recipe to changed any of the variables. It is fine someone in this post is making them, but they haven't tried Von's. Why not have a freind bake them for you using the recipe and see what happens.

                                                                                    I can understand your pasta experience having screwed up more pasta than I care to remember. You cooked it too long, he cooked it al dente and dressed it correctly, etc. etc.. There may not have been oregano, but there was probably salt and pepper, a little pasta water added to the sauce or something else in the cabinets that was used.

                                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                                      rw, don't feel bad about screwing up Pillsbury croissants -- I can make croissants from scratch, but can't bake those stupid things to save my life. It's not just you.

                                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                                        I thought the same thing about the pasta making. My husband grew up making rice, measuring with his knuckles and it's always far better than mine where I measure. He's not the rice whisperer. He just had an incredibly picky father, as rice goes. And, rice is far simpler than pasta.

                                                                          2. This is a receipe that even I can make - maybe. It looks good - I don't eat nuts, so I will sub with something else. But, maybe, just maybe, i can do this.

                                                                            Did I say maybe? hee hee

                                                                            I'm a horrible baker :(


                                                                            1. In the video he used quick oats, however when taking the cookies off the pan, he said the only thing he would change would use long cooking oats. I gather he prefers the long cookiing in his receipe, but for some reason he used the quick. Maybe he ran out of the long cooking oats.

                                                                              I wish I knew which one he preferred.....


                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: DonnaMarieNJ

                                                                                I tried replying, but it didn't post. I hope the other one doesn't show up later, resulting in a dupe.

                                                                                He's been using instant for quite some time, but really prefers regular oats. But if regular yields a better result, I'm not sure I could stand it.

                                                                              2. I LOVE VON. i want to take him home.

                                                                                this endeavor makes me think of mother for a moment. bless her heart, cooking and baking are not her fortes. she has a few things she does well, but watching her try a new recipe is like watching rainman in action... she's so uptight about measurements, instructions, precision it's painful. i can only describe it as "not being one with the food." me, i wing things... a lot. partly from experience, partly on faith. it will probably sound hokey, but i believe cooking and baking requires putting a fair amount of trust in your ingredients and process. a mutual respect of sorts. that said, my mom does alright. stuff turns out decently, but certainly she has never attempted anything too adventurous or out of the norm. what i will say though, is that nothing is mind-blowing. she follows the letter to a "T," so anally, that her food reflects that. i'm not sure if this will translate, but her food tastes uptight. i'm such a firm believer that you transfer your emotions to your food...

                                                                                i'm guessing there's a little bit of Von in each bite...

                                                                                to the above poster re the Quick vs Long Cook oats... he said he would rather use the long cook oats for himself... clearly by the taster the product wasn't severely impacted.

                                                                                a few things i noted...
                                                                                -as mentioned above, hand mixing -- he doesn't cream the shortening and sugars, he simply mashes them together, not incorporating any air. (i think his idea about them rising and falling is tied to how much he works the fat and sugars, but that's just me...)
                                                                                -he crowds the tray when he bakes them. this definitely impacts how he bakes them.
                                                                                -also as mentioned, his lack of shaping... certainly won't be leaden.

                                                                                he has respect for his cookies, and lets them do their thing. VonZenCookies.

                                                                                thank you for sharing, and thank you for starting Chowhound. look forward to the book!

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Emme

                                                                                  Emme, do you think Von gives how he makes the cookies as much thought as we have tonight? Cause I did not get the impression that he sees any of the characteristics we're trying to attach to his cookie baking skills. Von measures, mashes, shapes and bakes. No frills, no fancy plans. Just glad people enjoy his cookies.

                                                                                  I know my Bessie's cookies made me very happy but they mostly kept her very busy and she liked being busy and making people happy. She liked company and her cookies brought people around. That component resonantes with me in Von's case too.

                                                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                                                    I'd love to talk to him. I wonder if his technique has changed over the years. What was his first batch like? Did he find the recipe, love it, and over the years learned what mistakes to avoid?

                                                                                    I posted the recipe above for his cookies, that someone else shared. It was her grandmother's recipe, hand written. If so, maybe that's why he does it the way he does. The old fashioned way. He's only been baking since the early 90's/late 80's so it's not before modern conveniences like hand mixers. I'm showing my age because it seems like the early 90's was just yesterday!

                                                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                                                      i'm sure he doesn't, just like i don't overthink (most) of my technique. i am more thoughtful when developing a new recipe, simply to balance chemistry to achieve what i want.

                                                                                      von's lack of other cooking is to his advantage. he makes his cookies. people are happy; he's happy. what's the fuss. :)

                                                                                  2. I have two half-formed (half-baked?) thoughts . . .

                                                                                    One, why "I've long been driven to figure out what it actually IS. Not spiritually, but on a physical level." Why does there need to be a physical and not spiritual reason? I assume from your writing that you consider yourself Buddhist, though I don't know how that is manifest in your take on day-to-day life; so perhaps you're in agreement with this viewpoint already. Why can't the spiritual aspect have a physically manifest effect? Or why can't the "goodness" of the cookies be part of the spiritual aspect of their creation? (Obviously I'm in disagreement with chowser here.)

                                                                                    My second semi-thought is how the concept of wu wei (effortless action) seems to apply here. Von has obviously paid close attention to the cookies, he understands them, and I think he simply does what is needed to make the cookies the way they should be made. Or acts in accordance with the Tao, if you will.

                                                                                    26 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: guilty


                                                                                      I write about the spiritual side of this sometimes on my Slog, but here I'm thinking about the physical element. And there is a physical element, regardless of the roots of the magic. The cookies, I can assure you, were material!

                                                                                      As for wu wei, absolutely. But at some point it manifests. And while you can find a gazillion books on wu wei (and its analogs in other traditions) - i.e. explanation of what's behind the cookie, so to speak - nobody ever talks about the cookie. I'm talking about the cookie. Which I figure is appropriate on the Chowhound Home Cooking board!

                                                                                      There's a dance between emptiness and the manifest (to use Buddhist terms, though I don't call myself a Buddhist). I try not to get too stuck in one or the other.

                                                                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                        > nobody ever talks about the cookie
                                                                                        the medium is the message ;)

                                                                                        Sorry to make assumptions about your beliefs. I do read your slog, and I'm aware of your discussions of "magic." Perhaps I don't see why you seem reluctant to meld the emptiness and the manifest. Or perhaps I'm underestimating you.

                                                                                        1. re: guilty

                                                                                          Guilty, that melding is the intent of the video, and this thread....and of much of the Slog....and pretty much everything else. But if it's not coming out that way, then maybe you're OVERestimating me! ;)

                                                                                          But, either way, thanks for reading! Good to know someone out there's at least aware of the two ends of the candle I'm trying to burn. Also, there've been some very wise chime-ins here from people with obviously deep perspective on all that. As is often the case on Chowhound, some of the best stuff is offered tersely and quietly, and is easy to miss.

                                                                                          Just like Von, btw.

                                                                                          The point isn't about cookies OR spirituality, really. It's to watch for Vons. There are more of them quietly out there than people think. Keep your eye on the Vons, and the rest takes care of itself. I always hoped Chowhound would encourage people to do just that.

                                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                            Hopefully this won't post twice

                                                                                            I think being able to recognize the Vons (especially when they have less of a reputation) is where spirituality comes into play for the rest of us. But now what? Try to recreate the cookies? I think we've seen that's more or less impossible. Is there a way that paying attention to Von can help us find our own oatmeal-cookie talent? Do you think Von has helped you in some way?

                                                                                            Or perhaps as you say, the rest will take care of itself.

                                                                                            1. re: guilty

                                                                                              I don't think it's "more or less impossible" just because it couldn't be done by a couple of people trying to make it the first time w/out actually seeing him do it, or knowing what the final result should be like or even knowing whether the result was the same since it's being eaten by different people. We see on the boards people disagreeing on the same restaurants, same dishes--some rave about a tried and true while others dislike it.

                                                                                              Von has had 20+ years experience in making the cookies. Did he start out making profound cookies or has it developed over the years? There is a Principal of Specificity for athletes--you have do do the exact motion to get better. I think this is along those lines. You have to make that recipe repeatedly to get better. Call it spirituality, call it practice. Let some people practice it 20+ years the way he has, in his kitchen and then see. That's the only way to show he is spiritually unique in his oatmeal cookie making. Perhaps the take away could be as simple as find a good recipe, work on it over the years to perfect it.

                                                                                              1. re: guilty

                                                                                                Good question, Guilty.

                                                                                                It's not about any one Von. It's about all Von-kind. There are plenty of Vons working professionally, running little cafes or restaurants or street carts, making great stuff without acknowledgement. "Foodies" figure it's an efficient market....that if there was something great around, they'd hear about it. This is wrong. Everywhere I go I find undiscovered greatness. It's everywhere.

                                                                                                I started Chowhound fifteen (ulp) years ago with the goal of encouraging people to put their minds together to find the non-spotlit deliciousness out there crafted by geniuses and holdouts. I'd found a bunch of them as a restaurant critic (Difara's, Charles Southern Kitchen, Kabab Cafe, Sripraphai, many others), and I felt uncomfortable issuing forth those tips as an "expert" from on high. I realized lots of people were making such finds - lived to make such finds - and all they needed was a place to compare notes.

                                                                                                It's worked, kinda. But there have always been a ton of Chowhound users who prefer to discuss, ad infinitum, Babbo, or other obvious places, rather than to actually go out and find Vons (and evangelize Vons, so that we can all, in turn, support the Vons). One of the big problems is that the Von-finders feel alienated by the Babbo-obsessives, and cede the forum to less chowhoundish folks, creating a self-fulfilling loop.

                                                                                                But if you go find Vons, and report them here, you'll encourage kindred spirits to do likewise, so we all eat better and the good guys have a foothold of support.

                                                                                                And then lazier eaters can obsess ad infinitum over THOSE places, as they become spotlit and obvious!

                                                                                                Also, if we can all aspire to be a bit more Von-like in the things we do, that would be great for ourselves and for those around us. Any random thing we repeatedly do can, with a bit more care, curiosity, and thirst for improvement, come to be done more deeply. One essential thing to note, and I think it comes thru in the video, is that Von's not looking for notoriety. He found my whole video thing pretty annoying (I don't think he's even viewed it). He's not looking for people to make a fuss. He's just doing what he does. That's key (though easy to miss).

                                                                                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                  Wouldn't be fair to observe that "vons" live amongst CH members. They share their tips, tricks and failures freely without using their RL name (some do), renumeration or applause of the celebrity-kind. The no biggie abounds on CH. If CHOW had taken a more von-esque approach to this community I have a feeling the discovery would be worth the wait. But alas...

                                                                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                    Yes, there are Vons everywhere. And, also, there's a very fine line between being a Von discoverer/appreciator and being an actual Von yourself. A Zen Buddhist might say "If you see Von walking down the street, kill him", because one must go beyond elevating Vons in order to become a Von oneself. But I disagree. I think if you love Vons enough, you become one, at some level and in some way.

                                                                                                    And, yes, I built Chowhound to encourage discovery/appreciation/support of Vons, but also hoped for the site itself to BE a Von, as well. And I think it still is pretty Vonish.

                                                                                                    As for our corporate overlords, suffice to say we would absolutely not be here today if it weren't for them. All chowhounds should be glad for their patronage and wish them well. This site could very easily not exist. I'm shocked and gratified that it's still here at this late date (we're coming up on our 15 year anniversary next summer). This is a really really good thing.

                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                      Oh goodness Jim, nothing in my comment is taking a shot at corporate ownership..more the CHOW magazine team who skim the surface of the CH community content for CHOW articles and ideas. Why not interview the community on some Von-engaging level without overstepping the mission. Bridge some of the gaps.That's all my comment was observing. I know nothing of the CH legacy corporate or otherwise beyond what's shared by you as founder or long time CH's.

                                                                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                        Ah, sorry for misunderstanding, HillJ!

                                                                                                        I didn't know they were doing that sort of thing, but I actually heartily approve and agree (sorry!). This was always my proposal to CNET. Chowhound's such a good engine for content, it's a natural way to fill the front-facing editorial slots. That's what ChowNews was all about (now called Digest). Instead, they hired a large staff to generate from-scratch content old-media style.

                                                                                                        If this helps make the operation more efficient and cheaper to run, maybe Chowhound will be able to stick around a while longer!

                                                                                                        But we are way, way, off topic....

                                                                                                        1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                          Ah, but my point is it could be framed in a more Von-like way...and it's not that I disagree with the rich content being taken to the CHOW mag side it's that it could be done on a much more CH involved way. Dig deeper; don't skim.

                                                                                                          I made another batch of oatmeal cookies last night for an elderly man on my block and he enjoyed them. He asked me if the recipe had a story..... :)

                                                                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                            I agree, HillJ -- I have no objection to writing articles based on threads -- but these articles are far too often watered-down pap that doesn't really even discuss the topic of the threads.

                                                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                              "He asked me if the recipe had a story..... :)"


                                                                                          2. re: guilty

                                                                                            Yeah, there was a Top Chef Just Desserts where one of the judges said she could just taste the resentment in the cookies. I had a good laugh at that. I know people talk about how cooking with love makes all the difference and that's what I tell my kids. Maybe it does in that if you're happy, you have more patience, but I don't believe in the spirituality of cookies that a good person will make better cookies than an evil one because the goodness of the person transcends. If it were that easy, we could have a trial by baking and the evil person's cookies would taste bad.;-)

                                                                                            I agree about the we wei part of it. Something that takes too much concentrated thought and effort doesn't turn out well. And, as cookies go, especially, you need that light touch, as he has in the end with mixing dry ingredients in. And, he does have a good understanding of baking--he talks about needing to move quickly once the baking soda mixes with the liquid. He also knows, and hasn't figured it out but I'm sure will, that if you slightly underbake cookies, they'll flatten after taking out of the oven. I think he's constantly learning and readjusting whether he knows it or not. One day, he'll figure out what that exact moment is on taking the cookies out which he says he doesn't know right now.

                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                              "I don't believe in the spirituality of cookies that a good person will make better cookies than an evil one because the goodness of the person transcends."


                                                                                              "I agree about the we wei part of it. Something that takes too much concentrated thought and effort doesn't turn out well. "

                                                                                              I'd respectfully suggest you've just contradicted yourself.

                                                                                              If you concede that thought and effort affect outcome (as they surely do), then you've got to concede that the motivation for effort and type of thinking do, as well. And there we are in mindset, spirituality, and all those other loosey-goosey terms.

                                                                                              And the loosey-goosey stuff muist factor in, because there's no other way to explain why very skilled, competent chefs and bakers, with enormous skill, the best ingredients and equipment, and carefully developed recipes, so often create end results that emotionally disappoint, even if they're technically flawless.

                                                                                              And there's no way to explain why no one can duplicate Von's results. You've described yourself as an excellent baker, and I don't doubt you. So I'd invite you to precisely follow his recipe, feed lots of people the result, and count the swooners - the people who close their eyes and moan, who pound the tabletop, and who seem like they might resort to violence to secure a supply of the things. People offering controlled verbal praise don't count.

                                                                                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                I think a person must have comfort with a technique to do it well. I don't think magic creates that comfort but it's repeated practicing. You can call it magic but i call it work. Yes, love for results can make you work harder to achieve it and that can translate but I also would trust a skilled technical surgeon who doesn't love his job to get a great result.

                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                  I've actually spent a lot of time thinking about this today. I know I'm coming off as a bah humbug kind of person and I'm really a big believer in positive forces in the universe and all that, but just not in the case of following a recipe. A case in point, a few weeks ago, I made a lemon curd layer cake for my Italian class. You can imagine the type of adults who would take Italian--people who love food, people who grew up around good food, people who have taken multi week classes in cooking in Italy, one person who's owned a very good Italian restaurant in the area and is an avid cook. Weeks later, they're still talking about it. The guy who owned the restaurant told me I should be selling it and he could set me up if I wanted. Do I think there was magic? No, it's an awesome recipe. I've baked enough that I can tweak it, change what I wanted to it. Easily reproducible. At the same time, I had planned to make it over two days. I was called into work the last minute both days, had to squeeze it in, cool the cakes by refrigerating them which I hate, barely got it done. Lots of stress, some work resentment. Did it come through the cake? No, enough wu wei with years of baking that it was all by rote. So, it's not contradictory to believe in the ease and not in the spiritual effect.

                                                                                                  But, as I think about it, maybe this is a personal thing. I disconnect my emotional from physical (which is good for baking, not for playing the violin). I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. My husband, otoh, does. I can tell from his driving how well the Redskins are doing.

                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                    I can tell from his driving how well the Redskins are doing.

                                                                                                    Ha! In our case it's flying & ice hockey season. You don't want to piss a pilot off on your way to anywhere.

                                                                                                2. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                  I am going to do just this. I am curious about these cookies. I have standard chocolate chip cookies that I make that are this way. If I take them to a BBQ, they all get eaten before dinner. People hover around them and snarf them down. I am carting Von's cookies around to every event between now and Christmas. I have no idea if I can recreate the magic. I tend to have that special touch when it comes to baking and candy making even though I HATE both. I'll post tonight after I make them...

                                                                                                  1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                                                                    Be sure to watch the video and follow the recipes exactly ... down to using dark brown sugar.

                                                                                                    What I find interesting in the replies of some of the people who tried it was eliminating an item because they don't like it or making some small tweak. I think the person who noted it was dark brown sugar might be on to something ... or a part of something.

                                                                                                    I also suspect that there were substitutions that many of the the friends of Von's made ... the biggest being substituting butter for Crisco. My first instinct when seeing the word 'pedestrian' was that they might be even more amazing if the ingredients weren't common. If Von had given me that recipe, the first thing I would have substituted would have been butter for Crisco. However, so many have commented on what that means in the cookie. There will be a difference.

                                                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                                                      What that means is there are a lot of folks that will not enjoy Von's cookies if there is a strong aversion to shortening, and there's plenty of it in this cookie. His is a common recipe, I haven't found the original label yet but it predates the 50's. I've bookmarked a few pages on line that have it. It may not belong to Quaker Oats. In any case it follows the principal I love most, which is twice the oats as flour; it's what I love about the Vanishing recipe. What I do plan on doing is adding Heath bits to my cookies, which imho is absolutely brilliant.

                                                                                                      1. re: lilgi

                                                                                                        lilgi, in the batch my neighbor made he grated dark chocolate into the batter AND added the Heath bits.

                                                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                          Sounds nice HillJ. I'll probably follow close to Von's even though it is a different cookie with butter, using no raisins nor cinnamon as in the Vanishing, but adding the walnuts and heathbits like Von's. I'll be tempted to add a ton of heathbits haha, I think the trick to his amount is it keeps em wanting more :)

                                                                                                          1. re: lilgi

                                                                                                            Try the NYT Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie recipe and substitute half the chocolate chips w/ heath bar bits for an even better cookie.

                                                                                                        2. re: lilgi

                                                                                                          I like the texture w/ the shortening, as I've said, but the mouth feel of shortening cookies turns me off. I don't like that oily feeling coating my mouth, same reason I can't eat Jif peanut butter, though I used to love it. If you do add Heath bits, in a good quantity, you might increase the flour by a tbps or so, or reduce the sugar (which is essentially what happens to Von because his conversion of brown sugar from cups to weight is off)--the added fat can cause the cookies to spread. That's from experience--still very tasty, but a much flatter cookie.

                                                                                                        3. re: rworange

                                                                                                          I agree -- If I were to make Von's recipe, it would not come out the same because I *have* to use butter or margarine (and would probably use about 50/50, because I've found that works pretty well) -- Crisco (or any other vegetable shortening) doesn't exist where I live.

                                                                                                3. Maybe Von can help me with my recipe for sad flat cake: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/817614 :


                                                                                                  I saw this post just after I posted the above so I have to repeat that I'm not a good baker but after looking at the vid, the only things that I notice or can think of that can affect outcome or flavor:

                                                                                                  His oven is an older one, and it's not convection.
                                                                                                  Who knows what on earth his oven's calibration settings are so 350 degrees might not really be 350.
                                                                                                  Was his oven gas or electric?

                                                                                                  He uses two sheet pans for the cookies on the bottom rack to prevent the cookies from getting too brown (and probably crispy) whereas most people are inclined to use only one. The added protection helps make a lighter softer cookie.

                                                                                                  He cooks two trays at the same time whereas some people bake cookies one tray at a time.
                                                                                                  He's a Stop and Shop shareholder.
                                                                                                  He does not use butter but uses Crisco shortening in stick form.
                                                                                                  Was he using bleached or unbleached flour?
                                                                                                  Where his ingredients all room temp. or straight out of the fridge (eggs/stick shortening)?
                                                                                                  I couldn't see in the video -- was he using vanilla extract or imitation vanilla extract?

                                                                                                  Other than that, who knows. Maybe Von's a guy who just got game. :)

                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: mushroomaffairs

                                                                                                    Was his oven gas or electric?
                                                                                                    electric and screwed up.

                                                                                                    Was he using bleached or unbleached flour?
                                                                                                    I think bleached, but I'm sure he'd say it doesn't matter and he's used both.

                                                                                                    Where his ingredients all room temp. or straight out of the fridge (eggs/stick shortening)?
                                                                                                    room temp

                                                                                                    I couldn't see in the video -- was he using vanilla extract or imitation vanilla extract?

                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                      Hey Jim!

                                                                                                      Did he used butter-flavored Crisco or unflavored? Since I was young and could remember, cookies were always made with butter, including oatmeal cookies and never with Crisco. The Crisco Von uses is the only thing I thought was kind of weird. Now that I'm older, while I don't really make cookies, I personally wouldn't use vegetable shortening but still use butter, only unsalted.

                                                                                                      Vegetable shortening is supposed to have a very "clean" taste, if there is one, to it. I read an article on this a long time ago, why I read and how I came across it, I don't know, but it was a comparison of all different kinds of fats, specifically lard to vegetable shortening and vegetable shortening to vegetable oil and vegetable to butter, the solidifying and melting agents, properties, all that real estate.

                                                                                                      Maybe that's Von's code -- Crisco as a neutral flavor component.

                                                                                                      He's probably reading all these posts and wants to be left alone.

                                                                                                      Von, if you're reading, you got game, man.

                                                                                                      1. re: mushroomaffairs

                                                                                                        Mushroomaffairs - when I was churning out cookies for the football players, I used butter-flavored Crisco -- the butter flavor was definitely a plus (I know, artificial, yadda yadda)

                                                                                                        I now live where I can't buy Crisco -- with butter, the cookies come out with a more tender crumb and awesome butter flavor -- but the Crisco ones bake higher and are a little more "cakey".

                                                                                                        Both are good, and my family are the only ones who know the difference, because they're the only ones who've eaten them "both ways"...not that it slows down the disappearance rate any...

                                                                                                          1. re: mushroomaffairs

                                                                                                            Yeah, unflavored.

                                                                                                            "He's probably reading all these posts and wants to be left alone"

                                                                                                            I doubt he's reading here, but, yeah, you nailed it. I'm sorry to say that this whole undertaking has mostly just annoyed the hell out of him. I'm sorry it turned out that way - obviously that was not my intention. But sometimes that's how it goes.

                                                                                                      2. A few thoughts. 1) He barely creams the fat and sugars, it's more mushed together than creamed. So the lack of creamed-in air bubbles is going to affect the texture of the cookies. Quite the opposite of the Momofuku milk bar cookbook thread where someone bought a stand mixer because the cookies absolutely had to be creamed in a stand mixer for a full 10 minutes. 2) 7 ounces is on the light side for a cup and a half of flour. If other people are using the volume measurement instead of weighing, they may end up with 8 or more of flour. 3) He also barely mixes the dry ingredients in, no over-mixed tough cookies here.

                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: babette feasts

                                                                                                          I think step 3 is key but the video cuts that part out--I was watching carefully at that part because it's key. It's about the 7 minute mark and the video shows him measuring flour/salt. Cut to measuring oatmeal, heath bars but never shows the mixing of dry into butter/sugar/eggs. I would love to see him mixing that since I think that's a key component.

                                                                                                          As measurement of cups to weight goes, the flour is off slightly but he uses the same weight for a cup of brown sugar and white sugar, and they're not the same. Brown sugar is heavier and he's using less than a cup of brown sugar. Maybe he's made some incorrect conversions that have made the difference--and given the recipe to people who've made it by volume so they can't replicate the results.

                                                                                                          1. the coolest thing is, we will never really know why?Magic just happens..

                                                                                                            1. I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned the measuring by weight vs volume. My guess is that is a huge part of it. Makes me want to borrow a kitchen scale from a friend to try a recipe that I make often. That recipe is also in weight measurements, but without a kitchen scale I looked up some standard measurements and did my own translation. While I quite like the recipe the way that I make it I wonder how different it turns out from the original.

                                                                                                              1. Having slept on it, I have a new thought: why are we approaching this as if it has only to do with Von and the cookies? Doesn't it also have to do with the OP and his tastes?

                                                                                                                Perhaps his particular response to Von's cookies is like love. Maybe you and those cookies just, you know, BELONG together?

                                                                                                                8 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: visciole

                                                                                                                  Fair question! You may not know that I'm a longtime restaurant critic and food writer, so this is a factor I'm always vigilant about watching for.

                                                                                                                  But the short answer is that everyone in Von's circle goes crazy for these things (in fact, two of our mutual friends texted me anxiously that morning, having somehow found out about the video, begging me to stop by their places and share any takeaway).

                                                                                                                  For the long answer, see my reply to Chowser at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8175...

                                                                                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                    I don't doubt your experience in critiquing food and cookies. What I found interesting about your comment to Chowser is that you mentioned several times that Von's cookies are revered by you and a circle of people that have tried his cookies. Many years ago a few of us found ourselves in the same position with oatmeal cookies made by a close friend of ours - she wouldn't share the recipe, and a few of us attempted to duplicate the cookie. Much to our dismay, we came close but never had it right. I duplicated the cookie by accident - I wasn't feeling well one particular occasion, had to bake oatmeal cookies which almost went forgotten and grabbed the first oatmeal cookie recipe I could find, right on the container. All I can tell you is that while all this is subjective I receive the same comments with my cookies as she did with hers, and I speak in terms of decades as well.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                      Let me ask you a question: do you bake regularly? (I haven't -- as yet-- read your blog, nor did I know of your pedigree, so I don't know the answer to this!) I think people who don't themselves routinely bake tend to fetishize the home-baked goods of others.

                                                                                                                      In any case, let me just say, I do bake. I am a pretty good baker, but would by no means consider myself very unusual --just an enthusiastic and competent home baker.

                                                                                                                      YET all my friends & family gush over my cookies and beg me to make them and act as if no one but me makes cookies as delicious.

                                                                                                                      Cookies are good. Cookies other people make for you are better. Cookies other people, whose baking you have come to know and love, make for you are the best. Even if they are *not* the best.

                                                                                                                      One of the many lovely things that makes the world go 'round.

                                                                                                                      1. re: visciole

                                                                                                                        "Cookies are good. Cookies other people make for you are better. Cookies other people, whose baking you have come to know and love, make for you are the best. Even if they are *not* the best."

                                                                                                                        I agree this is a significant part of it. Plus, the story. Hearing the legend and raves and hype prepares you to want to be part of it. How many of us are now going to make oatmeal cookies this week? I know I'm thinking about it!

                                                                                                                        1. re: babette feasts

                                                                                                                          Yah know, even I was thinking of taking a whack at it. Maybe if I have extra Crisco leftover over from Polish Christmas cookies.

                                                                                                                          But it was never about these cookies but maybe you could call it cooking charisma ... that undefinable quality some people seem to have. I was really interested in this because I am the anti-Von or people like that. I was hoping there would be something here that would turn around my cooking world.

                                                                                                                          I've concluded I shouldn't have dismissed patience in my first post which could be called love or whatever. There is an emotinal element involved. It is why so often those upscale, perfect, creative ... mechanical ... meals are not as good as what some grandmother is making out of leftovers. It doesn't mean passion either.

                                                                                                                          My mother always said never bake when you are angry. The results will be different.

                                                                                                                          So I think that emotional element is involved. Though I do think that can be translated to science in terms of maybe stirring something too hard or not hard enough ... patiently kneading dough until it feels just right.

                                                                                                                          It's not just someone else cooking for you either. As Jim said he has eaten a lot of food world-wide for decades. I don't have a fraction of that experience, but there's a lot of great food out there, either in from restaurants or home cooks. But there are just some cooks that rise above them all and knock your socks off.

                                                                                                                          I'm a great computer engineer. I will never be a Steve Jobs just as Von will never be Thomas Keller. I'm not cheerful, passionate, easy to get along with or particularily brilliant. However, it just interests me and I have patience and persistance that makes me rise above a lot of others. There are little details I catch that most don't. I think it is the same with cooking ... or anything.

                                                                                                                          The only thing this thread answered for me is that with effort I could be competant but whatever it is emotionally I lack, I will never make anyone swoon or change their lives with my cooking. I don't have it in me.

                                                                                                                          However, I'm a great audiance member ... someone needs to applaud at the great performances.

                                                                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                            Read "Like Water for Chocolate" - a little weird, but addresses the issue of cooking when you're angry.

                                                                                                                        2. re: visciole

                                                                                                                          I don't bake, but I also don't fetishize randomly.

                                                                                                                          I do understand that the easiest leg to kick out from under this story is the issue of whether the cookies truly are so great. I've hoped my description, my photographs, and the reported agreement of others, plus my track record of lauding unsung foods which subsequently became universally loved would be sufficient. But I recognize that it's a determination everyone must make for themselves (and no hard feelings, either way!).

                                                                                                                          But the thing is, I know how great the cookies are. So the "maybe they're not so great after all" string of thought doesn't help me think through the issue. It just sort of slowly deflates the thread. But, again, I totally acknowledge and respect your right to question this, as it truly is a crucial issue! :)

                                                                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                            OK, I'm convinced -- I'll go with the magic baker juju theory, or, actually, any theory at all, as long as I can have one-a-them COOKIES!

                                                                                                                    2. I've been making the Vanishing oatmeal cookies for years, and I favor that one because of the ratio of oats to flour; but now definitely looking forward to trying Von's recipe with butter - I won't try them with shortening. And I don't think the Vanishing recipe is pedestrian at all except for the fact that it's posted on the Quaker Oats container. I'm assuming the same here of Von's recipe, can't wait to try em but no, I don't think there's anything special in technique or love here except for the way the cookie is being promoted.

                                                                                                                      1. Okay, 2nd batch of Von's oatmeal cookies is out of the oven. I ran through the video and recipe twice beforehand. Even assembled some less than impressive older utensils and trays in duplicating the order and procedure Von outlined. All ingred used Stop & Shop brand. btw-the recipe cost me $8. and change.

                                                                                                                        Crush lumps in 7 oz dark brown sugar (1 cup)

                                                                                                                        Cream in:

                                                                                                                        1 stick of Crisco shortening at room temperature

                                                                                                                        7 oz granulated white sugar (1 cup)


                                                                                                                        2 beaten large eggs

                                                                                                                        1 tsp vanilla extract


                                                                                                                        7 oz flour (1 1/2 cups)

                                                                                                                        1 tsp baking soda

                                                                                                                        a bit less than 1 tsp salt

                                                                                                                        At this point, move quickly, because the baking soda is working!


                                                                                                                        9 oz oatmeal (3 cups)

                                                                                                                        1/2 cup well-chopped walnuts

                                                                                                                        1 handful (approx 1/3 cup) Heath bits (I found these in the candy aisle)

                                                                                                                        Shape dough into balls, put on parchment paper atop a cookie sheet, flatten to 1/2 inch with a spoon while pushing the edges inward with your other hand.

                                                                                                                        Put sheet low in preheated oven, atop a second (empty) sheet. Bake 7 (I wound up with closer to 9 mins) minutes at 350 while preparing second sheet.

                                                                                                                        What I baked was a fairly high centered cookie with a golden color both above and below. They were both chewy and crunchy and pleasant. Although a bit too sweet for me. The health bits didn’t make me happy. But they will please the rest of my family. What I take away from the experiement is that experiencing Von’s oatmeal cookies is not the same as experiencing Von’s recipe…for all the reasons we’ve been chatting about above.

                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                          I'd want any cookie from Von just to see him, he's just too damn adorable, and as Bethenny Frankel once said about a prospective employee "I'd love to just put him on a shelf " :)

                                                                                                                          eta: apologies if this sounds contradictory to anything I mentioned above, I don't think any magic is coming from Von's hands or kitchen. I don't need to know who is making a cookie to fall in love with one, but there are people that attach recipes/cookies to the creator, I'm just not one of them.

                                                                                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                            Thanks for sharing the recipe here. It looks like a pretty standard oatmeal cookie. Not far off the ones that I make regularly, that come out flat, crispy, and chewy at the same time. I throw whatever 'extras' I've got handy into them, and everyone devours them.

                                                                                                                          2. Jim, how cool for you to know someone like Von and actually have him make the cookies for you! Well done!

                                                                                                                            Last year, I convinced my mother-in-law to let me make a slideshow of her which I titled "Connecticut Grandmother Makes an Apple Pie." She wouldn't let me video her, only take pictures, and I could only photograph her hands, not her face. We posted the video on several newspaper Web sites and it was a hit.

                                                                                                                            Even though I've made her recipe for many years, it is never quite as good as hers. As I watched her closely I realized she makes the pie crust a bit wetter than I do, plus she cuts her apples smaller. Still, those seem like insignificant changes, yet her pies are always amazing.

                                                                                                                            I am so glad I was able to photograph her so I can pass it down to my daughter and the next generation.

                                                                                                                            Thank you for sharing a great recipe and story with us, Jim.

                                                                                                                            1. I think I am about to repeat what others have said but in slightly different terms. I think the difference may be connection to the recipe (music) and ingredients (instrument).

                                                                                                                              It is sort of instinct, sort of talent, sort of technique, sort of practice, sort of wu wei... but (for me) when I am really putting the right 'voice' to a piece of music it is successfully communicating using the tools at hand. This is what the music says to me. This is how I can pass the message on to you with my instrument. If you were to break it down, it is all mechanical I am sure-- slightly rounder embouchure at times, imperceptible moments of breathlessness, super-smooth transitions between notes, attacks that are a little late, a little early, etc.--these are ways of creating or demonstrating meaning within the music. But I am not thinking about it when I am playing. I am thinking about playing the piece and what I am trying to 'tell' the audience--the mechanical stuff just happens naturally because of that connection. It isn't written in the "recipe" and you wouldn't always see it watching a video of me playing, but I'm sure it could be broken down into specifics somehow. (Now I am not trying to say that I am some kind of musical super-genius, but I will say I have been credited once or twice with a certain grace or 'something' that people can't put their finger on.)

                                                                                                                              I do not enjoy this kind of relationship with cooking or baking, but I like to think that someone could feel the same way about their recipe and their ingredients. They just know how the ingredients work, maybe they have a slightly lighter hand in some step, or that things are a touch too cold or warm or too wet or too dry; a sense of when tiny adjustments need to be made, knowing exactly when the ingredients have mixed in the right way. Maybe they don't even realize they're doing it, they just know the texture and taste they're going for and the specifics just happen.

                                                                                                                              1. My eyes kind of glazed over trying to read all of these responses at once, so I'm just going to give my take on it, and forgive me if it's been said before.

                                                                                                                                First off, creaming shortening the way he does it is very different than doing it in a mixer where the results would be lighter. The way he is creaming, he is basically squeezing all the air out of the butter/sugar mixture, which results in a slightly denser cookie.
                                                                                                                                And the second point , as several posters have noted, is that he is essentially doubling the amount of fat by subbing a stick of crisco for what was (I think) supposed to be a stick of butter, resulting in a slightly heavier, more unctuous dough.

                                                                                                                                It sounds to me as though this is a slightly dense cookie -- not that oatmeal cookies are ever airy! Is it this heavier, more dense (and probably more moist-tasting given all the shortening) cookie what you're responding to?

                                                                                                                                1. Maybe the higher the being... the better the cookies they make?

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: hetook

                                                                                                                                    Depends on how you define "high". If you define it as I suspect you are, then you're close to tautology.

                                                                                                                                    But, anyway, some of the best artists have always been complete jerks. Crazy wisdom? Idunno....seems to me compassion and empathy have to enter the equation.

                                                                                                                                  2. You know what would be kind of cool, Jim.

                                                                                                                                    If a bunch of chowounds in certain areas each made the recipe watching the video and following the recipe exactly and then got together for a cookie exchange to see how different they were. Sort of a cookie chowdown.

                                                                                                                                    If anyone wants to do that in the SF Bay Area, email me and I'll be happy to organize it. Cook in your own home and meet at a cafe to exchange cookies. I'll even make a batch ... it will be bad though.

                                                                                                                                    Sorry to get so into this, but you must know over the years when your were running the boards that this type of thing is ... well there was trying every hot cross bun, cappucino, pupusa in the bay area to see what was the best. Not to mention storing strawberries in every container known to man to find out the best way to store strawberries.

                                                                                                                                    Anyway, my email is on my profile if anyone in the SF Bay Area is interested ... I know there are a lot of good cooks out there ... let's see who can make something life changing. With the holidays here, it might not be a date soon, but I'd still be interested whenever we could get together on a date

                                                                                                                                    Good lord, SF chowhounds ... you've been trying to get me to bake since my first post ... "Where do I buy the best premade pie crust" ... "Making your own is so easy and so much better" .. This is your chance to get me to cook.

                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                      rworange, a noble idea in theory, but a bear to organize, and I'm not sure where it would lead. You'd get a bunch of very very different cookies, none of them anything like Von's.

                                                                                                                                      Better to organize: systematic block-by-block chowconnaisance in good, underexplored chow nabes like the strip malls of LA. I always figured that would be the bright result if Chowhound ever got super popular. I'm disappointed it never happened.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                        >>> Better to organize: systematic block-by-block chowconnaisance in good, underexplored chow nabes

                                                                                                                                        Obviously you've never read my posts :-)

                                                                                                                                        If you can only bottle the magic of your inspiration for a few nuts like me to go out and do that. Maybe the recipe for that is brevity.

                                                                                                                                        Maybe magic isn't meant for the masses. It is enough that it exists, however rare.

                                                                                                                                        Maybe it is just the accomplishment to make people aware that it exists and unconsciously they want in.

                                                                                                                                        Like Von's cookies, they might not exactly get it ... people who would step on the gas to get out of an area of taco trucks fifteen years ago are now dining daily at gourmet food trucks. There are awards for street vendors the rhe arepa lady. That isn't getting it, but it is a start to finding the holy grail.

                                                                                                                                        And it is about continuing to repeat the message which is why I was so happy to see this post ... and damn it, I still want someday to create magic when I cook. Maybe there is one dish where I find I'm the cooking idiot savant.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                          "people who would step on the gas to get out of an area of taco trucks fifteen years ago are now dining daily at gourmet food trucks. There are awards for street vendors the rhe arepa lady. That isn't getting it, but it is a start to finding the holy grail."

                                                                                                                                          But, most importantly of all, the good guys are getting a bit more support than they used to. And if the good guys all went out of biz due to lack of interest, then there'd be nothing left to even discuss. So regardless of whether anyone "gets it" thoroughly enough, I'm glad we've helped a little with that.

                                                                                                                                      1. I don't get why you think it's a mystery. It's not "crap" ingredients, and the recipe is an excellent one. I've used it for years, and my dad loves them!

                                                                                                                                        12 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                            Okay, I posted that too soon. Mea culpa. Now that I have read through most of the thread, and watched the video, I can respond more effectively I think. First, I was assuming that the recipe that this was about, was actually the same Quaker Oats one that I have used. But it isn't. For one, I have never ever seen walnuts or Heath bar chips in an oatmeal cookie recipe - much less the old Quaker Oats one. So his recipe is definitely one that is a bit "tweaked". For what it's worth, I would never put walnuts in an oatmeal cookie - but that's just me I guess. :-) When I make these cookies for others, I always put raisins in them. When I make them for me, I like butterscotch chips.

                                                                                                                                            Secondly, I do prefer to mix my cookies by hand - I agree with his "too much trouble" with getting out the mixer. I bake cookies so frequently, (I have a teenage son that, along with his many buddies, is a human disposal) that I just would rather limit the cleanup as much as I can.

                                                                                                                                            And third, I have been using double cookie sheets for as long as I can remember! Even the "airbake" versions just don't perform as well as two. I bake many many things that way, to protect the bottoms of whatever it is I am baking.

                                                                                                                                            All that said, I do like the idea of the Heath bar chips, as much as I love butterscotch (and by the way, I much prefer Hersheys chips for these). So now I will have to go home and try these now. Thanks a bunch. As if I needed yet ANOTHER recipe to make. :-)

                                                                                                                                            1. re: FitMom4Life

                                                                                                                                              Ha!! Since you seem to be a natural kindred spirit to Von, I'm really curious as to how the cookies turn out for you! Please report back!!

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                So I didn't kid. I came home tonight, AFTER the gym, and made the darn cookies. :-) I was intrigued, and let's face it, I have a baking addiction. Anyhoo...the last batch is in the oven, and the first cookie from the first batch is in my tummy. :-) Oh my goodness, these are very good...excellent in fact. Oatmeal cookies are not my absolute favorite cookie, but I could devour far too many of these in a single sitting, if I didn't watch myself.

                                                                                                                                                One thing I noticed once I got going - Von uses DARK brown sugar. I never have used dark for oatmeal cookies, but it seems to work here. It's a wonderful balance of salt and sweet, but I might would try not reducing the salt next time. (Who knows, my kitchen scale is a pitiful thing, so I could have had a pinch too much sugar. I'm putting a digital scale on my Christmas list right now!)

                                                                                                                                                The addition of Heath chips is marvelous...gives a caramel-ly taste, but not overpowering. I don't think anyone would guess that they are there. And all these years that I have been baking with 2 sheets, it never occurred to me to do two sheets at once and rotate them up. That will now be my standard process.

                                                                                                                                                I will be taking most of these into the office tomorrow and we'll see how they go over. I'm keeping a few here at home, but I don't think they'll last long. My son comes home from college tomorrow, so I will thank you in advance, on his behalf - ha!

                                                                                                                                                1. re: FitMom4Life

                                                                                                                                                  I sort of disregarded when Von stressed that the Heath bar pieces are a prime factor. My own snobbery I suppose. But lots of people in this thread concur, so I guess so.

                                                                                                                                                  How would you describe the difference of using two sheets?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                    I noticed no difference using two cookie sheets but I baked one batch on two cheaper sheets that puffed more than the good quality stainless steel and then one batch on one stainless steel. I think his thinner cookie sheets makes a bigger difference with doubling but then, didn't he not double it with one batch?. It's been discussed on Home Cooking/Cookware. If I can find the threads (though it was years ago IIRC), I'll post them. It's a good alternative for people who don't want to invest in expensive trays. But, it's things like this (and his comment about having to work quickly with baking soda) that make me think he's either fooled around a lot with his baking, or he's studied something about baking.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                      Using 2 sheets is routine for me. Perhaps I have a hot oven, but if I don't use the two, I will find that it is too easy to burn the bottoms of the cookies, or brownies, or cake...whatever it is. 2 sheets removes that worry for me. The cookies baked perfectly.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: FitMom4Life

                                                                                                                                                        Fit, he says in the vid that he does this to not overly brown them...he's way to careful for burning to be a concern.

                                                                                                                                                        Chowser, he's just technically minded. Though nobody seems to know what he did for a living.

                                                                                                                                                        Also, I just bought stainless pans for myself (not pricey at amazon). Hope that doesn't mean I can't get the "Von Effect". Must experiment. OTOH I like dark brown cookie bottoms, so idunno....

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                          Well that is pretty much why I do it as well. I have had cookies that looked perfectly cooked on the top...and yet were way too brown on the bottom. That is why I use the two cookie sheets. It makes the cookies bake much more evenly. That was what I was trying to say, if it didn't come out that way. But what I have never done, and will do from now on, is use two SETS of sheets...and keep the doubled set on the bottom. That worked really well, and it let me bake the batch in a shorter amount of time than it usually would have taken me.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                            I was wondering what he did for a living. He's very precise and analytical. He doesn't leave making the cookies to chance. I would love to meet him.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                              You can actually buy cookie sheets that have 2 layers.


                                                                                                                                                              I have used these, but I didn't find them truly wonderful. It is possible others like them though for their particular ovens. I disagree about being careful enough to not burn or overly brown the bottoms of cookies. I've had that issue before. Sometimes you can't get the centers done without browning the bottoms. I think Von has learned from experience what how his oven performs and had adapted to it. I noticed that the doubled cookie sheets were on the bottom rack.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                                                                I just wanted to add that I used these last week, and I did get good results. My cookies did not have burned bottoms. I did use Von's trick of moving a sheet to an upper rack midway through the bake. I would now recommend these double sheets.

                                                                                                                                              2. Wow, this post is interesting. I read the entire thread and watched the video.

                                                                                                                                                Analysis of his baking approach: The way he mixes his ingredients allows for zero air to enter, which is quite unusual by today's standards (with electric mixers, etc). Second, the way he flattens the top of each cookie pretty strongly with a spoon, but leaves the edges as they are allows for even and uniform cooking, with an attractive yet rustic finished product.

                                                                                                                                                Regarding the X factor in cooking: I asked my husband why if I made the same recipe as a few people we know mine would taste better. His answer: Execution. Put into the context of this thread I think it's likely one's "cooking intuition" that accounts for one person being able to execute the same recipe better than another. It's probably like any God-given talent, you really can't take credit for it. I'm an experienced cook now, but I wish I had the recipe for peanut butter cookies I made (by adapting a recipe from a peanut butter jar) when I was 11 years old, best I've ever eaten.

                                                                                                                                                It's a fun journey Jim, thanks for letting us come along with you!

                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                1. re: Funwithfood

                                                                                                                                                  Agree - thanks Jim!

                                                                                                                                                  The flattening thing is huge - I do it with a chocolate/coconut/oatmeal cookie recipe I have and it indeed becomes more than it's parts. Makes an enormous difference.

                                                                                                                                                  As for neighborhood cookoff, years ago, Gourmet (or was it Bon Appetite?) did a thing where it gave it's best bakers (including Flo Braker) the same exact recipe and told them to go and bake it as they thought fit - and then documented the results. The disparity was breathtaking. Now Von is pretty specific, bless his heart. So we've got a shot. But it reminds us what a change can happen at each step of the recipe.

                                                                                                                                                2. I made these this morning, left in the nuts despite nut allergies in the family because it would essentially be meaningless to deviate that much from the recipe. I ran out of parchment and used silpat mats but am now wondering how hard it is to wash nut residue off of them.

                                                                                                                                                  As I've pointed out these are not the vanishing oatmeal recipe which I've made too many times to count but discarded as I've found better recipes. I thought Von's recipe was excellent. I love the crispy texture of the cookies. I think, though, it's not about accuracy as he said. As I also said, his conversion of brown sugar isn't correct and he uses less than 1 cup but I think that works well with the addition of the heath bar bits. The heath bar bits add fat/sugar and can cause cookies to spread too much (although w/ Crisco not as much) and the sweetness w/ the right amount of brown sugar would probably be too much so this was a serendipitous error.

                                                                                                                                                  There are a couple of things I'd attribute what you, Jim, call "profound." I think first, it's the Crisco. I can't think of anyone who bakes cookies w/ Crisco (biscuits are another matter), other than someone following Alton Browns puffy chocolate chip cookie recipe. Crisco gives it a nice almost pie crust like crispy flakiness. And, I think it has to be unflavored. Butter flavored would not be the same. Anyone used to butter based cookies would notice the difference, maybe not pinpoint it, but can tell. I wonder, for this, whether lard would give you an even better cookie. The best, flaky cookie I've made is almond cookies w/ lard--talk about melt in your mouth with a nice crispy texture. These taste almost like pie crust mixed w/ oatmeal cookie. My biggest criticism w/ the Crisco is the coated mouth after feel. It's one reason I rarely use Crisco. Nothing a hot cup of coffee can't fix.

                                                                                                                                                  The second is the heath bits. You can barely taste them but they do add a little caramel-ly goodness. I add them to my large chocolate chip cookies and people rave about them more than ones w/out. He uses very few nuts, just enough to add richness but not to make them a nut cookie.

                                                                                                                                                  As for reproducing the result Von gets--unless you try mine, we have no idea how it compares to his. This recipe takes patience for those of us who have our new tools. I mixed it all by hand (took me back to my grad school days when I only had a fork) and it takes time to make sure all ingredients are incorporated. I want to try this again w/ my stand mixer to see if it makes a difference. And, I think guilty touched on why others who've asked him for the recipe haven't been able to replicate it--the first time you try any recipe, there's some fumbling around, no matter how much baking experience you have (I'm talking about home bakers not professional). I'd be curious to know who of his friends tried the recipe and what their background was and how they did it, how many times they tried it. I've given many recipes to friends and they tell me theirs isn't the same. It's not magic; it's experience. As with Von, over 20+ years of making the same recipe, you're bound to have it down to a science.

                                                                                                                                                  I agree w/ your thought about keeping an eye out for the Vons who create their own special goodness whether it be magic or science. Bobby Flay had a show, a long time ago where he visited home cooks who had "perfected" a dish. It could have been a great show about people like Von but turned out to be a "find a Sandra Lee home cook", though it was before Sandra Lee. Thanks for the recipe and interesting discussion.

                                                                                                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                    chowser, thanks for doing the experiment. Great to have your findings. A couple things:

                                                                                                                                                    "unless you try mine, we have no idea how it compares to his"

                                                                                                                                                    Did it make everyone who ate it grimace and pound the countertop with their fist? If not, it's not like Von's!

                                                                                                                                                    Really, it's not about any given analyzable aspect of the flavor and texture (I'm expert at analyzing flavor and texture - did it for a living for years - but I can't single out any aspect for specific praise). It's about the effect of the gestalt. So in a sense, it's not exactly about what they taste like, it's about how the subtle harmonies within that taste affect people.

                                                                                                                                                    Which leads me to this:

                                                                                                                                                    "Vons who create their own special goodness whether it be magic or science"

                                                                                                                                                    As I'm sure you know, "science" is a whole other thing, involving hypotheses and scientific method. I think what you meant was "magic or material". And I'm not just being nitpicky; this is critical to the discussion! Because I've never imagined there's something not actually in the cookies. I don't think for a second there's some weird spiritual miasma apart from the cookies. No. It's THERE. It's material. It's cookies. They are what they are.

                                                                                                                                                    But "magic" and "material" are inseparable. It's not one or the other. Materiality is in itself magical.

                                                                                                                                                    Consider: even machines (which are a lot crisper than humans) are irrational in their outputs. For example, every F-sharp ever played by man or machine has been unique - slightly different than any other (the F-sharp above middle C is set at 739.989 hz....but you will never hear 739.9890000000000000(etc) hz). There is no clean, clearly replicable, fully analyzable and comprehensible pathway to creating anything. Everything's unique, and microcosmic of all factors involved into its creation - including all factors in its creator.

                                                                                                                                                    And I don't think scientists would argue any of that. But there's plenty of headroom in that perspective to allow for a myriad of factors to enter the equation, and for things to be created which affect us in myriad interesting ways. And for at least some degree of order to be possible, as well, so that someone like Von can achieve similar (though never uniform) results with decent consistency.

                                                                                                                                                    I think we understood all this a lot more keenly (though non-verbally) in the distant past. I'm groping around to express something that can never be encapsulated in words. Check out this:

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                      That's thought provoking. Having a scientific/mathematical background, I always try to attribute differences to science/math, even if it's something like the Stradivarius, which has been studied by computer models, reproduced w/in unmeasureable precision and still not reproduced. I think it's something that will eventually be solved, and not magic. OTOH, there is definitely "magic" in artists and their ability. It's where emotion and feelings come to play. So that's the magic and material. I don't put baking along those lines, though. I think of it more as a craft than an art. My emotions/feelings don't come through in what I make. I follow studied techniques and it works. Playing the violin was completely different--I was a good technician, but the art didn't come through, imo.

                                                                                                                                                      As the cookies go, I brought them to my Italian class. They're polite enough to compliment anything that's brought in but I'd put this at the top of the things I've brought in. They loved the shape, appearance of the cookies, loved the taste and texture, lots of mmming and deep throat noises. I'd say of things I've made for them over the years, this would rate among the many Peter Reinhart breads I've brought and my version Jacques Torres/NYT chocolate chip cookie and that lemon curd layer cake. So, definitely a winner and distinctive. Even my son said, they were just different, no explainable (to a 16 year old boy) in a good way. I'll be passing the Von video on to my Italian class--I think they'd love the whole thing, even though none of us quite get the "profound" part. But, if you're ever in the DC area and want good food, hit up my Italian class--the best eggplant parm from a guy, like Von actually, who slices the home grown eggplant 1/8" thick, melds it w/ incredible sauce (everything from his garden) and his own mozzarella is just one example.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                        I forgot to add--there was no grimacing, no bashing of heads, no gnashing of teeth if that was the standard. But, I live in the DC area we generally only do that when it's political.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                          You're still drawing a false distinction, IMO. I'll try once more.

                                                                                                                                                          Again: nobody's claiming Von's cookies are delicious because they contain something apart from cookies. They might be made with love, but that love manifests in decisions - of quantities, timings, and actions. So, YES, the result is entirely material. Scientific. Mathematical. Or whatever other inappropriate term we want to affix in an effort to make the obvious argument that there are no minuscule angels dancing amid the heath bar bits. Point conceded. Strawman defeated. We're good on that.

                                                                                                                                                          By the same token, the mental process that creates the cookies is not material. The creation of anything is the result of materializing conscious and unconscious mental processes via action. THAT'S where magic is. It's not "clean" in there.

                                                                                                                                                          The end result is what it is. Put all the "science" on it you'd like. Build the Deliciotron 7000 and inform us how many molecules of crystallized ginger are optimal and offer the greatest potential to leave eaters sobbing. Fine by me. Also not relevant to the issue I'm considering here. Because I KNOW it's all molecules. Neither I, nor anyone else, is saying there's anything BUT molecules of known materials present. And this data would yield no insight into the mental processes from which the deliciousness springs. So you may continue to vehemently advocate for "science", but it has nothing to do with anything being discussed here.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                            Well, there are quite a few posters who've talked about magic for people making incredible baked goods. I don't think were disagreeing that method matters--it's just that I think it springs from years of experience and that's it. So, for me, the "mental processes from which the deliciousness springs" comes down to that. His 20+ years of working the recipe. I use the term "science" to mean it's explainable, not that the molecules are rightly aligned in the right quantities. And, that 20 years experience should be appreciated for what it has done for his baking, not just that he somehow had the magic touch to produce cookies. It reminds me of that saying about how luck comes with a lot of hard work.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                                          As a follow up, I left Italian class early last week so didn't get the full review. People loved these cookies. My teacher, who's an avid baker/cook, said she saved three for herself and slowly at them through the week (I guess one advantage of using Crisco is that the cookies maintain somewhat the same quality for a longer time than butter would). She said her family was surprised because she's very picky about her cookies, until she let them try some and then she said they realized why she was hoarding them. Other reviews were similar. That said, I did start by talking about the cookies as "i biscotti profondi" so it might have skewed some views. I think I can improve my version, maybe by adding ginger since I'm never willing to leave well enough alone.

                                                                                                                                                        3. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                          I've used Crisco in my cookies for more years that I remember...precisely because the cookies bake up with a thicker, chewier texture.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                            To tag onto this--I made the recipe again for a dessert party. Only I didn't use Von's methods, I used, for the most part, techniques I'm more comfortable with. So, I used a slow hand mixer for mixing in the crisco and sugars. Instead of using brown sugar, I use white sugar w/ a good dollop of molasses. I like to control the amount of molasses and this seemed like more would be better. I don't measure vanilla--but use a healthy pour. Whisked together flour, baking soda and salt before mixing into creamed mix, then quickly added oatmeal, nuts, toffee bits. Baked on parchment (far better than silpat for these) on single layer cookies, rotating mid-way. I made huge cookies, scooping w/ an extra large cookie scoop and then pressing gently in the center w/ fingers. As much as the first batch was great, these were far better. Definitely a serious eating/chewing cookie, a big hit and the only dessert people asked to take home. I think guilty hit on the wu wei idea that it's a comfort with technique (technique that works over experience, not making the same batch of cookies the same way, getting mediocre results and still continuing with the smae technique) that creates results. I made these cookies in no time, no thought, just practiced reaction. I'm going to bring this batch to my Italian class and see what they think.

                                                                                                                                                          2. Jim - your post made me think of something. My mother made the BEST baking powder bisquits and pie crust in the world. She used very basic recipes for each and used crisco for the fat. After over 50 years of practice I am approaching her pie crust but cannot get anything like her bisquits. I use her recipe, watched her do it through my childhood and she would talk me through making them. My biscuits are like hockey pucks comapred to hers. I just realized that it may have been her hands. Because of a birth defect she had very small hands with minimal finger development. I, however, am a geologist and gardner with very strong hands (at 5 foot 2 inches and 63 years old I can give my 6'4" 240 lb boyfriend a run on arm wrestling). So - reading your post I had a possible AH-AH moment - maybe the magic was in her hands? Because it certainly was magic!

                                                                                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Fiona

                                                                                                                                                              Fiona - it's about factors. It has to be about factors (if it wasn't, then the basis would be the presence of some woo-woo spiritual miasma, per my posting just above). Hand size is certainly a factor! And there are myriad others, some very subtle.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Fiona

                                                                                                                                                                Fiona, particularly with biscuits, the **temperature** of your hands is crucially important, too - there are people around who perpetually have fingers that feel anywhere from cool to icy -- these folks, IME, seem to make the best biscuits -- because their icy fingers keep the shortening from melting and do a better job working the shortening into the flour.

                                                                                                                                                                Folks with hot hands usually have a hard time with it, and I've known a couple of people who soak their fingers in ice water to cool down their fingers before making biscuits.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                  Hmmm... I am a cold fingered person, maybe that's why my biscuits are flakey : )

                                                                                                                                                                  I wonder, if the hot fingered folks wore latex gloves to insulate, would that help?

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: happybaker

                                                                                                                                                                    Interesting. But do you guys really think the coldest fingered person would have fingers all that much colder, in measurable degrees at surface, than the warmest fingered person? I'd imagine a degree or two or three at most. But I may be totally wrong. And/or 1-3 degrees may make a diff.

                                                                                                                                                                    What's for sure is that even if it only makes a tiny diff, tiny diffs add up! :)

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff


                                                                                                                                                                      Sara Moulton (who I adore and not just because she's my height) is a hot fingered person. And she's admitted that it makes it VERY hard for her to work with chocolate.

                                                                                                                                                                      And one of my best friends cannot make biscuits to save her life - and she has warm hands : )

                                                                                                                                                                      I think it's simply another intangible, another factor. Perhaps warm fingered folks see their shortening melts faster and compensate by working it less?

                                                                                                                                                                      It's just fun to think and compare and wonder!

                                                                                                                                                              2. Saying those ingredients are' lousy' and the recipe is' pedestrian' isn't fair.. sort of Gordon Ramsay-esk. Really, those r just common ingredients in a awesome and regular recipe. Von's magic is simple. We all know that.

                                                                                                                                                                1. "Here, try this one. See that one is not quite as successful."

                                                                                                                                                                  Love that he picks out the fallen one for the sample. Whatever that quality is, I don't have it, but I admire it. By contrast I'd offer the best example and be delighted with the praise.

                                                                                                                                                                  My grandma was just like him, and could never understand the fuss either, in fact it was clear she thought we were over-doing it when we'd gush and try to pin down what we thought must be her secrets. Maybe maturity plays some part in the magic.

                                                                                                                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Niblet

                                                                                                                                                                    Maturity is a good point. Slow down, take your time.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                      I still want to bring back my idea of Grandma Iron Chef, where they have a full day to cook their meals...

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                                                                                                                                        I love that. Cook your best, no gimmicks. I think slowing down is an important skill. Even with this recipe, my thought was pulling out the stand mixer to speed it up.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                          The timing element of Iron Cook is about adding conflict/drama. Which may have been necessary when the series started, but not so much today. I think a lot of people would like to see people cooking more deliberately, within the same competitive framework but without the stopwatch.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                                                                                                                                          i'm into that Iron Chef Grandma idea!

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: hetook

                                                                                                                                                                            Well, maybe I should float this by Food Network...

                                                                                                                                                                            Battle Oatmeal Cookies
                                                                                                                                                                            Battle Apple Pie

                                                                                                                                                                            Here we come.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Niblet

                                                                                                                                                                        As l always,enjoyed the thoughtful discussion, and am late in adding my comments. Hetook, thank you for stating it that way. My reaction exactly - that description is "foodie" in its most limiting . Will keep you from enjoying some lovely but mundane items - That's okay though, more for us - That being said -

                                                                                                                                                                        Couple of things - I see uses old fashioned oats when he can - that's experience talking, cause quick oats bake up with less texture and flavor. Crisco makes good cookies - texture is predictable,and they don't spread all over the place. Use half butter half Crisco if you like, but full on Crisco won't be the end of the world. Salt - for those of you who are tempted to short the salt measurement, too bad. These ingredients need salt to bring out the taste. Also does he use part (not all) dark brown sugar? Makes for richer cookie. And that's why Heath Bits are genius. Everything else is his experience - Lucky Von, lucky Von's friends.

                                                                                                                                                                        Sigh, have pie duty this year, no cookies til after Thanksgiving - hate the wait to try recipe!

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: myaco

                                                                                                                                                                          I made these tonight..and agree with all the points you make. I discovered the crisco/butter thing many many years ago. I never use quick oats unless they are specifically called for - regular definitely makes a better cookie. And I wanted the full teaspoon of salt - I will use it next time I make these..

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: FitMom4Life

                                                                                                                                                                            How are they? No cookies here til after Thanksgiving, I got pie duty this year. (No, not a complaint - ) Funny thing is I think I've passed on that recipe due to the high amt of shortening -

                                                                                                                                                                      3. I have nothing to add besides I like your title better than just about any post i've seen in a long time.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. He's holding back or adding something, though, I'd bet on it. Not that that's a bad thing. The recipe is a good one, if you're not a food snob. I didn't mean that to sound so snotty, sometimes alchemy is involved.

                                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                                                            But you know - if he is holding back I'd bet a batch of these cookies that it's that butter/sugar combo, old fashioned/quick oats, salt/more salt, light/dark brown sugar mix. (No, I'd NEVER do that. Ever. Swear. )

                                                                                                                                                                            And the alchemy - he's prolly done these so many times he knows when they are JUST RIGHT. Plus, ever make a just-okay batch of your favorite recipe? Did it leave your kitchen? (no, really, I'd NEVER do that either ---)

                                                                                                                                                                            BTW just looked at the Quaker Oats website for the recipe and it calls for all butter , no Crisco. At one time I'd swear it called for shortening. Draw own conclusions about food snobbery reaching corporate levels. (I'm using generic old fashioned oats so cannot compare. )

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                                                              He couldn't be since Jim was sitting right there filming. I think he romanticizes that it's the recipe on the oatmeal box when it's not. It sure makes a good story that it's the same one everyone uses, like Tollhouse cookies, not a different, more unusual recipe.

                                                                                                                                                                              I'm wondering, though, since he says others have tried his recipe and said they're not the same, if he tells them it's the recipe from the back of the box and they try that recipe instead of his. Even after it's been pointed out repeatedly in this thread that it's not the same recipe, people still seem to believe it is. What surprises me, too, is the number of people who think it is and say they've made the vanishing oatmeal recipe. I knew right away that it wasn't the same, though I haven't made it for years. They're very different.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. There’s not much that I can add to this discussion, but I must interject my love for all things Von. Sorry to get all fan girl.

                                                                                                                                                                              Maybe I’m just delusional at this hour of the morning, but I almost fell out of my chair laughing at “Did you raise ostriches?” And Von’s response had a hint of humor, but also an earnest answer.

                                                                                                                                                                              Thanks for the great thread, and I will be trying my hand at those walnut cookies!

                                                                                                                                                                              1. Slogged through this interminable thread in the vain hope it contained something useful, at the risk of OD-ing on the redundant hyperbole. If nobody can replicate the Von experience, there's no point to the entire thread. There's probably hundreds of people who could replicate the cookie but without an international convention and testing panel, they'll never be identified. Bored now.

                                                                                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                                                                  I agree--we'll never know if the cookie can be replicated or has been but the assumed response is that it isn't and can't be. If there were a blind taste test, could Von's fans be able to find his immediately? And, would it always be the rated the best by everyone, even people who've never had his? It doesn't matter how many people make it and like the recipe or don't--they'll still never be Von's cookies, for better or worst.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. All physical things are, "knowable." The scientific method ALWAYS works. When it does not seem to, the observer is simply missing something, or the information is being disguised/withheld, intentionally or otherwise.

                                                                                                                                                                                    14 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                                                                                                                                                                      It's a shame that everything is hard and cold and black and white in your world.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                        Especially since we're talking about a cookie!

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                                                                          now black and white in a cookie isn't all that bad...(unless it's burned carbon!)

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                            Imagine the conflict a b/w cookie could generate! Ha!

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                          Whether made by an artist, a scientist, or Ashton Kutcher, a cookie is surely a physical object, and therefore entirely knowable in its creation. A world without color? Now that would truly be a conundrum.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: visciole

                                                                                                                                                                                              yeah, but I hear his specialties is brownies...you know, the special ones.

                                                                                                                                                                                        3. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                                                                                                                                                                          I wonder if your backgrounds determines how you feel about this--I think the same thing about cookies and baking. I compare this to quantitative analysis chem lab where some people were far more accurate, took their time and got great results, using the same directions and equipment as those who weren't. But, no one who was completely accurate, followed the instructions w/ doing more research and took their time had poor results. It's just that few had that dedication.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                            I don't see how a individuals background doesn't influence all that they do and if you have the brain of a scientist and an artist they can both co-exist. At least my brain can. But we are talking about a cookie baked by Von here. Is Von into quantitative analysis?

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                                                                              I didn't mean Von or any methodology but that I agree that physicality can be explained, even if it escapes the observer, as PommedeGuerre (love the names said. I think that type of attitude is the view of someone w/ a more scientific mind. I love David Blaine but I know I don't see everything and know there is an explanation.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                                                                                                                                                                            I agree wholeheartedly. I believe that you have to be willing to to share that information, and you need the skill to teach it. The student needs enough intelligence/artistic ability to translate that information, and we do not have all of the information that is required to reproduce the exact cookie. I posted something similar upthread:
                                                                                                                                                                                            "I'm convinced that something is getting lost in the translation of the recipe, between the op, the video, and those who are making the cookies."

                                                                                                                                                                                            Your post, so much more eloquent.

                                                                                                                                                                                            If anyone knows exactly why the golden ration appeals to the human eye I would love to read more about it sometime. I think there is a golden ratio in relation to taste and texture; it's why sometimes we percieve the sum of the parts to be so much greater than the whole.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: lilgi

                                                                                                                                                                                              I think mixing by hand in a sort of mashing way, not adding air is interesting. He creams the butter/sugar in a way that makes me think he has either mixed a lot of printing ink or a lot of mortar, it is kind of the same gesture. I also think the little dent in the top made by the spoon is interesting.

                                                                                                                                                                                              This whole discussion made me think of an experience a few weeks ago when I was making my first polyester plate lithograph. I am skilled in litho, but hadn't made one in years and had never used a polyester plate. The first plate simply did not roll up (accept ink) at all. At first glance I had done everything right - no obvious mistakes. After taking a walk I decided to go back to the very beginning and re-do each step of the process slightly differently - darkened the lines on the image, made the ink slightly less stiff, sponged the plate with a little less water, and added one more sheet of newsprint to the thickness on the press (one sheet). It worked fine, I even sold one of the prints that weekend. So I don't think the "magic" is any one thing, but many many tiny little variations. Jim, I hope you will share your ultimate list of those tiny little things. I'll try the recipe when I get over my recent love affair with another oatmeal cookie recipe that soaks the raisins in the vanilla and eggs for an hour ;)

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Betty

                                                                                                                                                                                                OMG, Betty u r gonna take Von's recipe...I can sense it.... soaking the raisins's in v. & egg...get outta here ha,ha! Clearly, all things in the Universe can be known... does that mean they must be understood ? luv this thread (: :)

                                                                                                                                                                                          3. These cookies are not great by chance or "magic". I watched the video twice and it struck me that the ingredients and steps have been very carefully thought out and edited by someone with exacting tastes. Weighing the ingredients? Heath bar bits addition? Crisco sticks for uniformity of measurement? Changing of the pans midway? Double pans on the bottom? While he's forgiving on the measurement of the nuts and Heath Bar bits, that's because they do not affect the texture of the dough as much as the other ingredients. They're just flavor additions, though the heath bar bits do melt into pockets of deliciousness.

                                                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: choctastic

                                                                                                                                                                                              I agree with Choc here. He is VERY thorough in measuring, weighing, and doing certain steps at the same time. These aren't cookies from "lousy" ingredients and a "pedestrian" recipe -- this is a solid cookie recipe that has been well crafted. I think you're selling Von short here, honestly.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mateo21

                                                                                                                                                                                                Exactly--he's obviously studied, experimented and perfected it. As I said above, maybe the take away is just to start with a good recipe and work on it until you have it right.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. So I made them....watched the video twice...followed his recipe and weighed everything. They were good but not great...bet Von's are better. I think my personal taste leans towards more butter taste with my cookies. Maybe I should try it with butter flavored crisco or butter as suggested on my box of Quaker Oats.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Tripper

                                                                                                                                                                                                Tripper, I bet that won't work? The tread is about Von's * ingredients* and his * recipe* .Factor in, his experience and technique. It may take us a good,long time.

                                                                                                                                                                                              2. As mentioned already, Crisco vs butter does make a huge difference in cookies. But just as critical is the type of oatmeal, "quick" oats make a flatter cookie while "old fashioned" make a puffy one. None of these recipes seem to specify which is called for. I always prefer old fashioned myself, no matter what the recipe says. Sorry to add my two cents so late in the game, but for what it's worth, as an oatmeal cookie lover.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. Found it! Von's recipe is for oatmeal icebox cookies. It's an old recipe (which explains the one I linked to below that was hand written from someone's grandmother). There is an interesting history on icebox cookies on it, too.


                                                                                                                                                                                                  The odd thing is, this recipe is for refrigerator cookies, for anyone who has made them, in that they're rolled in a log, refrigerated and then sliced when you want to bake. So, not in the way Von scoops and presses down. I'd love to try these from the original directions and see how they compare to Von's method (or my interpretation of Von's method).

                                                                                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Thanks for these recipes, I love oatmeal cookies but the date nut ones look intriguing too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I think the pecan refrigerator cookies look good, too. I love refrigerator cookies and don't see them around as much these days. Although, I guess there's PIllsbury slice and bake.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Way to go chowser! C'est magnifique! WOW, a cup of shortening...no wonder they r so magic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. With all due respect for your status as founder of this website, Mr. Leff, you're a bit of a snob!! Doncha know a great cookie has little to do with the recipe itself? It's all about love, babe. Ya gotta make 'em with love. Be messy, be silly, be imprecise. Lick the bowl. Have fun. Magic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Wanted to add my 2¢ after trying my hand at the recipe this morning. I weighed everything and the only sub was to use pecans instead of walnuts when I discovered after making a Heath bar and Crisco buying run to the store that I did not have any walnuts in the pantry. I ended up wtih 45 cookies, on three trays, so I'm rolling them a little smaller than Von is, if I remember the video correctly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I'm actually glad that I baked three different trays as it let me fiddle with the oven temperature. I think that one of the reasons Von's cookies turn out different is that his oven runs hot. The first try took almost 11 minutes and were still a bit too soft in the middle. I turned the oven up 10 degrees, so the second tray had about half-half in temperature range. They came out better in texture, but still spread out quite a bit and were not high in the center. The third tray was baked at 365, took 8.5 minutes and these looked closer to Von's result and had crisp edges.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      The irony of making this recipe with Crisco sticks is that I can buy a pound of Plugra for the same price, $4, in this area. However, I try to follow a recipe exactly the first time I make it before tweaking. I used the 1-minute oats I had on hand that my mom's oatmeal cookie recipe calls for. Next time I may bake at an even higher temp. and use whole oats.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. The question asked by Jim Leff was, how does magic get in? For some people,like Von..the less u try...the better the product. Magic pick's only some people ,though. I don't think *magic* cares if u r deserving ,or not . Although ,i have found, it never picks the try-hards or the analytical.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        12 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: hetook

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Since I don't know the definition of 'magic' as it pertains to baking cookies, I'd just have to say that the cookies are apparently more than the sum of their parts (ingredients.) But then, many good cookies are that very thing. Von has mastered baking in his oven, and I think the extra sugar in the recipe makes his cookies irresistible, as extra sugar in a baked product often does. What all of this says to me is that even in a modest kitchen, with an average oven, and average ingredients, you can make something really good that makes people happy to eat, even fill them with delight. Priceless. But magic? I don't think so.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Jim's question was,How does the magic get in? I agree in the value of pricelessness.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: hetook

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am not looking for an argument. If you want to argue, you will have to do it with someone else.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                No, not from me, I'm not into arguments either. This is the best thread on CH.I want us to stay on topic, nothing personal. :0 It's strange to me that after 2 hun and fifty some posts, nobody really addressed the question. Everyone ignored magic and went straight to technique.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: hetook

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  um, I addressed magic and my "take on it" was combed over. So it goes on good ole CH. Trying to find the magic thru technique is one answer tho...no matter how much I believe the magics in the blood, sweat and hands of the individual baker...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We gotta put an end to those CH comb-overs.Ha,ha It seems, Von looks like a regular person in the kitchen.His technique doesn't look that special.We are only taking Jim's word that the cookies r incredible. This tread is alittle like a Bobby Flay 'Throwdown' .. th. little guy sometimes has th*magic*

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: hetook

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "The other comments about practice ring true to me. It isn't only that he has made them so often, but that he has developed techniques that work for his oven. It is possible that hand mixing does create a better texture. I'm going to be honest here: I don't think there is anything mysterious going on. But it is a beautiful example of someone taking humble ingredients and making a very special thing for others to enjoy. Isn't this why most of us cook?" --My response on this thread on Nov 13.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I guess I reject that there is any magic going on. Let's give Von respect for mastering a recipe and making to the delight of his friends.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        "Let's give Von respect for mastering a recipe and making to the delight of his friends."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Ah, but isn't that magic of its own kind?!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: happybaker

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          That's the "magic", and it is very rare today.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Funwithfood

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I made these last night but held off on my opinion until I was rested and could taste clearly. (Due to walnut allergies here, I substituted pecans (roasted) and 2 teaspoons Diamond brand Kosher salt.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The first batch of cookies (at 350) came out evenly cooked albeit not puffy...yet with a nice soft bite. The next batch was getting burned around the edges and more crispy so I turned the temperture down to 325 degrees and baked them for just 12 minutes, still major spread and overly-brown edges. So I chilled the dough thoroughly then baked at 325 degrees for 12 minutes, still major spread with brown edges.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            My "tasters" enjoyed the first batch warm from the oven and rated them a 10 out of 10. Today I let some young boys taste the room temperture overly-brown/spread ones and those were given a 10 out of 10 rating, whereas they scored the more evenly-baked version one point less!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The consensus was that this cookie was "great for an oatmeal cookie". One taster commented that it tasted like a snickerdoodle with oatmeal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            In conclusion, the recipe didn't thrill me, but my tasters loved it. Go figure!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Additional thoughts:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            IMO it was inefficient (for me) and not a key element for success to mix by hand and would definitely gently mix in a standing mixer next time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I happened to see Giada make oatmeal cookies today and she used half baking soda and half baking powder and I wonder if that would have made the finished product more "puffy" (mine are flat). She also added dried cranberries which I think would be a delicious addition to this recipe...and my tasters agreed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: hetook

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Von's cookie is likely a result of many factors, right.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Call it magic, technique, practice, whatever. Von didn't need to put a word to it....but it's the people who enjoy Von's cookie recipe when he bakes it that are calling that cookie incredible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Here ye ,the case is solved! The m*agic* is another word for enjoyment. Man, it was good timing. Merry X-mas gang.