Each year, just before Christmas day, a few friends of mine randomly pass out reusable grocery bags they’ve loaded with treats and necessities to homeless people they come across around town. It’s a small family effort, but everyone gets involved. This year, one daughter donated $10 gift cards from a fast food eatery, while someone else bought hooded sweatshirts and long-sleeve T-shirts for each bag. The fabric grocery bags aren’t huge, but they’re roomy enough to also hold socks, gloves, a water bottle, wipes and packaged snack foods.
I love the hands-on approach to this type of giving, and the randomness, so, this year I offered up some freshly baked cookies to add to the mix. In selecting what to bake, I decided to first eliminate fancy cut-out cookies with frosting because they wouldn’t pack well, and offering up broken, smeared cookies wasn’t an option.
At first, I had grandiose thoughts of making three different types of baked goods, thinking that, after all, who offers only one type of Christmas cookie? Then, reality hit me when I figured it would take me probably two whole days to bake a variety of cookies and bars for a crowd. So, I settled on one of my favorite cookies that I’ve been baking for years. I never had a specific recipe because they’re made from a bit of everything I find stashed in the pantry — half-bag of chocolate chips, a quarter bag of Heath Bar nuggets, some leftover coconut, a handful of chopped hazelnuts, and always a big dose of crunchy cereal and old-fashioned oatmeal. Just about everyone who bakes is familiar with this type of cookie. Mine are packed with brown sugar and plenty of butter. They spread quite a bit when baked and, in the end, come out somewhat flexible, slightly crisp and chewy with a caramel flavor from the brown sugar, but never cake like.
For this project, I needed a lot of cookies, so I finally paid close attention to what I was doing and came up with a recipe that not only produces about 100 three-inch cookies in one batch, but one that’s easy to make. I eliminated the creaming the butter and sugar stage, which cut some time. (Having a convection oven also helped, since I could bake several batches at once.)
Because I didn’t have industrial size containers, I mixed the wet ingredients in a large bowl, but combined the wet and dry ingredients in a stock pot. It was still manageable enough so that I could use my hand mixer to mix the dough. And then when I added corn flakes, butterscotch chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips and a combination of peanut butter and milk chocolate chips, the pot gave me plenty of mixing room without making a mess.
When adding the flavors to the dough, I decided to leave out my beloved shredded coconut because there are some folks out there who just don’t care for it, and I also ditched nuts of all kinds. Let’s face it, these cookies were going to people without homes and certainly not dentists, so hard nuts aren’t going to be missed.
Finally, I had to package the cookies so that they wouldn’t break or crumble. For decades, I’ve been using Chinese take-out cartons to package gifts, so this seemed like a practical idea.
They’re not too large but sturdy enough to keep the cookies intact. So, I wrapped a small stack of cookies in plastic, then topped them with a piece of crumpled tissue paper so that they wouldn’t move in the take-out carton, attached a little bow and the cookies were ready for their bags.
Pantry Cookies For A Crowd Recipe
Makes about 100 three-inch cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 cups unsalted butter, melted
4 cups light or dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 cups chocolate chips (or a combination of peanut butter or butterscotch chips)
5 cups corn flakes (or rice Krispies or any crunchy, non-sweetened cereal)
Optional: 1 cup shredded coconut or chopped nuts
In a large bowl, dump in the first 5 ingredients and beat with a mixer until smooth, about two minutes. (the mixture will look like light brown cake batter.)
Stir the oats into the egg-butter-sugar mixture to let them soften a bit. Set aside for about 10 or 15 minutes.
In the meantime, in a large bowl (or stock pot), sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and soda and cinnamon). Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and beat until all ingredients are well incorporated.
Now, stir in the flavored chips and corn flakes, mix with a wooden spoon until the chips and cereal are distributed throughout the cookie dough.
Place dough on a greased cookie sheet (I get 12 cookies per sheet) and bake in a 35-degree oven for about 9 minutes.
Check your oven because it could take a few minutes more to cook. And remember, these spread, so don’t crowd the dough.
TIP: I use a small ice cream scoop to make uniform cookies.