More than just about any dessert, Oreo cookies have become part of most American lives. All of us grew up with them and can’t remember a time when they weren’t available. There are new colors and flavors for various holidays, but I am a purist, I like the originals best. There are a variety of ways to enjoy them, what is your favorite? Do you eat them one bite at a time or put the whole cookie in your mouth at once? Are you the kind that has to pull them apart and eat the filling first? Do you dunk them in milk or coffee? No matter which camp you are in, you have a lot of company!
It was surprising to me to learn that Oreos were introduced clear back in 1912 and originally targeted the British market whose “biscuits” were considered too ordinary by Nabisco. Initially they were sold with two flavors of filling, lemon meringue and the one we know as “cream.” The cream filling far outsold the lemon which was dropped fairly quickly. Oreos are one of the favorite ingredients added to other recipes such as cheesecakes, ice cream, and even a candy bar. The original recipe called for pork lard to make the cream filling, but over time this was altered to use vegetable shortening. Thankfully in 2006 Nabisco changed the formula to eliminate hydrogenated oils completely.
When we think of Oreos of course we instantly imagine rich chocolate cookies surrounding a thick vanilla filling. But any of your favorite cookies can be used. Chocolate Chip, Gingersnaps, and Oatmeal Raisin are all delicious filled with a creamy center. And if you have another favorite chocolate cookie, by all means feel free to use that too. But if you want to stay with the original combination, today’s recipe is terrific. I like them so much that sometimes I am tempted to forego the filling and just enjoy the cookies on their own. And of course you can double the filling recipe and make your own version of Double Stuffs!
One of the signatures of Oreos is their nearly black coloring and intense chocolate flavor. Until recently this was practically impossible to recreate, but King Arthur Flour sells a truly amazing product called Black Cocoa. You can use it in any recipe calling for Dutch-process cocoa. This not only deepens the color of your baked goods, but it also boosts the chocolate flavor. Because of its strength, you want to use it combined with regular cocoa powder. If you use it on its own, your baked goods may be overwhelming, and not necessarily in a good way. Obviously you don’t have to use this cocoa, but adding a little will definitely get your cookies much closer to the color and intensity of the original Oreos.
This recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook called Retro Desserts, by Wayne Harley Brachman. It is full of the favorites from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. They have been updated and in most cases use healthier ingredients than the originals. The recipes are well written and concise, nearly guaranteeing success if you follow them. Brachman includes tips for success and tidbits of history along with most of the entries, making this a very fun read. The hardest part will be choosing which treat to make. With recipes for desserts as timeless as Peach Melba and Animal Crackers, or as creative as Apple Pie Cones (apple pie filling served in a waffle ice cream cone), there are plenty to tantalize your imagination. Whether you want to be June Cleaver or Mrs. Brady, there is something for everyone
Brachman was the Executive Pastry Chef at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and Bolo for nine years and has been named one of the top ten pastry chefs in America by Pastry Arts & Design and Chocolatier magazines. If you are a fan of the Food Network, you may have seen him as the co-host of The Melting Pot or alongside Gale Gand on Sweet Dreams. As a collector of vintage baking books, this homage to favorite desserts of the past is right up his alley. He is known for reinterpreting diner favorites such as Strawberry Shortcake and Coconut Cream Pie.
Being entirely self-taught, Brachman shows us that you don’t need an expensive culinary degree to land positions in some of the most highly respected kitchens in New York City. He is a talented food writer, having been published in Food & Wine, Gourmet, and the New York Times. Along with Retro Desserts, he has also authored “American Desserts: The Greatest Sweets on Earth” and “Cakes and Cowpokes: New Desserts from the Old West” and “See Dad Cook.” His fun and inventive style makes him one of the most popular pastry chefs in the country.
Successful baking requires some discipline, and the results are nearly always outstanding if you use a well-written recipe. But you don’t have to feel as though your creativity is completely stifled. There are plenty of ways to change things up. Probably the easiest thing is to use components from different recipes in new and creative combinations. If you love the blending of chocolate and caramel as I do, you might consider using Dulce de Leche to fill these cookies. You could also use different flavorings instead of vanilla in the creamy filling. What about adding a few drops of peppermint, almond, lemon, or even chocolate extracts or oils? You could fill sugar cookies with an orange scented filling or try a myriad of other flavors.
Making cookies all the same size isn’t normally required unless you are baking for a competition, but in this case having them turn out nearly the same size and shape is helpful. Using a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, one of my favorite tools in the kitchen, will give you very consistent results and also dramatically reduce the time needed to make these cookies. You can produce a whole tray in just a couple of minutes!
In order to get a flatter cookie, preferred when you are filling them, it is recommended that you flatten the dough slightly before baking. Typically done with either your dampened fingers or the bottom of a glass, one of my favorite tricks is to use the plain side of a meat pounder. Make sure you dip it in a bit of water between each pressing. The one that works best for cookies is the round one with the handle on the top.
For those of you who shy away from using vegetable shortening in baking (myself included), you can use palm oil shortening or coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature). They are nearly flavorless making them excellent alternatives. I have also added a cream cheese filling which lends a lovely tangy quality to the filling. Whichever way you go, these cookies will fill you with nostalgia and wonderful memories.
So make yourself a rich cup of coffee or pour a tall glass of ice cold milk and pull up a chair. Let’s take a trip back to our parents and grandparents eras with these fun cookies. Only one question remains unanswered … whether you are a dunker or not!
- For the Chocolate Wafers
- 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa *
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp (1-1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
- 1 large egg
- For the Filling
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, coconut oil, or organic palm shortening
- 2 cups sifted Confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Alternate Cream Cheese Filling
- 8 oz pkg cream cheese
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3-1/2 cups Confectioners' sugar
- Set 2 racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.
- Make the cookies: In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough is thoroughly blended and comes together in a mass.
- Drop rounded teaspoons of batter onto a nonstick, Silpat, or parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened fingers, slightly flatten each dough. Bake for 9 minutes, turning the pans once for even baking, until the cookies are set. Transfer baking sheets to a rack to cool.
- To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. When blended, turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy. (Alternately, combine the cream cheese and other ingredients, beating until fluffy.)
- To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of half the cookies. Top each with another cookie of equal size to the first, and lightly press to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie.
- Yield: 3 dozen sandwich cookies
- If you use natural cocoa, increase the baking soda by 1/2 tsp. For a darker brown cookie, substitute 1 to 2 tbsp Black Cocoa, available from King Arthur Flour, for 1 to 2 tbsp of regular cocoa powder.
- MAKE AHEAD: Both the cookies and the filling can be frozen and assembled later on. Put the filling in a zip-top bag and freeze. When it is time to assemble the cookies, thaw in the refrigerator and the filling will be ready to squeeze right from the bag, just cut the tip off one corner!!