Photos by L.G. Patterson
This year, maybe more than any other, I am craving holiday comfort. I want my favorite Christmas movies and the carols you sing in the car, loudly and badly, with mispronounced words that the children wove into the song so many years ago that we don’t remember who actually said “mamger” not manger. I want all the foods that remind me of my childhood and of those family gatherings that seemed like they’d last forever and too quickly became memories.
And hear me out, I want to bring back the Christmas Cookie Exchange Party.
Do you remember when your mom went to that party? With 10 dozen of her signature Christmas cookies that magically transformed into 10 dozen different cookies? I remember lifting the foil from the plates and being delighted in the bounty. Cookie exchanges, now more than ever, are genius. We gather, we laugh, we nibble and we take home enough cookies for an indulgent holiday spread.
This year, I’m hosting a group of friends and together we are going to bake our childhood. My cookie of choice? My mother’s Oatmeal Carmelitas. Crunchy, decadent and all my favorite flavors in a bar cookie. You have my permission to use it when you organize your own holiday cookie exchange.
- 3 cups quick oats
- 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 pound butter, melted (4 sticks)
- 2 pounds caramels (I use 3 packages of the Kraft Caramel Bits, which are in an 11-ounce package. No opening little individual cellophane wrapped caramels)
- 8 tablespoons half and half
- 12 ounces chocolate chips (I love the dark but semi-sweet are wonderful too)
- 2 cups chopped pecans
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl and mix. Add the melted butter and mix well.
- Divide the mixture in half and press one half into a parchment lined 13x18 standard half size sheet pan.
- Bake for 10-12 until light brown.
- Melt the caramels and half and half in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high in 1-minute intervals, stirring in between until smooth.
- Reserve about 1/3 of the caramel mixture and pour the rest over the oatmeal mixture. Sprinkle chocolate chips and pecans over the top.
- Crumble the remaining oatmeal mixture on top and drizzle with the remaining caramel.
- Return to oven and bake for 12 more minutes until brown. Cool, then cut.