Carrot (Cake) and Stick

Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies

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The combination of carrot and cake may, at first, seem odd (and maybe at second as well), but, if you’ve always shunned this springtime staple due to sheer cognitive dissonance, I sincerely urge you to take the risk and give it a try.  Carrot cake, in no way, tastes like a dessert that’s been corrupted by the hefty presence of an interloping vegetable, and it certainly doesn’t taste “healthy,” rather, it tastes downright moist and decadent (especially when slathered with cream cheese frosting — its classic partner in crime).

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The only downside to making carrot cake without a specific consumption occasion is that it’s a commitment.  One cake for two people is a lot, even if you really, REALLY like cake!  A cookie version is much more approachable (and figure-friendly due to forced portion-control).

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Certain dessert classics are notoriously tricky to translate from classic cake or bread form into cookie form.  Zucchini bread, banana bread, pumpkin bread, and yes, carrot cake, too, have lots of moisture inherent in the fruit and vegetable content, which translates into a moist cake or bread but a sad, soggy cookie.

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Luckily, the characteristic carrot cake flavor is due, in large part, to the cinnamon-nutmeg-ginger spice combination, and only relies partly on the sweetness of the actual carrots.  So, to fight the sog-factor, I steam the grated carrots (to make them a bit less al dente) then allow them to dry out for a while before adding them to the dough.  The result:  structurally-intact cookies with full-bodied carrot cake flavor and live carrot pieces — in short — world peace.

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To ensure maximum co-mingling of flavors, an overnight chill of the shaped cookies is strongly encouraged.  This mandatory marination allows for the oats to absorb any residual carrot moisture and gives the sugar a chance to fully dissolve into the butter and vanilla, resulting in more flavorful, uniform cookies.  Just be sure to allow the cookies to sit at room temp for 60-90 minutes before baking though, to let the butter re-soften (otherwise, your cookies will remain as big blobs during baking).
The world of mix-ins for these cookies really is your oyster (though I would advise against adding actual oysters to these cookies).  My recipe, below, recommends raisins, almonds, and white chocolate chips (to lend inklings of a cream-cheese-frosting component), but other tasty options include:  toasted coconut, walnuts, and chopped apricots.

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Though these cookies are delicious in their own right, certain vegetable-phobes may still be wary of them as soon as they hear you say “carrot” and “cookie” in the same breath, so maybe, just call them “oatmeal cookies” until the initial taste moment happens — it’s not dishonest; it’s preventing unwarranted prejudices from standing in the way of culinary delights!  You might even get a Nobel Peace Prize for making these cookies (please mention me in your acceptance speech).

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Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies

YIELD:  ~2 1/2 dozen cookies (yes, from only 4 tablespoons butter!)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned and cooled to room temp
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 egg, room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup shredded carrot, steamed 5 minutes & cooled (off the steam) to room temp
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 cup crispy rice cereal
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
In a small bowl, use a fork to aerate and combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger; set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the cooled brown butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup until pale and fluffy, ~4 minutes on medium speed.  Add egg and vanilla, then beat for an additional 2 minutes.  With mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing only until JUST combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure full incorporation.  Use a sturdy rubber spatula or the ‘stir’ setting on your mixer to fold in the carrot, oats, cereal, almonds, raisins, and chips.  Line a tray or large plate with wax paper, and use a cookie scoop or two spoons to scoop out and mold ~1.5-tablespoonfuls of dough, compacting the dough as much as possible to make sure that the cookies do not come apart despite all of the mix-ins [Note:  it’s best not to roll these cookies in your hands because the dough is quite sticky at this point].  If desired, press an additional white chocolate chip into the top of each dough blob, along with a few almond slices, for decoration. Cover tray/plate with plastic wrap, and chill overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit, and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  Bake ~1.5″ apart for 8-10 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baketime — cookies are done when edges appear set and tops no longer look moist (try not to overbake these cookies, since dry oatmeal cookies are just sad).  Allow to cool on hot baking sheet for 3 minutes before removing to wire racks for complete cooling.  Cookies may be stacked in airtight containers, with wax paper between layers, at room temp for up to 3 days or in fridge for up to 5 days.
Make-ahead note:  Overnight-chilled dough blobs can be frozen in zip-top freezer bags (with all of the air burped out to prevent freezer burn) for up to 3 months — allow dough to come to room temp prior to baking as directed above.

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