It was 1am and I was sitting on the kitchen floor, watching my first attempt at this Salted Rosemary Oat Bark, bake. When I first poured the oat mixture onto the pan, I had been struck by how little dough I actually had made. Now, I cringed as melted butter oozed out the sides, making me sure that these cookies were a failure. But, then I noticed. There was butter around the sides, but also, this cookie was a serious spreader: what was once maybe a 9-inch round, now took up the large majority of baking the sheet. Respectable. As the heat started to work its way into the bark, I watched the giant cookie bubble a bit around the edges, its border rising and falling, in a way that I can only describe as captivating.
It was 1am and I was baking cookies. I was exhausted, but very awake, so take my interpretation of captivating as you will.
For days I had been imagining these cookies: rustic, crisp, buttery and laced with both rosemary and salt. Finally, on my fifth night of sleeping terribly, I asked myself what I was waiting for and made my way into the kitchen, blending oats, chopping rosemary, melting butter, and hey, while I was at it, running the dishwasher and tossing in a load of laundry.
I knew that if I wanted these cookies thin and crisp, melted butter was the way to go. But, also, I’d skip the eggs and any rising agents. No eggs to bring to room temperature, no butter to soften, no batter to measure or shape. This was the perfect middle of the night recipe, if there even is such a thing.
Even with blending oats, plucking rosemary leaves from their stems, needing to finagle the stubborn cap off of my jar of vanilla extract and measuring carefully, the bark was still in the oven in 15 minutes, which is always a welcome amount of prep, even if I was looking for a nighttime distraction.
It turned out that monitoring the oat bark as it bubbled and rose, around the edges first, then throughout the middle, was the equivalent of playing with one of those mini desk sandboxes and a rake: lazily distracting. I was unable to look away. When the bark reached its sweet spot, deeply caramelized and only bubbling still in the center, I pulled the pan from the oven. A quick touch confirmed everything I already knew: the cookie would still be soft and scalding hot. (Don’t be like me.)
I set it on a rack to cool, used the time to get a bit of work done and returned to the kitchen. The cookie lifted easily, in one giant piece and cracked, satisfyingly, when I started to break it into pieces. But, so much butter. My hands and the cookies felt greasy. I let myself try a piece (really, at that point, what was it going to hurt?). The texture was great, but the rosemary and salt might as well have not been in the mix. Plus, that butter. I put the oat brittle into the container, covered it up and attempted to sleep.
It was about 30 hours later and I had been thinking about the first batch, quite a bit. The next day, after they had time to sit, they were not as greasy as the night before. But, still I could not get the actual feeling of the buttery cookies on my hand, out of my head. So, obviously, this time, I would cut back on the butter and the sugar, which was slightly high for me, and without question, up the rosemary and salt. And I wanted to increase the amount of whole oats because they were occasional flecks, instead of the oat cookie I was seeking. But I kept thinking about the flour I mixed in with the oats. Was the all-purpose flour really necessary if I was combining it with oat flour? Could I escape it?
Quickly again, I blended oats, melted butter, chopped rosemary and mixed everything together. As I slid the sheet pan in the oven, I couldn’t help but notice that it looked a lot like granola. Should I go against my gut and just bake this batch, or play more before I bake it? Larry told me to bake it anyway. Five minutes later I walked over to check, and sure enough, the mixture was bubbling again, in rising heat-invoked heaps, working its way into a cohesive mass. Hmmm.
Later, when the oat bark was broken into pieces, I was happy to taste rosemary and a definite salt finish. But, also, my first hunch had been sort of right. This wasn’t granola, but this version was much closer to a crunchy granola bar, than a cookie. Not bad, but not where I wanted to be. Also, if I was going to make a granola bar for snacking, butter would not be in the ingredient list.
My original plan (several oat- and butter-free days before) had been to create and make the oat bark as a gift for Easton’s teachers, for Teacher Appreciation Week. Now, it was Sunday (two days since the last oat bark bake) and the whole thing had become very now or never to me. Looking back, today, I realize nothing was stopping me from making chocolate chip cookies if this version was a bust, and that neither version had actually been a bust, but at the time I Needed To Stick To The Plan.
Easton was here to help, which admittedly, slowed me down, but also felt fitting, since the gift was for her teachers. I had continued to think a lot about these cookies and I had an idea, a middle ground between the first two batches. For this version, I made two key changes: I reduced the sugar, because round two still tasted too sweet for my liking and while I kept the amount of rolled oats the same, I played with the proportions of the whole oats and oats blended into flour.
We melted, blended, mixed and poured. We had a small argument over whose hands would be used to pat down the mixture (my clean hands won out), and then, it went into the oven. The oat bark spread, just a little, the bubbling started, and Easton and I left to make cards for her teachers.
Of course, this version, that was kept in the oven just a minute too long (Easton and I were in disagreement about how to spell one of her teacher’s names, and you know, because she’s 3.5-years-old, she was definitely right), getting slightly too brown around the edges, was the one that worked.
Once cool, it snapped into lovely golden pieces, just slightly salty and flecked with rosemary. These were definitely oaty, but they were cookies, not granola bars. They weren’t as snappy, or as thin, as I had originally sought, but they were golden and buttery in that cookie way and I realized that maybe, I had been off base with my beginning goal. Maybe these were meant to be more bark, than brittle.
We packaged the cookies into mason jars, tied on ribbons and added cards. I felt relieved that the cookies were figured out, that we were giving the Salted Rosemary Oat Bark I had set out to make a week earlier. But, I still worried, like I always do, when I give an edible gift, especially for people whose tastes I’m unfamiliar with. What if they don’t like rosemary or salt? What if they love salty things and this cookie doesn’t cut it? What if…? Oh my goodness, just go to sleep, my head said. Really, it’s one gift in a sea of twenty they’d receive – don’t make it out to be anything more than that. (But, really, I know this: it’s because I want to give them a gift appreciative of their time with Easton, and for the amount of information she’s learned and absorbed in their class. And, food is my business, my life, the way Easton and I bond — I don’t want to let anyone down.)
The next morning, something made me google Teacher Appreciation Week 2017. I don’t know why. But, there it clearly was: Teacher Appreciation Week begins on May 8. It was May 1. I was somehow one week early.
I could still test another batch or two, play with the sugar a little more or — NO. The Rosemary Bark was good. It really was. It was in two jars. It was going to Easton’s teachers a week early, still with thanks and gratitude, and the recipe was going to bed. Just like I hope to again, some night soon.
If you love cookies with an extra hint of salt, lightly sprinkle with pinches of Maldon or another flake salt that will hold its shape in the oven, before baking.
- ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2½ cups rolled oats, divided (use gluten-free, if necessary)
- 1 packed tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves (from 1-2 sprigs)
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- Maldon Salt for sprinkling (optional)
- Heat oven to 350°F.
- Unwrap butter; use wrapper to grease the sheet pan.
- Cut butter into small pieces and transfer to a microwave-safe glass bowl. (Alternatively, melt butter in a small saucepan, over low heat.) Melt butter in microwave 45 seconds-1 minute, or until completely melted. Stir in both sugars and vanilla extract; set aside.
- Meanwhile, place 1½ cups oats and rosemary in blender or food processor; blend 30 seconds-1 minute, or until the oats become a flour. If there are visible pieces of rosemary, this is totally fine. In bowl, combine oat flour, oats and salt.
- Pour butter mixture over oats and stir with a spatula to completely combine. Pour oat mixture into the middle of the sheet pan. Using clean, greased hands, flatten oat mixture as much as possible. Sprinkle with a couple small pinches of Maldon Salt, if desired.
- Bake 20-25 minutes, or until the mixture is golden brown, watching closely during the last couple minutes to make sure that the mixture does not get too dark around the edges. (As noted, the mixture will start to bubble, first around the outside, then all over, then only in the center. You will want to pull it out when the middle is still bubbling.)
- Transfer sheet pan to cooling rack and let cookie cool completely. Break oat bark into pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.
• The cookies held their texture perfectly for about one week, so feel free to make them early.