Late in September, my dad and 4 or 5 of his college buddies place their portable stoves, titanium mess kits, down sleeping bags, and a single change of clothes into their ultra-light backpacks. They navigate their 4-wheel drives up narrow mountain roads, driving deep into the heart of the Sierra Nevadas before setting out into the wilderness. Hiking on dusty trails passing between towering evergreens, they eventually reach a lake or stream during the late afternoon and set up their first night’s camp.
Although they usually pack plenty of Clif Bars, trail mix, instant oatmeal, and dehydrated entrées, the guys always schlep in heavy sausages or steak for that first dinner, accompanied by a couple of premade salad kits to sneak in some healthy greens. As they wander through the mountains during the rest of the week, they test their luck at catching fresh fish to grill over their evening fires. And before the last few embers die out and they crawl into their mummy bags, one guy pulls out a deck of cards from his backpack to deal a few rounds of poker, using M&Ms as the chips. (Well, until someone starts craving dessert!)
They generally return home in one piece, a little scruffier than when they left, along with a few extra scrapes or bruises. After a hot shower, shave, and a well-deserved night in his own bed, Dad downloads digital photos of the vivid green trees and rocky scenery, narrating the stories of each shot as we crowd around the laptop on the couch.
The following January or February, Daddy hosts a reunion for the backpackers in his woodworking shop in our backyard. He lights the charcoal barbeque and cooks salmon, sausages, chicken, and veggie kebobs until each earns the perfect kiss of blackened grill marks before serving them buffet-style to the guys on large platters. After everyone piles their plates with meat and homemade gourmet salads—no bagged kits at these parties!—they head into the shop for another night of poker.
Every year, my godmother bakes a batch of her famous oatmeal cookies to send along with her husband. Studded with blueberries and walnuts, the guys rapidly plow through them, loving each sweet bite and even adding the last one as ante for the poker pot. Although she previously worked as a dietitian, I nearly gasped when I read through her recipe. That much butter in healthy cookies?
With this year’s reunion quickly approaching, I created a more nutritious version. My soft Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies are perfectly sweet, extra chewy, and bursting with tangy dried fruit. As you sink your teeth into each moist mouthful, it’s absolutely impossible to tell these skinny treats contain NO butter, refined flour, or refined sugar!
Yup, that’s right. I mixed in whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose. I prefer Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flour for 100% whole wheat baked goods; other brands turn my treats dry and crumbly. Because whole wheat flour is slightly more absorbent that all-purpose, it’s very important that you measure it correctly using the spoon-and-level method. Excess flour results in cakey cookies—exactly opposite of the chewy ones we want.
These low fat cookies require instant oats—and lots of them! I prefer oatmeal cookies, not cookies with a few flakes of oats mixed in, so I added 1 full cup. Regular old-fashioned oats are a little too hearty and refuse to soften during baking. They also fail to absorb liquid as quickly as instant (quick-cook) oats, resulting in tough chewy bits. To make your own instant oats, just add the same amount of old-fashioned oats to a food processor and pulse 5-8 times until they’re coarsely ground.
I opted for coconut oil for this recipe. I’m still learning about its health benefits, but it certainly gained a lot of popularity over the past year! While the cookie dough contains a faint coconut flavor, the finished cookies do not taste like coconut at all. That subtle undertone bakes out in the oven, leaving the cookies saturated with sweet honey flavor instead.
Note: If you don’t have coconut oil, substitute unsalted butter or margarine.
Whether you choose to melt coconut oil, butter, or margarine, you must use a room temperature egg! If you crack an egg straight from the fridge into the bowl, it rapidly chills the melted fat, creating small semi-solid blobs. Not good! To quickly raise the egg’s temperature, place it in a bowl of warm water for about 5 minutes. (I generally do this before preparing the dry ingredients; it’s the perfect amount of time!)
To continue with the clean-eating ingredients for these cookies, I mixed in honey instead of my typical brown sugar. It adds more moisture than regular sugar, which turns the dough rather sticky! Placing the cookie dough in the refrigerator reduces the tackiness and makes it easier to work with. Chilling is mandatory for these cookies.
Be careful: the amount of time you chill the dough greatly affects its texture and how it acts in the oven! We used instant oats, which absorb liquid much faster than regular oats. The longer you chill the cookie dough, the more liquid the oats will absorb and the less the cookies will spread in the oven.
In the photo above, I chilled the cookie dough on the left for 3 hours, which resulted in thick cookies that barely spread. I actually flattened the dough balls before baking them so they wouldn’t stay spherical. However, I only chilled the cookie dough on the right for 30 minutes. Although still slightly sticky, I could shape it into a rounded mound with a spoon, which spread easily on its own in the oven.
Less chilling = more spread.
Because honey caramelizes at a lower temperature than regular sugar, these cookies bake at 325°F instead of the usual 350°F. Only leave them in the oven for 13-15 minutes. They may appear underdone, but the centers continue to cook on the warm baking sheet. Pulling the cookies out after the outsides have just barely set ensures they stay extra soft and chewy.
The warm cozy flavors of sweet honey and a hint of cinnamon fill these clean-eating Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies. Dried blueberries provide a bright burst of tangy fruitiness, while the oats add the perfect homey touch. Each treat is incredibly moist, soft, and chewy—completely masking that they’re actually a healthy, skinny dessert!
But with such nutritious ingredients, I’m really tempted to nibble on one for breakfast too…