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News / Life / Food

Wrangling some cookie comfort: Transforming Mom’s cowboy bars into cookies

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 31, 2024, 6:02am
4 Photos
These butterscotch crunchies are an homage to my late mother&rsquo;s cowboy bars.
These butterscotch crunchies are an homage to my late mother’s cowboy bars. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

My mother was crazy about a homemade cookie that she called cowboy bars. They had all her favorite things: oats, cinnamon, pecans, coconut and three kinds of chips — chocolate, peanut butter and my absolute favorite, butterscotch. She’d press the dough into a big glass baking dish and then cut them into squares. I didn’t love them as much as she did but, hey, they were cookies, and I wasn’t going to complain about that.

I’ve searched through all my late mother’s recipes and I can’t find the recipe for these bars, although the internet rewarded me after a quick search. (Search for “cowboy cookie bars” on delish.com if you want to make the real deal.)

I confess that I’m not all that fond of bar cookies generally. I don’t like the square shape and the uniform thickness, resulting in the same texture all the way through. Cookies, on the other hand, are soothingly round and texturally pleasing with crunchy bits on the thinner outside and chewy bits on the thicker inside. I love those slightly browned edges. The Maillard reaction changes the nature of the sugars in the cookie and gives them a luscious toastiness.

I decided to recreate her bars in cookie form. I narrowed the chips down to just chocolate and butterscotch but kept the pecans and coconut. And of course these babies have got plenty of oats. When you eat these, you’ll be — as they say — feelin’ your oats.

My craving for these flavors must be related to my broken shoulder, acquired during the recent spate of snow and ice. I wish I could say it was skiing or snowboarding but instead I just slipped in our driveway. And technically I have two fractures — one high up near the shoulder socket thingy and another one slightly lower down on my armbone whatsit. (Sorry to confuse you with all that obscure medical terminology.)

I guess some part of me wishes my mom were here to make sympathetic noises and fuss over me in her matter-of-fact way. I am 100 percent sure she’d point out that I shouldn’t have been on the snowy driveway in my tractionless boots and I’d roll my eyes and let out an aggravated huff and say, “Thanks, Mom, for pointing out the obvious. That makes me feel so much better.” And then she’d go online to L.L. Bean and buy me new snow boots, because that’s how she rolled. She really loved L.L. Bean.

But back to cookies. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together 1½ cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon salt and 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats. Set the dry ingredients aside and get out your hand mixer. Cream 1 cup (that’s two sticks) of room-temperature butter together with 1 cup packed brown sugar. Beat the mixture for a couple minutes until it’s very smooth, then add two eggs, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and 2 tablespoons of molasses. (You won’t get a big molasses hit in the final cookie. It comes across more as a subtle caramel flavor.) Beat everything on high for a good minute or two, then stir in ½ cup each chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, shredded coconut (sweetened or not, doesn’t matter) and chopped pecans. I prefer semi-sweet chocolate chips because this is, overall, a pretty sweet cookie and the slight bitterness of dark chocolate is a refreshing counter note.

Stir those chips and chunks right in there. The dough will be thick and sticky. Now rub butter or vegetable oil on your hands. (You’ve got to love any recipe that involves emollients. Then you have cookies and soft hands.) Take a rounded tablespoon of cookie dough and roll it into a rough ball. Place balls of dough 2 inches apart on a large, ungreased cookie sheet. Squish them down a little bit to help them spread out a little easier. (Or just skip the whole hand-rolling rigmarole and use a spoon or cookie scoop.) Bake for 10 minutes, at which time the bottoms should be a golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. They will become crunchy on the bottom and outside while staying chewy inside.

Sadly, these cookies aren’t nearly as good as my mom’s cowboy bars, but I think it’s because of the butterscotch chips. I don’t know why I ever liked those tiny orange abominations. Maybe I’m remembering through the distorted lens of nostalgia, which imbues everything with heightened sensations. I don’t know what butterscotch chips were made of in 1980 but now they are made from hydrogenated palm oil, whey powder and yellow dye, among other unappetizing things. When I make these cookies again, I’ll use only chocolate chips, or maybe peanut butter chips, or maybe I’ll go in a different direction altogether and use raisins, dried cranberries or dried cherries. They won’t be butterscotch crunchies anymore, but maybe they could be chip-a-doodle-doos?

I mean, hey, they are cookies, and I’m not going to complain about that. So, does anyone want half a bag of butterscotch chips?

Butterscotch Crunchies

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup softened unsalted butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoon molasses

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup butterscotch chips

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/2 chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and oats together. Set aside. Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla and molasses and beat on high until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Add chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut and pecans. Dough will be thick and sticky. Rub hands with butter or oil and roll balls of dough (about 1.5 tablespoons) per cookie and place 2 inches apart on a large baking sheet (or use spoon or cookie scoop). Bake for 10 minutes until caramel brown on the bottom, though they’ll still be soft on top. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then move to wire rack to cool completely.