Here's a summary of the oat products most often used in baking.
- Regular rolled oats (or old-fashioned oats): Whole, hulled oats (groats) steamed and flattened by steel rollers into flakes.
- Quick-cooking rolled oats: Oat groats cut into several pieces before rolling to shorten the cooking time. (Unless a cookie recipe calls specifically for regular or quick-cooking rolled oats, you can use whichever you happen to have on hand.)
- Instant Oatmeal: Cut groats that have been cooked and dried, then rolled. (Don't use these in baking; they absorb liquid too rapidly and become gluey.)
- Oat flour: A finely ground grain usually available in health food stores. (Or, make your own by processing rolled oats in a food processor.) Because it contains no gluten, the structure-building protein, oat flour can't be substituted for more than half of the all-purpose flour in a recipe.
Don't stop with raisins (dried grapes). You can purchase apples, apricots, bananas, carambolas (star fruits), cherries, cranberries, currants, dates, figs, peaches, pears, persimmons, pineapples, plums, mixed fruits, and fruit bits in dried form. They're all intensely sweet, chewy, and great for cookie baking.
- Chop or snip? Either a sharp knife or kitchen shears make quick work of cutting large pieces of dried fruits into bite-size pieces. Dip the knife or shears into hot water frequently to keep the fruit from sticking.
- If you prefer moister fruit in cookies, plump the dried fruit before adding it to the dough. Cover the fruit with water in a small saucepan and bring to boiling. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes. Drain fruit well, patting excess moisture with a paper towel.
- Once a package has been opened, wrap any remaining fruit airtight and store it in a refrigerator or freeze it for up to 6 months.
Continued on page 5: Spices