Easter nest cookies
When I left home and started college, I ran into a lot of hard days for a lot of different reasons (laundry, anyone?), but one of the most challenging was Easter. For me, this time of year means family: grandparents come from out of town, my sisters and I compete to dye the prettiest eggs, my dad hides the Easter baskets in the most ridiculous places (one year mine was in a tree. A tree!), and, of course, we eat a whole lot of delicious food together. The brunch menu usually features something my mom clipped from a magazine, which changes year to year, but we have celebrated with these Easter nests for as long as I can remember.
So I had to take the tradition with me and make this new place a little more like home. Every year since then, through different dorm rooms and new apartments, I’ve kept making and sharing these treats with people I love. Family Easter weekend has just changed in form: all three sisters made the nests this year in three different states!
Okay, done with the sentimental part. These cookies definitely hold a special place in my heart, but they’re also extremely delicious and will surely work their way into yours as well. Fudgy and chewy with just a bit of coconut, they make a perfect home for the yummy egg-shaped candy of your choice (Easter Whoppers, the ones with pastel shells, are the correct choice for those not on stupid elimination diets). I know I missed the Easter boat on this one, but these would class up any springtime festivities. And they’re super easy!
It wasn’t until describing these magical creations to coworkers last year that I found out that they’re basically trusty no-bake cookies dressed up with coconut and shaped like nests. I honestly didn’t realize that no-bake cookies were a thing. But the internet is full of recipes for chocolate-oatmeal cookies that don’t require an oven at all, just boiling some sugar, milk, and butter and pouring the hot mixture over instant oats and cocoa powder. Unfortunately, the internet is also full of people wondering how their no-bake cookies went wrong, so let’s talk a little about what’s going on with them.
There are basically three processes that make the cookies set. First, we use a fat (usually butter, here I use coconut oil) that is solid at room temperature. We heat it up to get it all mixed in, but as the cookies cool, the fat returns to its solid state and gives them some stability.
Second, the oatmeal and cocoa powder absorb water. Have you ever left a bowl of oatmeal alone for a few minutes? If you dawdle in eating your breakfast, you may return to find an unappealing congealed block. As the oats cook, their starch molecules absorb water and swell, creating the soft mush of oatmeal. The starches are pretty greedy, though, and they’ll keep gobbling up water as long as it’s around. Between evaporation and this continued absorption, you lose all of the free water that acts as a sort of lube between the oats and end up with a solid lump. It may not be the best for your hot cereal in the morning, but the thirsty starches in the oats and in the cocoa powder absorb water like nobody’s business. The ratio of liquid to oats and the extra help from the cocoa powder make the final product cookie rather than breakfast.
The third piece of the puzzle is the boiled sugar. A savvy candymaker might recognize the boiling sugar in water strategy, since it forms the basis for most candies. The longer you cook it, the less water remains and the firmer the eventual candy. For these cookies, we want something along the lines of fudge, not toffee.
Knowing these three elements of successful no-bake cookies gives us some troubleshooting strategies. Cookies require a spoon to eat? Cook the sugar mixture longer so more water evaporates, or increase the oats and cocoa powder so that they can absorb more water. Cookies may break a tooth? You probably boiled the sugar and milk for too long, making no-bake brittle instead of cookies.
Easter nest cookies
These adorable cookies always have a place at my Easter table, and they would be a hit at any spring gathering. My family always dyes the coconut green and uses Robin’s Egg Whoppers for maximum color, but a sad lack of food coloring and the gluten and dairy in the eggs kept mine more monochromatic. My eggs are little salted almond truffles that were definitely a hit–they’ll be up here soon!
Yield: about 60 cookies
3 c. quick-cooking oats (not old-fashioned)
½ c. shredded coconut
6 T. cocoa powder
1 t. vanilla
½ c. chocolate chips
2 c. sugar
½ c. almond milk
½ c. coconut oil
Shredded coconut, for topping
Candy eggs, for topping
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or waxed paper.
Mix together the oats, coconut, cocoa powder, vanilla, and chocolate chips in a large bowl.
Combine the sugar, almond milk, and coconut oil in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring well, until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for one minute, then remove from heat.
Pour the hot liquid into the oat mixture and stir to combine. While the cookie dough is still hot (but not so hot it burns you!), form about one-inch balls and place onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch between them. Smash the balls to form a hollow center with raised sides and allow to cool for 3 hours. (You can also speed this up in the fridge if you’re in a hurry, not that I would know anything about that…)
Once cool, top each cookie with coconut and candy eggs. If you want to dye the coconut, shake it in a sealed jar with a drop or two of green dye.
Recipe adapted, barely, from the one my family has used since I was a kid. It’s on an old-fashioned recipe card in my mom’s kitchen.