Engineering Exotica, or How Six-Spice Oatmeal Cookies Saved My Meetings

I have one of those jobs that is hard to explain, or at least it is if you don’t work in software development. I’m a scrum master, meaning that I coach people on Agile teams on using scrum methodology and how to work together more effectively. My goal is happy people doing great work. And because I’m the person on the scheduling end of so many meetings, I discovered long ago that the best way to entice people to a conference room is cookies, prompt start and end times, purpose statements, and action items to follow up on.

But notice that the cookies came first.

For a long time, I stuck with the basics: chocolate-chip cookies. I make an excellent dark-chocolate-chip-and-macadamia-nut cookie (and I don’t mess around with macadamia nut shards. With my cookies, you get the whole nut. It also helps that Zeke, my parents’ sometime Australian shepherd, sends me macadamia nuts from Hawaii by the box.) I did some peanut-butter cookies, some oatmeal raisin cookies, and even a failed experiment with sugar cookies, but after a few months, I was in a rut. I needed something new before I resorted to using Oreos and beer to get engineers to cross the meeting threshold.

While perusing different recipe sites, I found this recipe for Diane’s six-spice oatmeal cookies, and my first thought was, “You want me to put cumin and cayenne in cookies? Are you crazy?” But I read the comments, and one woman who didn’t normally like cookies yet couldn’t stop eating these convinced me to give them a try. I then remembered that my mother-in-law, baker of oatmeal cookies so good that she can barely get them out of the oven before my husband starts eating them, had been known to add a tiny dollop of apricot preserves to the tops of her cookies, and those were remarkable. I had some dried apricots in the pantry along with some shelled pistachios that I’d forgotten to use for one thing or another, so I was nearly there. Two cups of sugar seemed a bit much, so I opted to try just a single cup, half brown and half white, thinking/hoping the whole time that the sweetness of the apricots would balance out the heat of the cayenne and the cumin.

I took the first batch into work the next day, not certain what I’d tell people if they asked what they were. They looked good and I thought their taste divine–exotic, not too sweet, and the tiniest of sizzles on the tongue that made me come back for more–but I was still a bit hesitant about so many spices in a baked good. Dear readers, I need not have worried. Once I opened the tub, people not even on my teams began coming up to me and asking for a cookie. A woman five months pregnant came back for seconds, and I was out of cookies altogether by early afternoon. I think that means that they were
good–I’m thinking that that many software engineers cannot be wrong!

Six-Spice Oatmeal Cookies with Apricots and Pistachios

Ingredients

    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur White Whole-Wheat Flour)
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • a pinch ground cloves
    • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened (use the good, Irish butter if you can find it)
    • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 3 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats (Quaker Oats, which we buy in bulk at Costco, do just fine)
    • 1 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
    • 1 cup dried apricots, chopped

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Into a bowl, mix together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Then, beat in egg and vanilla.
  4. Add flour mixture slowly and mix until combined well. Stir in rolled oats, chopped apricots, and chopped and raisins. (Dough will be stiff).
  5. Working in batches, drop dough by level tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake in middle of oven until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet 1 minute and transfer to racks to cool completely.
  6. Store in air-tight containers. Cookies

A note about ingredients (and my job)…

  • Obviously, this recipe includes nuts, gluten, and dairy. If you have an allergy to any or all, modify away and let me know how it works.
  • I try to use the highest quality ingredients I can find. That means good, fresh spices, and I can attest that Penzey’s Spices has an excellent selection. I’ve long purchased everything from oregano to salts to Indian spices to meat rubs to heady cinnamon to snappy ginger.
  • Butter matters, it really does. Right now, I’m in love with the Kerrygold butter. It’s rich, creamy, and flavor to pretty much anything upon which it is slathered. Even better, it can also be found at Costco.
  • Yes, scrum master is a real job. I spend a lot of time helping people to communicate more effectively, asking the hard questions, getting teams to think outside the box, and using metrics to shine a light into overlooked areas of projects. In my spare, non-cookie time, I’m reading up on engineering psychology, finding ways to visualize ideas, and yes, looking for the next cookie recipe.

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