When I stumbled upon the recipe for these pistachio smash cookies, I wasn’t sure what I had found. During one of my spontaneous urges to deep clean the house in the early months of the pandemic, I rediscovered a box of old family recipes tucked away in the laundry room. I hadn’t looked through the box in over 18 years, but I figured now was the right time to take a trip down memory lane (at the very least, I thought, it would help me avoid another afternoon of doomscrolling).
Eight recipes in the box intrigued me; all were cookies that included the word “smash” in their name, followed by a year. They were all signed by my great-grandma Nannie Watts. The first of the eight recipes was dated 1932 and the last was from 1972. The cookies, with vaguely measured ingredients, never included butter, eggs, or flour. The curt instructions simply said to mix everything together, portion and bake for 15 minutes, and when done to “smash the hell out of the cookies.” Curious, I wanted to try these Depression-era-type treats.
The cookies all contain oats and some type of nut — whether a nut butter or pulverized nuts. As the years went on, the ingredients became a little more indulgent, but the recipe never strayed away from the original method of smashing once baked. The pre-baked cookies are ugly little mounds of sugary oat dough, and when you bake them they maintain their shape and look dry with jagged nuts sticking out.
The magic happens once you smash the cookies with the back of the measuring cup, revealing a perfectly symmetrical, thick cookie. The ingredients meld, making a uniformed treat loaded with flavor, texture, and beauty. Biting into the cookie, you can hear the slightly caramelized exterior crack against the moist center.
Of the eight cookies, the 1972 recipe for pistachio smash cookies is my favorite. The almond paste melts into the center and the caramelized sugar gives the cookie a tender, crisp outer shell. These cookies are rich and decadent. One, maybe two, are enough for a midday pick-me-up or with an after-dinner coffee.
Finding these recipes during a pandemic feels serendipitous. These cookies are a link between two people looking for something good when only bad things seem to be in control. The first time I baked them, my soul had a moment. I felt connected to a human I had never met — we probably shared similar emotions and fatigue during a global crisis.
Maybe Nannie was frustrated with how ugly the cookies looked after baking, and out of desperation to make something good for her kids she let her suppressed anger take hold and smashed the hell out of the cookies. Whether it was intentional or not, her method created some tasty cookies whose ethos is just as relevant today as it was almost 90 years ago: If all else fails, just smash a cookie and feel better.
Pistachio Smash Cookies
Makes 24 cookies
8 ounces full-fat cream cheese
7 ounces almond paste, such as Odense (not marzipan)
2 cups shelled, salted pistachios
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup powdered sugar
1. Place 8 ounces cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, place in a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer.) Let sit at room temperature until softened.
2. Meanwhile, cut 7 ounces almond paste into 1/4-inch cubes (grate on the large holes of a box grater if using an electric hand mixer). Place 2 cups shelled, salted pistachios in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until finely chopped, almost powder.
3. Add the almond paste and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar to the cream cheese. Beat on medium-high speed until evenly combined and smooth with little chunks of almond paste throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and beat until just combined, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Add the pistachios and beat on low speed until evenly distributed and the mixture turns green, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 cup rolled oats and beat until just combined, about 1 minute.
5. Turn off the mixer. Stir by hand to mix in any unincorporated ingredients. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (The dough will be sticky at first, but the oats will absorb excess moisture.)
6. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Place 1 cup powdered sugar in a small bowl.
7. Scoop out the dough with a 1 1/2-inch wide cookie scoop or in 2 rounded tablespoons portions. Roll each portion of dough in powdered sugar, coating generously and evenly. Place at least 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per baking sheet.
8. Bake for 8 minutes. Rotate baking sheets between racks. Bake until the edges are dry and the powdered sugar on top starts to crack, 7 to 8 minutes more. Let cool slightly on the baking sheets for 1 to 2 minutes. (Do not let the cookies cool completely or they will not flatten.)
9. Using the bottom of a 1-cup measuring cup, press gently and evenly down on one of the cookies to flatten to about 1/2-inch thick. Carefully remove the measuring cup and wipe the bottom of the cup with a damp paper towel. Repeat until all the cookies are smashed. Let cool for 30 minutes. The cookies will stick to the parchment paper when warm but will release when cooled using a wide, flat spatula.
Recipe notes: The dough can be made up to a day ahead and refrigerated. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.