Big Little Recipes

These 3-Ingredient Oatmeal Cookies Are Basically Magic

September 10, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making oatmeal cookies like—snaps fingers—that.

I’m always on the lookout for promising few-ingredient recipes that I can tinker with. Which is how I came across three-ingredient Nutella brownies, where I ditched the baking dish and ended up with fudgy cookies, and two-ingredient hot fudge, where I tried it with unsweetened chocolate and liked that even better, and brown butter tomatoes, where I swapped in juicy raw corn. So it was only a matter of time before I stumbled upon three-ingredient oatmeal cookies.

But really delicious oatmeal cookies in only three ingredients—how is that even possible?

For some perspective, classic oatmeal cookies call for all-purpose flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, baking soda, spices (such as cinnamon and nutmeg), rolled oats, and raisins (or if you’re my husband, chocolate chips, but let’s not fight about that here). Which tallies up at 10 ingredients.

Many three-ingredient oatmeal cookies—there are, by the way, almost five million results for these on Google—keep the oats (either old-fashioned or quick-cooking), but ditch everything else and sub in things like:

The list goes on, but it’s worth noting that there are a lot of the banana–peanut butter recipes. And it’s easy to see why. Bananas add sweetness, peanut butter adds fat, and both are non-dairy and gluten-free, which is appealing to a lot of people. Seems like a winning combo, right?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Just made a batch of these cookies and have to admit that I was apprehensive throughout the mixing and baking steps. However, upon first taste, I became a believer. They are so yummy and maybe only because I’ve managed to convince myself, seem very healthy. At least that's what I’ll be telling myself as I have them with coffee for breakfast:-) Made them exactly as written this first time but will add dark chocolate next know, for the added health benefits.”
— Leslie

Not necessarily. Because if you add bananas to a cookie, it will taste like a banana cookie. And if you add peanut butter to a cookie, it will taste like a peanut butter cookie. And if you add both, yeah, you get the idea.

This is less than ideal when what we’re actually after is an oatmeal cookie.

All you see is all you need. Equipment included. Photo by Bobbi Lin. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

The Big Little solution is simple. To avoid an overtly banana flavor, we’ll say bye to the banana, and return to the signature source of sweetness in classic oatmeal cookies: brown sugar. Its caramel-toffee vibes give these cookies tons of complexity without overshadowing the oats.

When it comes to fat, we’ll swap in something that’s less in-your-face than peanut butter, but still dairy-free: tahini, or toasted, ground sesame seeds. I love using this ingredient as a replacement for butter in chocolate chip cookies (yes, really), thanks to its intense creaminess and subtle nuttiness.

All you have to do is mix the three ingredients in a bowl (a splash of water helps create a cohesive dough), then scoop and bake. No butter-and-sugar creaming. No dough chilling. No fuss.

The result is halfway between a newfangled granola bar and an old-fashioned oatmeal cookie, equal parts wholesome and gratifying, with a crunchy crust and chewy center. And considering that the ingredient list is identical to my morning oatmeal, I happily take this as permission to have two or three and call it breakfast. Coffee for dunking not optional.

What's your favorite big-flavor recipe with a little ingredient list? Please share in the comments!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Patty Esparza
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  • Sue
  • Bellalinda
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Patty E. November 16, 2023
Very quick and tasty cookie! These were in the oven when I realized I left out the salt. 🙄 I sprinkled on some flaky salt when I took them out.
clayshapes October 26, 2021
Very easy to make when you have a cookie craving and all things on hand. As the recipe states, they hold together well once cooled. They are a bit too sweet for my taste - might try again with a little less sugar - and maybe an addition of dried cranberries for tartness, and maybe a handful of sunflower seeds for crunch. Good basic recipe for a quick cookie - and very easy to throw together.
bhw1966 May 14, 2020
I made as instructed with the addition of a bit of molasses for a bit more binder. The dough was a bit crumbly as were the cookies when the first came out. But after sitting overnight they held together completely and were really chewy and delicious. Making them again soon.
Sue October 9, 2019
I tried these today and made the mistake of adding the water to the tahini before adding it to the oatmeal & brown sugar which caused it to siege up. My bad, but it made it very difficult to incorporate into the oatmeal, sugar and salt mixture. I didn’t have enough tahini to start over & had to add an additional tablespoon of water to get the dough to hold together. They were still tasty but flatter than your picture. I should have watched the video!
Bellalinda October 7, 2019
Used Silver Palate oatmeal with Trader Joes tahini and followed recipe. Was an easy, fast, yummy treat. Would also be good crumbled on olive oil ice cream!
Hannah October 7, 2019
These cookies remind me of breakfast cookies I used to make that called for maple syrup, oats, and tahini. My suggestion is to mix the oats and tahini together to see how smooth you can make the batter, then either mixing the sugar in, or switching to a syrup. Or just honey.
cpc October 7, 2019
I wasn't impressed with this cookie. It was very hard to get the dough to stick together before baking. After baking, they were a bit bland and very dry. It neeed a bit more moisture and maybe a teaspoon of vanilla. I liked that they weren't overly sweet though.
karen S. October 6, 2019
Tried the tahini recipe with great hopes for an amazing flavor. Major BOMB! The cookie barely held together in a test run, made three more same outcome: crumbly when cooled, taste was off (if you expect an oatmeal cookie); had notes of peanut butter that was slightly "off". Tried to rescue the rest of the batter by baking it in a sm sq. baking pan.... no bars, still crumbly! I tried to pass it off as a "granola" for topping yogurt and there was only 1 in four people who found it pleasant. Oh well.... we gave it a shot. Back to Nana's best oatmeal cookies!
Lauren B. October 6, 2019
I guess the 3 ingredient thing is like a certain politician saying we need that 3 letter word, JOBS. Well I tried the linked one for mashed banana, raisins and oatmeal since I didn’t feel like using a bunch of expensive tachina for an unknown adventure. Glad I halved the recipe because it was pretty underwhelming so I didn’t waste so much ingredients. Even after the exterior was browned the interior was mucky old soggy oatmeal. Meh. Nobody cared for it. At least the oven being on warmed up one side of the house.
Catharine W. October 6, 2019
Can these be made into bars? Has anybody tried it?
Emma L. October 6, 2019
Hey Catharine! I haven't tried that, but curious to hear what happens if anyone does.
SophieL October 6, 2019
I had a can of tahini I wanted to use up so this seemed like the perfect recipe to try. The result was a cookie that tasted kinda peanut-buttery - not bad at all, but not as good as I had hoped. In fact, tasting these made me want a "real" oatmeal cookie, so I made a batch of traditional oatmeal raisin cookies to assuage the yearn. So much more satisfying (has a lot to do with expectations, IMHO). I love trying new recipes, so no regrets making these oatmeal-tahini cookies.
Miche October 6, 2019
Do you think coconut cream could be substituted? I bought some by accident and can't figure out what to do with it... it seems to be nearly 100% fat.

Emma L. October 6, 2019
Hi Miche! While I've heard from other community members that swapping in another nut/seed butter (like peanut or almond, in place of the tahini) works—coconut cream is pretty different, so I'm not sure how that would turn out.

Here are a couple recipes that call for coconut cream: and
Steven W. October 6, 2019
Come on readers. If you really want the 3 ingredients, just use them, but good luck getting the result shown! Look for an especially salty oatmeal, perhaps? Ha!
Steven W. October 6, 2019
This is right in the introduction: Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered.
Babs October 6, 2019
Sounds delicious! I’m wondering about calorie count because the recipe is mostly sugar and tahini?
W J. October 6, 2019
By my calculations, if you got 16 equal sized cookies as the recipe says (very unlikely by the way), then each cookie would be 137 calories. More useful, perhaps, is an estimate of the calories per gram of cookie, which as per the recipe unbaked would be 4.4 cals/gram and assuming a 7% weight loss on baking then 4.7 cals/gram (viz., 4.4 x 1.07). YMMV on the actual weight loss, but given the paucity of liquid in the recipe, I would guess that this is going to be somewhere in the ball park give or take.

Unfortunately, Ms. Laperruque did not do the professional thing with this recipe, nor did her editors demand, that she specify the weights of the ingredients as good baking practice calls for. Perhaps next time?

With today's ready available, and inexpensive kitchen scales, this is hardly a burden. It just requires a wee bit of extra effort to record the data, but offers a great boon to others trying to follow as closely as possible more accurate proportions.

The use of a scale also means that all ingredients can be assembled more quickly and simply in one mixing vessel without the need for volumetric measuring cups, spoons, etc. and the need to clean up more stuff. The use of weights makes doubling or tripling a recipe a snap. Also by specifying weight, it doesn't matter whether the brown sugar is firmly packed or not for 165 grams is 165 grams irregardless of the volume it occupies.

So here is what I came up with by looking on-line for the equivalent weights of her volume-based recipe:

1.5 cups rolled oats (~135 g; 569 cals)
0.75 cups tahini (~168 g; 1,006 cals)
0.75 cups tightly packed light brown sugar (~165 g; 621 cals)
2 tbsp water (~29 g; 0 cals)
0.5 tsp salt (~3 g; 0 cals)
Total weight = ~500 grams
Total calories in batter = 2,196 cals

If we assume ~7% weight loss of water in cooking, then the weight of the cookies would be ~465 grams or ~4.7 cals/gram of baked cookie.
Therefore, if you served a cookie weighing say 30 grams (not a big cookie by the way) then you would consume 141 calories and so on. Four 30 gram cookies (120 grams total) would be 564 calories or 28% of a 2,000 calorie/day diet!

As you can see from this analysis, it is not the sugar that is the calorie culprit, it's -- hands down -- the tahini. The calorie contribution from the sugar (621 cals) is only ~9% more than that from the oats (569 cals).

All this having been said, I think this is a very clever recipe. Ms. Laperruque deserves kudos for her creativity and effort in coming up with this minimalist component cookie.

As for other comments on whether 3 ingredients, 5 ingredients, etc., is hair splitting IMHO. From a scientific POV, I would maintain, for instance, that there are actually 6 components. Unspecified, but nevertheless a key component is heat, which must be added to the recipe both in proportion and in time. If you are skeptical and don't believe this, try leaving it out.

Perhaps a better title would have been "These Minimalist Oatmeal Cookies Are Basically Magic."
catalinalacruz October 28, 2019
Heat is an ingredient now? How about the cookie pan? The bowl? 😁
Lois B. October 6, 2019
Why the 3-ingredient headline? You know it's not true.
Lauren K. October 6, 2019
Love this idea. Can you use quick cook oats instead of rolled? I have a stock in my pantry I'm trying to use up...
Bernette L. October 6, 2019
In the article the author mentions either/or is fine!
Liz October 6, 2019
Can you share tahini beauty ands you prefer. I find tremendous differences in taste and texture. Thanks!
Erin B. October 6, 2019
Soom tahini is fabulous. I have to stop myself from just eating the whole jar with a spoon.
Emma L. October 6, 2019
Soom, Seed + Mill, and Whole Foods 365 are all great!
AlwaysLookin October 6, 2019
Hmmm ... 60 years of eating Raisins is a hard habit to break, but I'd definitely try the Tahini, the neighbor kids would eat them - they're all Mikey's!!
Irene October 3, 2019
I’m so excited to try this! Thank you for developing non dairy recipes for us lactose intolerant folks!
Leslie September 22, 2019
Just made a batch of these cookies and have to admit that I was apprehensive throughout the mixing and baking steps. However, upon first taste, I became a believer. They are so yummy and maybe only because I’ve managed to convince myself, seem very healthy. At least that's what I’ll be telling myself as I have them with coffee for breakfast:-) Made them exactly as written this first time but will add dark chocolate next know, for the added health benefits.
Virginia L. October 6, 2019
Great comment! Thanks