Nick Saban Inspired My Favorite Bake-and-Take Dessert for Fall

Along with Little Debbie, of course.

The University of Alabama's head football coach Nick Saban is known for many things: winning, of course, is first. Being snappy to reporters (unless there's a baby in the room), loving his wife Miss Terry, and attending Mass every Sunday are a few others. He even reportedly once received hundreds of write-in votes in an Alabama Senate race. But there's one anecdote that makes the hard exterior of this record-breaking coach a little sweeter. It's been well-documented that Saban eats two Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies for breakfast every day.

"Part of my motivation for getting up in the morning is I love to have a cup of coffee and two Debbie cookies. Every day. And when I don't have them, I'm cranky," he told Eli Manning in an interview.

Oatmeal-Caramel Cream Pies Recipe
Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

If most of Saban's sideline commentary occurs when he has enjoyed his "Debbie cookies" already, I certainly would not want to be on the field on one of his "cranky" days. Though I don't think Little Debbie has a side gig as a nutritionist, Saban is a pretty fit grandfather, so I guess the "everything in moderation" rule really is true.

I'm an Alabama grad (and fellow Catholic) who adores "Saint Nick" as much as any Tide fan. So if I'm asked to bring dessert to a football watch party, I have the perfect conversation-starter. Don't worry, Mamas—I don't set out packages of Little Debbie Creme Pies on my prettiest cake plate. I discovered Southern Living's homemade recipe for the famous confection, which comes with a caramel twist. No offense to Saban's morning ritual, but these Oatmeal-Caramel Cream Pies beat store-bought any day.

I've made these for three football seasons now, and I can confidently say they'll be a permanent fixture in my fall baking repertoire. For starters, they're a crowd pleaser. Every person I've served these cookie sandwiches to can't get enough of them. Second, the presentation is more festive and eye-catching than a plate of regular cookies. Plus, they travel very well for tailgates or weekend trips, which is essential.

These Oatmeal-Caramel Cream Pies come together so easily. I've found that smaller cookies look better and are easier to handle when working with the filling, so keep that in mind when scooping the dough onto your cookie sheet. And I personally never bake a batch of cookies without my beloved Silpat mats. The super-Southern addition of chopped pecans adds a welcome nuttiness and crunch to the cookies, but you can of course leave them out if you have friends or family members with allergies. The real star of the show in this recipe, though, is the Salted Caramel Buttercream.

My friends go in thinking they're eating a homemade version of the Little Debbie classic, which of course they are. But once they take their first bite, I can see the exact moment of recognition that these aren't your average imitation cookies. That je ne sais quoi is all in the Salted Caramel Buttercream, honey. Don't let the recipe name scare you off, though: This caramel doesn't require a candy thermometer or watchful eye. A shortcut using caramel candies saves major time and effort. Once you try these Oatmeal-Caramel Cream Pies, you will have no choice but to ditch the snack-aisle version.

Recipe: Oatmeal-Caramel Cream Pies

Perhaps even better than having your friends rave over something you made yourself is telling the story behind the dish. And like our dear head coach, I always save one cookie to pair with my coffee the next morning.

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