Basic haystacks are made by combining dry chow mein noodles and peanuts with a mixture of melted butterscotch and peanut butter. Butterscotch chips can be melted in a double boiler, and spoonfuls of the completed batter should be scooped onto a wax-paper-lined sheet pan and chilled until set.
Haystacks get their name from the straw-like appearance of the chow mein noodles and the golden-brown, bundled shape of the finished cookies. Depending on the ingredients, haystacks may be considered candy or cookies. They are alternately known as "birds' nests," especially when they are formed into bowl-like shapes and filled with jellybeans or egg-shaped Easter candy. Since the majority of recipes don't require any baking and the cookies don't need to have a refined shape, haystacks are ideal beginner cooking projects for kids.
One popular variant uses chocolate chips instead of butterscotch, peanut butter or both. Many cooks also like to include oats or shaved coconut in chocolate batter, adding greater texture and flavor differentiation to the finished cookie. When chocolate haystacks contain nuts, they are often called "turtle haystacks." Other common variants use marshmallows or white chocolate as the batter base and pretzels or breakfast cereal as the "hay." For more variety, cooks can add ingredients such as sprinkles, raisins, dried cranberries and pecans to haystack batter.