I begin this by saying something which echoes my bacon sentiments: I’m not a peanut-butter obsessed person. Some people live for it; I, quite simply, do not. It’s not that I don’t like it: on the contrary, on the days I want to feel most like my elementary-school self, I make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat, throw some pretzels alongside, and am transported to a time where I made daily visits to the park and The Jetsons were the only ones who owned cell phones.
I was reminded, rather joltingly, of how different it is for present-day kids this week (I was lucky enough to see this post early on. At this point, the post has gone viral, so I guess lots of people had the same visceral reaction that I did.) More on that later, because it’s a serious topic, and one I feel deserves more weight than being thrown in with peanut butter cookies. I should say that I’ve been throwing around maybe doing a “hey, here’s what has grabbed my attention this week” regular series of posts. Would that be okay with all of you? I feel like it’s a very natural progression for me at this point in the blog: I’ve always been about the food, and I’m still all about the food. Here’s the thing, though; now I know many of you, and on a friend-y sort of level. We talk about things, some of us email, I get a kick out of almost always finding out that we share common interests outside of our love for food. I wouldn’t mind being able to chat about everyday things, so long as you wouldn’t be bored to tears. My friend Natalie at Wee Eats has done a Thursday Things post for a while, and she’s totally going to think I’m stealing her idea, but I look forward to Thursdays specifically because of her “Things” post.
So that’s what I was thinking of doing. If you wouldn’t mind terribly, I may start writing something like that and see where it goes.
Anyway: peanut butter cookies. I think when someone’s not all peanut-crazy, you know if they love something with peanuts or peanut butter, they mean it. The bar is set slightly higher for those people, because it’s not like any old peanut thing can come along and wow them. I am that person. When someone says they’re making peanut butter pie, I don’t faint with joy. Those omnipresent peanut butter kisses you see over the holidays do not make me giddy. And yet, i have a favorite peanut butter cookie.
I’ve made it countless times, and when I do bake some up, it reminds me that peanut butter deserves more praise than I tend to give it. These are great cookies; easy to make, not at all greasy, and very pretty on a platter. In fact, I made these as one of my cookie tray cookies this year, and they were a runaway hit. My favorite thing? Aside from the bake-and-slice aspect (always, always a pleasure), I like the ring of crushed peanuts around the edge. It gives it a texture and layer of flavor other peanut butter cookies sometimes lack, and you’re guaranteed to get a bite of them every time. If you’re a fan of the classic chocolate/peanut butter combination, these are fabulous dipped in semi-sweet chocolate. When I do this, I dip them halfway in, mimicking the look of a classic black and white cookie. One warning: you have to fish out the errant peanut chunk every so often, but it’s worth the effort.
This time I went straight-up with them, which is my favorite way. I never think of them except during the fall and winter, but truly, they’re a year-round choice that almost everyone likes. I think these are best on the slightly underbaked side, with thinnest crisp edge and soft insides reminiscent of the no-bake variety, but with that warm-from-the-oven taste. To get them this way involves some special care and a little babysitting, but it’s well worth it.
Adapted from Essentials of Baking: Recipes and Techniques for Successful Home Baking by Williams Sonoma. I do believe the original recipe is in my first edition as well as the revised edition currently available.
My Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies.
• 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup light brown sugar (I barely ever have a preference between light and dark, but for this recipe, I do. I think it matters)
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter, at room temperature (I like Skippy Natural. Also, I just like saying that I like things with the word “skippy” in them)
• 3/4 cup finely chopped salted peanuts (i’ve used both dry roasted and cocktail peanuts, and I think they both work here)
In a large bowl, combine your flour, baking soda, and salt and whisk together until incorporated. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (Or in a large bowl using an electric mixer), combine the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Beat on high for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on high-speed for another 1-2 minutes until your batter looks homogenous and there are no streaks of fat, and scrape the bowl down again. With your mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated, scraping the bowl once to make sure there are no dry pockets, especially at the bottom. Add the peanut butter and mix on low speed until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds or so.
This is when the “special care” begins: please assess you dough. In order to get that chewy, soft, melt-in-your-mouth softness, you have to push the limits of the butteriness. Translation: the dough is probably pretty soft at this point, which can (but not always) make it tricky to roll into logs. How your dough is right now is largely up to the temperature of your kitchen. What I do if I feel like it’s very soft is to stick the whole bowl right in the fridge. Check it every 15 minutes or so; after about 30 it should be firmed up slightly, maybe even less.
When you’re ready, get out parchment or waxed paper and tear two lengths of it large enough to roll up the peanuts and logs together. Divide your dough in half, and roll one half into a log maybe 8-10 inches long, patting the two ends so they stay flat. Lay the log lengthwise on the parchment, so it goes from left to right in front of you. Pour half the chopped peanuts in front of the log (on the long side opposite you, if that helps), nestled close to the dough. Pull up on the paper away from you, rolling your log gently but firmly over the peanuts (moving the nuts about as needed) until the perimeter is evenly coated. Wrap your log in the paper and twist the ends (like hard candy wrappers) to seal. Repeat with the other half of the dough, and place both in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
When you’re ready to bake your cookies, preheat your oven to 325˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Time for babysitting, part two: the bake-off.
Remove one log from the fridge and slice it using a sharp, thin knife (a paring knife works well for this) about 1/2 inch thick. Place at least 2 inches apart on your baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, checking at the 7-minute mark.
Here’s what: everyone’s pan is so different. I use the Williams Sonoma goldtone ones from USA Pan, and i love them. They have special bottoms which sort of crisp up the cookies and get them a super even golden color, and if you’re a regular cookie baker, i can tell you that it’s one of the most practical and best purchases you’ll make for your kitchen. Pans all cook differently, so really watch your cookies, because although they are still delicious crispy (and indeed you may prefer them this way), there’s something magical and childlike about these if they stay soft when cool. What you’ll look for while cooking is to take them out and have them be impossible to remove from the pan right away. They will not have started to change color on top. If you touch them, they will feel very, very soft, but not wet. Touch the edge: it should feel set, but not hard.
When they’re done like this, resist trying to remove them from the pan until they are fully cooled. In fact, you’ll never get them off the pan until they are cool, so rather than waste your time, just stick the entire pan on top of a wire rack to cool, and immediately remove yourself from the kitchen so as not to be tempted.
And you will be tempted.