“What is your fascination with peanut butter!?” was Dave’s response to my reply as to what kind of cookies I had baked. I wouldn’t describe my relationship with peanut butter as a fascination or even an obsession. Allegiance would be more appropriate. Loyalty. Commitment. My relationship with peanut butter is steadfast; it’s a shared experience to which most of us can relate, typically starting at a very young age.
Dave’s peanut butter question was quite appropriate after what was most likely the sixth or seventh weekend in a row of some variation on a peanut butter baking theme. Peanut butter cookies…traditional, gluten free, crispy, crunchy, moist & dense, those made with natural peanut butter, those made with Skippy. In the midst of this particular cookie baking marathon was the fervent search to recreate a spectacular chocolate ganache topped peanut butter pie I had eaten over the summer at 715, a phenomenal European bistro in Lawrence, Kansas. No-bake peanut butter cookies even managed to make the line up, providing a peaceful interlude when no other satisfactory recipe was to be found.
I do admit to a somewhat relentless drive to find the ‘best of’ when I bake, continuing to test out different variations on theme until I find the one that not only do I like best, but the one that garners the most positive feedback. And for now the elusive search, my quest for the ‘best of’ peanut butter cookie recipes has ended, having settled on Joanne Chang’s peanut butter cookie recipe from her flour cookbook. People who claim not to like peanut butter cookies love this cookie.
My allegiance to peanut butter can be traced back to my early years, most notably to my dad, Steve. As much as I enjoy peanut butter, I have never been a fan of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, even if it was made with my grandma’s jam. The jam or jelly in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just does not work for me. First, there is the mess factor. You take a bite, it oozes out. As popular as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are in school lunches, this is another area where I take issue with the jelly. The jelly soaks into the bread and gets the bread all soggy. A textural nightmare. And finally, the ever present sensation upon swallowing, that this bite of peanut butter and jelly will in fact, most certainly cement my throat closed.
When I was about seven or eight years old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches became a bone of contention one particular lunch at my Grandma McCaig’s house in Kent. My grandma Dorothy was fixing my cousin Suzanne and I a sandwich. Grandma asked us what kind of jelly we wanted on our peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to which I answered, “I don’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” A furrowed brow and sharp reply let me know in no uncertain terms that this was the only choice on the menu. To which I replied I was not going to eat. Grandma emphatically stated, “There are starving children in India who would love to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” At an age where sarcasm was not yet a conscious mechanism for rebuttal I replied, “Well, you can send them mine.” I quickly understood that this not an option. If memory serves me correctly my mom interjected that in fact I didn’t eat PB&J’s. Tomato soup followed.
My issue with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches aside, I did eat peanut butter sandwiches. Steve-style peanut butter sandwiches. My dad’s recipe for peanut butter sandwiches is as follows: two slices of whole wheat bread, butter each slice of bread, spread one buttered slice of bread with peanut butter, top with the other buttered slice of bread. Viola! Peanut butter and butter sandwich, PB&B! The variation on this combination was to top the peanut butter with honey, PB&H. Heavenly. The PB&H even stands up to the lunchbox test. The honey soaks into the bread a bit but never gets the bread soggy, especially if both sides of the bread are spread with butter. No clogged throat factor.
Peanut butter not only remained a constant companion in lunch boxes but on long hikes in hot temperatures without fear of spoilage. And if your name happens to be Steve Lorenz, it is also the most obvious addition to a homemade vanilla shake. The marriage of peanut butter and vanilla ice cream in a milk shake is truly a match made in heaven. The level of peanut butter sophistication modeled by my dad continued throughout my high school years. Buttered toast topped with peanut butter, heated under the broiler until ever so slightly browned and bubbly. A fantastic light night snack, which often resulted in blistering the roof of my mouth. Nevertheless, I remain committed to peanut butter. Wholesome, steadfast and true.
Peanut Butter Cookies
(From Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang)
Makes about 24 cookies
2 sticks/1 cup/228 g unsalted butter
1 cup/200 g granulated sugar
1 cup/220 g packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups/454 g/chunky peanut butter
2 2/3 cups/375 g unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl using an electric hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer. Stop your mixer several times to scrap down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Add the eggs and vanilla, beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, until thoroughly combined. Scrape sides of bow. Add peanut butter, beat on medium-low speed another 2 minutes until thoroughly combined.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. On very low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients just until incorporated.
For best results, let the dough rest for at least 4 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. I find it’s easiest to portion out the dough first, using a 1/4 c sized scoop, placing the balls in a 9×13 pan, lined w/ cling wrap or parchment paper, covering tightly with cling wrap and then refrigerating.
When you’re ready to bake the cookies, heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place cookie dough on a Silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet, about 2” apart. Flatten slightly with your hand, then make the traditional criss-cross shape on top, using the tines of a fork (dip in sugar if fork sticks) or potato masher. Bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges turn a golden brown but the middles are still fairly pale and soft (start checking @ 15 min.). Cool the cookies for 5 to 10 minutes on the cookie sheet on cooling racks, then transfer cookies to the racks to cool completely. Cookies, once cooled, can be stored for 3 days in an airtight container. Unbaked dough can stay in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container.