Friday, August 29, 2008

Hunt for the Perfect Peanut Butter Cookie

How can we have “peanut butter month” and not talk about peanut butter cookies? We can't.

Okay, technically we can, but I'm not gonna do it. We're gonna talk peanut butter cookies.

I like peanut butter cookies. Like that was a big surprise, right? Searching the web for the best peanut butter cookie recipe led me down a dangerous path of peanuts, chocolate, and Hershey's Kisses. Not a bad afternoon. The trouble is, the basic cookie recipe kept coming up pretty much the same as the one in my Better Homes and Garden's New Cook Book.

Don't get me wrong. It's a decent recipe. It's just too sweet for my tastes and doesn't have the deep, rich, peanut butter flavor I'm craving in a peanut butter cookie. So, whisk in hand, I kick-started my brain and attempted to discover a way to make a better peanut butter cookie.

My brain got scared and abandoned me so I started looking through some other cookbooks and cooking magazines for ideas, instead.

I found a recipe for Peanut Blossom Cookies in a recent Cook's Country Magazine (published by the same people who bring us Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen). This is basically a peanut butter cookie with a Hershey's Kiss stuck on top. It turns out that Peanut Blossom Cookies came out of the 1957 Pillsbury Bake-Off. The recipe was submitted by Freda Smith and, as the runner up, she got a GE Stove as part of the bargain. Not bad for a cookie.

While I can appreciate Hershey's Kisses on my peanut butter cookies, that's not what I was after.

Cali Rich, who came up with the recipe, mentioned that the magazine's taste testers wanted more peanut flavor, too. I thought this might be a good start. I also thought, “Maybe I can pack this with even more peanut butter flavor.”

They did it by adding finely ground roasted peanuts to the mix. I thought I'd take it one step further by replacing half the butter with more peanut butter.

The first step was to grind up some peanuts and flour. Not having any dry roasted peanuts, I used Spanish roasted peanuts, instead. Knowing that they had a lot more oil content, it made grinding them with flour even more critical. I wanted a course peanut flour, not more peanut butter.

After putting the peanuts and flour into my food processor I noticed that the output chute guard was missing. No big deal. I wasn't using the grater attachment so, it wouldn't matter.

I was wrong.

After recovering the peanuts that shot three feet across the counter when I turned the processor on, I rooted through the kitchen drawers to find the guard. After the second try, the intense smell of ground peanuts wafting up from the processor bowl made me smile. I was on the right track.

I quickly moved through the recipe, only realizing at the last minute that I'd forgotten to reduce the amount of butter before adding the peanut butter. I didn't want to mess with the chemistry too badly, so I ended up following the magazine recipe, instead. Mostly.

I also wanted a softer cookie than the old stand by recipe made, so I made a couple of batches as simple drop cookies. I was after a nicely crackled surface and a chewy inside. These turned out okay, but it seemed more like a tiny cake than a cookie, so I tried a couple of batches mashed down with a fork, like the classic recipe. This turned out to be the best bet. A little more crispy on the outside, but still a bit chewy on the inside.


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Take the eggs out of the refrigerator and let them come up to room temperature while you prepare the rest. Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two baking trays with non-stick spray, or line with parchment paper.

Put 1 cup of flour and the peanuts into a food processor. Pulse several times to start grinding the peanuts and mix in the flour. Switch to low and process until the peanuts are well ground and the mixture looks uniform. Don't over-process too long.

Pour the peanut mixture into a large bowl. Add the remaining flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add peanut butter and continue beating until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well blended. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and do it again. Scrape the mixture down the sides of the bowl as needed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on the cookie sheets, given them about 2 inches of space between. I got 8 cookies to a sheet. Flatten the cookies a bit with a fork, pressing twice, to create the classic criss-cross pattern. You don't need to mash them too flat. Just enough to get a good pattern.

Bake, one sheet at a time, for about ten minutes. While one sheet is cooking, prepare the next. Using a spatula, carefully transfer the baked cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool for about 5 minutes.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Next time, I'm going to try using dry roasted peanuts, cut the butter in half, and increase the peanut butter by 1/2 cup. I don't know. Maybe I'll keep the extra butter.

1 comment:

Nazarina A said...

Hi John,

I love it when you visit me and to think that we are neighbors( neighboring states that is!)LOL!!!
How about you bring me all your delicious peanut butter cookies and I make us a pot of tea!!!!