Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Peanut Butter Cookies of my Childhood


There are three kinds of cookies I treasure to the depths of my soul, that I hold tight and return to over and again: ginger snaps, peanut butter cookies and lemon bars.  These are the cookies my mother made when my brother and I were growing up and I will forever link them, lovingly, to her.

My mother has never been much of a baker.  That's not to say she can't bake--she can, and she even sprinkles in some mama-magic that make her cookies taste better than anything I could ever make.  She just doesn't have the sweet tooth with which her daughter was graced (must be a recessive gene) and she's always been the type more likely to be rolling paint onto walls or re-caulking the bathroom than in the kitchen baking cookies.

So when she did bake, it was special.

Today I'm sharing one of her recipes with you.

I'm picky about my peanut butter cookies.  I don't go in for chewy or cakey ones and I'm not interested in peanut butter cookies that offer only a whiff of peanut butter flavor.  That is so say, these peanut butter cookies have some heft, both in flavor and texture.  Right out of the oven they're a bit chewy with crunchy edges, but if you let them sit for an hour or two they become crunchy in that chips-ahoy kind of crunchy.  Their texture might just be my very favorite cookie texture around.  And then there's the peanut butter--if you've scouted your peanut butter cookie recipes you might notice a lot of them call for two parts butter to one part peanut butter.  This recipe reverses that ratio, so you're really getting a peanut butter cookie, not a butter cookie with a little peanut butter thrown in.

And then, because I'm making these to take to a gathering rather than to keep just for us, I threw in some peanut butter cups, honey roasted peanuts and chocolate chips.  This lily was just begging to be gilded.

Notes: 
  • I've made these vegan many times by substituting one flax egg (1 T. ground flax mixed with 3 T. water to make a paste) for the egg.  The texture becomes slightly chewier and softer but they're still delicious (indeed, if you prefer chewier cookies, give that substitution a shot).
  • I use shortening here, specifically non-hydrogenated shortening (Spectrum brand).  If you don't care about hydrogenation, feel free to use Crisco, as my mother does.  If you want to avoid shortening altogether, an equivalent amount of unsalted butter is a fine substitution.  However, keep in mind the kind of fat you use influences texture.  Butter may make them softer and encourage them to spread a bit more due to butter's higher water content.
  • I didn't do these gluten free but I have a sneaking suspicion they'd take to the substitution of 225 grams gluten free flour mix in lieu of the wheat flour.
Kate's Mom's Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from the 1973 edition of Joy of Cooking, given to my parents on their wedding day
  • Preheat the oven to 375°
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
  • Combine these ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat them together for a couple of minutes until well integrated and fluffy.  You'll likely have to scrape down the bowl a couple of times.
1 c. peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1 egg (or one flax egg, see above)
1 t. vanilla extract
  • Add the peanut butter, egg and vanilla to the shortening mixture.  Again, beat until well integrated, about a minute.
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/2. c. honey roasted peanuts optional
1/2 c. chocolate chips optional
1/2-1 c. chopped peanut butter cups optional
  • Toss in the dry ingredients and beat for a few seconds to spread them around in the shortening mixture, then add your add-ins and continue to beat until the dough comes together, 30 seconds to one minute.  You want a relatively dry dough, but if it is so dry that forming balls is going to be a challenge, mix in a tablespoon of liquid (I tend to use almond milk because that's what I keep on hand).  Your dough should be of a texture that's easy to roll into balls (i.e. not falling apart) but not at all sticky (i.e. not as loose as chocolate chip cookie dough).
  • Roll the dough into balls using 1-2 tablespoons of dough (keep in mind that larger cookie will be a bit chewier in the middle, smaller cookies tend to get a little more crunchy).  Use a fork to make the cross-hatch imprint into the cookies, pressing them to about 3/4 inch thick.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, or until just beginning to brown on the edges and set in the middle.  If you want crunchy cookies sooner, allow them to bake for a couple of minutes past this point.
  • Remove from the oven.
  • Do you really need instructions beyond this?
Enjoy!  xo

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