Friday, March 11, 2011

Recipe: The Definitively Chewy Peanut Butter Cookie

This was one of those quests I get on from time to time.  Having solved the scones, it was time to tackle the peanut butter cookie.

It started when I began communicating with a classmate from high school, Jeanne Costanzo Diblin.  She mentioned the peanut butter cookies that they used to serve in the cafeteria for school lunch.  Who doesn't have fond--nay, lyrical, dreamlike--memories of those?  Well, it happened that Jeanne had the recipe and kindly shared it.  I made the cookies, and I enjoyed them, but somehow they weren't really what I remembered.  It's more than possible that my memory has altered over time, but I recall those cookies as chewy, and the standard recipes (there is surprisingly little variation, by the way) tend to come out crispy, even a bit on the crumbly side.  They were delicious, mind you; they just didn't have the texture I was expecting.

And thus begins the quest:  is it possible to make a chewier peanut butter cookie?  Well, cookie fans, I can report that it is, and that I did it this morning, conflating about four different recipes.  First, I found that you could safely double the amount of peanut butter, and that seemed like a good idea to me.  I mean, you can't have too much of a good thing, right?  Then I realized that if baking powder were at least part of the leavening, the resulting cookie would be softer (baking soda makes cookies crunchy and crisp). Then I found a recipe that replaced the standard brown sugar with honey.  Aha!  More liquid likely means a softer result.  (My final recipe also uses less egg and fat than the standard ones do.  That's because the added peanut butter and the liquid from the honey make up for it.)  Finally, I decided that if I chilled the dough and baked it at a lower heat, I could probably achieve a crunchy outside that would yield to a chewy interior--and that's what happened.  So here's the final recipe:

(Click on the title to open a printer-friendly version of the recipe.  When it opens, hit Control-P on your keyboard to print.)

1 18-oz. jar (2 cups) of peanut butter (Use Jiff or Skippy or something similar; natural peanut butter will produce a different result.  If you like bits of peanuts in your cookies, use crunchy peanut butter.)
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) each of butter and shortening (all butter will make crunchier cookies)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey (warm it briefly--say 15 seconds--in the microwave so that it pours easily)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs

2-1/2 cups white flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Cream the peanut butter, butter, shortening, and sugar using the paddle attachment of an electric stand mixer.  Add the honey and vanilla and blend thoroughly.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the mixture thoroughly.

2.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir this into the liquid ingredients.  (You may find this less messy to do by hand.  If you use the mixer, add the flour mixture in two or three batches with the mixer running at the very lowest speed.  Be sure to use a splatter guard if your mixer has one.)

3.  Chill the dough thoroughly--at least 3 hours.  (Mine sat in the fridge overnight.)

4.  Roll the chilled dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter (I have a nifty cookie dough scoop that works well for portioning the dough), and place them well apart on a greased cookie sheet.  If you like, press a fork into the top of the cookie to make the traditional criss-cross pattern.  (I found that the cookies also looked nice if you skipped this step--take a look at the picture to the right--and they might have been a little chewier.  Maybe.)

5.  Bake at 300* F for 15 minutes.  Let stand on the cookie sheet for 5 - 10 minutes, allowing them to collapse and crisp a bit, before moving them onto a rack to cool completely.

Makes 5 - 6 dozen cookies.

What's better with this than a tall glass of milk?

I baked these this morning and am taking them (well, not all of them) to a party with some high school kids.  We're going to watch the video of the show I was in with them about two weeks ago.  I've been bringing them the fruits of my various experiments (I didn't tell them they were experiments), and I've never had any left.  This is one of the things I like about baking:  it rarely turns out bad, it just doesn't always turn out the way I expected.  Lots of things are like that--not what you thought was going to happen, but good anyway.

ADDENDUM:  These were a BIG HIT with the high school kids.  Lots of nummy noises.

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