What’s your very first baking memory?
If you’re in your 20s or 30s, it might very well be Bagel Bites, hot from the microwave. A bit older, and it could be slice-and-bake oatmeal cookies from a refrigerated plastic tube of dough.
Older still… well, you’d probably have to be an older Baby Boomer to have much chance of remembering mom baking from scratch. Even back in the ’60s, when I was a kid, cakes were mostly Duncan Hines, brownies were Betty Crocker, and bread was Wonder.
My mom used all kinds of mixes, including the memorable Appian Way Pizza Mix, complete with its tiny can of tomato sauce, packet of Parmesan cheese, AND, if you took advantage of their special boxtop offer, a 12” pizza pan.
But Mom also had a few specialties that she always made from scratch: apple and lemon meringue pies; white sandwich bread; red velvet cake, and peanut butter cookies.
My earliest baking memory centers around Mom’s peanut butter cookies. Memory is a mysterious thing; why do I remember those, instead of brownies or coffeecake or chocolate chip cookies (of which, strangely, I have no memory at all)?
Here’s the one-word answer: SUGAR.
After Mom had pulled the pan of peanut butter cookies out of the oven, and set them atop the dishwasher to cool, I’d push a stool over, climb up, and search for the one or maybe two cookies containing a telltale lump: a chunk of brown sugar that had resisted creaming.
I’d wait JUST until I could barely touch the cookie without burning my fingers, then pick it up, put it on a paper towel, and break it into pieces. I’d always save the piece with the brown sugar lump for last, the warm sugar dissolving on my tongue to provide the perfect coda to my peanut butter cookie experience.
That’s why the peanut butter cookie’s fall from grace has made me so sad. I understand the challenge of kids with peanut allergies; it must be nerve-wracking to try to keep children with that serious allergy safe. But peanut butter sandwiches and peanut butter cookies, two absolute stalwarts of my childhood, have become collateral damage in the peanut allergy wars. And that’s a shame.
There’s no issue with peanut allergies here at King Arthur Flour, so I’ve been making peanut butter cookies more often lately, just to keep the recipe alive.
And guess what? My co-workers will finish off a plate of PB cookies faster than any other variety, even chocolate chip. And the feeding frenzy is often accompanied by remarks along the lines of, “Man, I haven’t had a good peanut butter cookie in ages!”
Since I’ve been dubbing around with PB cookies recently, I decided to take my tried-and-true recipe and “fix” it. Maybe my taste buds are fading, or peanut butter itself ain’t what it used to be, but they haven’t been tasting as “peanutty” as I remember them tasting in the past.
So I made a simple change, substituting extra peanut butter for half the shortening in the recipe. Voilà! More peanut flavor, with no reduction in crunchy crispness.
Looking for a crunchy peanut butter cookie, just like mom used to bake… if you were lucky enough to have a mom who baked?
Give these Peanut Butter Cookies a try.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
Place the following in a bowl, and beat until smooth:
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup supermarket-style smooth peanut butter*
*This recipe was developed to use traditional supermarket-style peanut butter. If you use all-natural peanut butter, grind your own, or use low-fat or low-salt peanut butter, the cookies won’t turn out as described.
Can you substitute butter for shortening? Sure; I’d use 1/2 cup butter, since it includes milk solids as well as fat. Your cookies won’t be as crunchy, but if you’re OK with a bit of soft chew, go for it.
And, did you know that many shortenings are now trans-fat free? For awhile there, shortening was the bad guy, and I missed it in my cookies. I’m happy the folks at Crisco (my favorite brand) were able to reformulate their trusty product without compromising its “bakeability.”
Add the following:
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
The dough will seem quite dry at first, but should eventually come together. Once it’s fairly cohesive, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and squeeze the dough into a ball with your hands; this’ll make it easier to scoop.
If for whatever reason the dough doesn’t come together, dribble in a tablespoon or so of milk or water.
And now, for a word from our sponsors (that would be us) –
Don’t you hate measuring peanut butter? I always weigh it (it checks in at 9 1/2 ounces per cup). But if I didn’t have a scale, I’d use an adjustable measuring cup. Just slide the clear tube to the 1-cup mark, pack with peanut butter…
…and push peanut butter into your bowl. It also works great for shortening, molasses, or anything else that’s sticky and hard to measure.
Drop the cookie dough by tablepoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets (a tablespoon cookie scoop works well here), leaving 2″ between them.
Use a fork to give the dough its classic peanut butter cookie crisscross pattern…
…or use the pusher tube from your food processor. The end of the pusher from our test- kitchen Cuisinart features a spiral design, which gives cookies a lovely imprint. I like to use it for any cookies that call for gentle flattening before baking.
Whatever flattener you use, press dough down until it’s about 1/2” thick.
Here we are, oven-ready.
Bake the cookies for 12 to 16 minutes, until they’re barely beginning to brown around the edges; the tops won’t have browned.
Why the fairly wide range of time? For parchment-lined sheets, bake the longer amount of time; if you’re baking right on a pan – particularly if it’s dark gray or darker – use the shorter time.
Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan.
If you need the pan, let them set for a minute or so, then transfer to a rack to cool.
I tried three variations on my original recipe, going for the best combination of crunchy and peanutty. “B,” baked for 12 minutes on a parchment-lined, light-colored aluminum baking sheet, was the winner.
Don’t worry about the cracks – this is what peanut butter cookies look like.
Besides, anytime something comes out a little lopsided or cracked or crumbly, I just name it “rustic” and people assume that’s how it’s supposed to look!
Read our complete recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies.
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