I baked some cookies last Wednesday night that robbed me of the will to chew and swallow. They were that bad. Worse, actually, seeing as how they contained an entire ten-ounce brick of Scharffen-Berger chocolate (what a waste), and even that couldn’t save them from the trash. I had to wait for them to cool so that they wouldn’t melt the garbage bag. It was a sad, sad scene. The waiting period between straight-from-the-oven and into-the-mouth may be the best waiting there is, precisely because the waiting ends, in due time, with a cookie. This was not that kind of waiting. Dumping cookies into the garbage straight from the rack is borderline torture. I wouldn’t be surprised if tucked away in some fiery corner of hell, there’s a rack of still-warm cookies that the condemned are forced to tip into the trash for all eternity.
For obvious reasons, these cookies are not what I want to share with you today. Rather, I want to tell you about the rebound cookie, the cookie that I jumped out of bed to bake at 6:30am the next morning, for the sole reason that I was feeling like I needed a win, and I knew that this cookie would deliver.
I had made this recipe once before, the previous week, for my brother’s eighteenth (EIGHTEENTH!) birthday and, quite simply, the resulting cookie blew me away. It’s a peanut butter cookie with milk chocolate chunks. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I never really got peanut butter cookies until this particular peanut butter cookie came along.
I’m not sure if I should admit this here, but until a week and a half ago, I hadn’t even thought of peanut butter cookies as real cookies. That probably makes me some kind of cookie bigot, which is as baffling as it is horrifying. A peanut butter sandwich is undoubtedly a real sandwich, after all, one that I hold in very high esteem, no less. Sometimes, I don’t get me.
While I can’t tell you precisely what went wrong between me and peanut butter cookies in the past, a simple comparison with the new cookie in my life does provide at least a clue, a clue that leads me to believe that it must have been a texture thing. The only peanut butter cookies that I had ever tasted were crisp, brittle ones. In theory, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; there is room in my heart for cookies that snap. Some cookies are truly best that way. And some cookies – like peanut butter cookies, if you ask me – are not. When I mentioned peanut butter cookies to my father-in-law a couple of weeks ago, he shook his head and said, “I take my peanut butter straight.” So do I, typically, whether it’s between two slices of bread, smeared on a salted rice cake, scraped onto an apple wedge or, most commonly, licked directly from the spoon. For me, peanut butter pleasure has only about thirty percent to do with flavor. The remaining seventy percent is all about texture, and I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who feels this way. The very existence of the varieties of peanut butter out there – creamy, chunky, extra-chunky, all variations on the theme of texture – speaks to this point, I think. Texture matters. Yet baked into a dry, crumbly cookie, the texture of peanut butter disappears completely.
All of this is a fancy way of saying that these cookies are chewy, and that it’s thanks to this chewiness that peanut butter cookies have, at long last, taken up their rightful place in my personal pantheon of outstanding cookies. These cookies are crisp around the edges, yes, but soft in the center, so that they retain a hint of the creaminess that makes peanut butter, well, peanut butter in the first place. With their shards of chocolate, rippled tops, and the caramel-like undertones brought on by that happy combination of brown sugar and vanilla, they’re like really good chocolate chip cookies zipped into peanut butter cookie suits. They’re the perfect antidote to even the most devastating failure in the kitchen, though I don’t plan on waiting for my next big flop to make these again. And neither should you.
Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (via Design*Sponge)
I don’t yet own the Baked cookbook, but that has got to change. I have it on good authority that every recipe was tested ten times. Ten times! Apparently, these peanut butter cookies are only the beginning. There is at least one instance in there of bona fide magic, I hear, resulting from a particularly inspired combination of salt, chocolate and caramel. Obviously, this cookbook belongs on my shelf.
Back to the cookies at hand: For spreading, smearing, and spooning, I typically prefer natural peanut butter, but I’ve never tried it for baking. I was worried that it might behave strangely because of its inconsistent texture, and so I went with Simply Jif instead. It worked like a charm. As for the chocolate, milk is definitely the way to go. According to Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the recipe’s creators (as reported by Grace over at Design*Sponge), dark chocolate will taste unpleasantly bitter against the peanut butter. Finally, after so much talk about the glory of chewy peanut butter cookies, if you prefer yours crisp – we can still be friends! – just add a couple of minutes to the baking time. I actually baked my first couple of trays a little bit longer than the time I recommend here, and they firmed right up.
1 ¾ c. flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 c. granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. creamy peanut butter (I use Simply Jif)
6 oz. milk chocolate, coarsely chopped or broken into shards (I use Ghirardelli milk chocolate baking bars.)
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and, with the mixer running, add the eggs one at a time. (Wait for the first egg to incorporate before adding the second.) Add the vanilla and the peanut butter, and beat until just incorporated.
Add half of the flour mixture, and mix for 15 seconds. Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix, once again, until just incorporated.
Gently fold in the chocolate with a spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Depending on the temperature of your fridge and how long you’ve chilled the dough, you may need to let the dough soften slightly before scooping. When I chill the dough overnight, I find that leaving it on the counter for about 20-30 minutes does the trick. Just don’t let the dough get too warm. As soon as it’s soft enough to scoop, get going.
When it’s time to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons (I used a 1½ tablespoon cookie scoop) onto the prepared baking sheets. The cookies will spread, so be sure to leave at least 2 inches between them. Then, gently press down each cookie with the palm of your hand. You’re just looking to flatten the tops ever so slightly.
Sprinkle the cookies with granulated sugar and bake for 8-9 minutes for chewy cookies, and about 10 minutes for crisp cookies. When you remove the cookies from the oven, especially if you’re aiming for chewy, they will be cooked through but extremely soft. Don’t be alarmed; they’ll firm up as they cool. The only challenge is getting them in one piece from the sheet to the cooling rack. I recommend one of two things: Leave them on the sheet for a minute or two so that they cool at least a bit, and then use a metal spatula – which is thinner than the plastic kind – to transfer them carefully to a cooling rack. Or, you can skip the spatula all together, and slide the entire cookie-loaded sheet of parchment from the baking sheet to the rack.