Thursday, March 6, 2008

Peanut Butter Cookies

I love peanut butter. I eat it on toast, celery, crackers, crumpets, apples and chocolate. I eat peanut butter sandwiches several times a week, but never with jam or honey. I put peanut butter in soups and stirfries (watch this space for those recipes). As a child I ate Kraft peanut butter, but now I only buy brands made exclusively with peanuts and salt. The downside of this is that with ‘natural’ peanut butter, the oil and peanut solids separate. Mixing them can be a messy affair – churning the peanut butter invariably causes a minor countertop oil spill. Given the vast quantities of peanut butter I consume, however, mixing is a price I’m willing to pay for peanut butter without sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Peanuts originated in South America and are known to have been ground into a paste by the Incas. Modern peanut butter is thought to have been created in the 1840s by Rose Davis of Alligerville, New York whose son saw women making peanut paste during his travels in Cuba. All early forms were crunchy, but in 1922 Joseph Rosefield patented a technique to produce a creamy peanut butter and created the Peter Pan and Skippy brands. Peanut butter is popular in many countries but Americans still consume more than any other nation – about three pounds per person per year.

This week I feature an American classic – peanut butter cookies. These cookies have the traditional crisscross pattern – made by pressing the back of a fork against the balls of peanut butter dough before they are baked. While no one can explain the origin of this pattern, it has been traced to the 1931 Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes cookbook.

Makes 24 cookies

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
1 cup smooth or chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 375F. In a medium size bowl combine flour and baking soda. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl beat butter, peanut butter and sugars until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat. All flour mixture and beat until combined.
3. Roll dough into 24 balls and place on a greased baking sheet.
4. Use the back of a fork to flatten the ball and create a pattern of fork tines. Press the fork again, this time creating a perpendicular pattern.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool cookies and store in an airtight container for up to a week. To soften crisp cookies, store them overnight in a container with a piece of bread.

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