Peanut Butter Cookies

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Hey! It’s June now! You can barely tell, but here it is! On a recent June day, walking to the store, I found myself angrily cursing at how cold and windy it was. Since then, I’ve been looking at Craigslist apartments in… Austin? Savannah? Should we just move back to New Orleans? I mean, summer used to be Chicago’s saving grace, but these last few springs and summers have just been… chilly.

June is a funny time anyway because work is quieter for us both, and our summer trips don’t usually pick up until July 4th, so we’re just here, dealing with the moody Chicago weather, mostly inside, watching scary movies. We just finished Tabula Rasa, a Belgium mystery, on Netflix and we both loved it! Now we’re on to Requiem, which is so far good, a little slow, but I would happily watch paint dry so long as it were set in the Welsh landscape, so we’re sticking with it.

Also, of course, I’ve been hunting around for new recipes to write about. I saw that today was national peanut butter cookie day. I know. I don’t get it. But it did set me on a quest to learn some peanut butter history, and it was actually pretty great! Some things I learned: Peanut butter, as we know it, is a fairly modern marvel, only first appearing in the late 1800’s. George Washington Carver did NOT invent peanut butter! (I feel like I learned this in elementary school at some point. And now I feel like I’ve been living a lie.) GWC did have an important role in its promotion, though. Finally, peanut butter is just not a big deal in other countries. It’s a very American snack. Depending on your peanut butter views, this may come as no surprise.

In 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Canadian chemist, obtained the first patent for peanut flavoring paste to be used in sweets or candies. Ten year later, in 1894, George Bayle began producing peanut butter as a snack food, mostly selling it near St. Louis.

By 1898, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (you might know him by his cereals), began using boiled peanut paste in his sanitarium, the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan. The paste provided patients, particularly those who were unable to chew, with a protein-rich, vegetarian food option, which Dr. Kellogg promoted. At this time, peanut butter was not available to the masses, as it did not transport well, and was generally only considered a health food for the rich.

By 1903, however, Ambrose Straub, also of St. Louis, had patented a peanut butter-making machine, and a year later, peanut butter made an appearance at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Shortly after that, it gained popularity on a nation-wide scale and, less than a decade later, recipes for peanut butter cookies began appearing in newspapers.

If you’re curious about George Washington Carver’s role in the history of peanut butter in the United States, it did not begin until about 1915. During this time, the boll weevil, a type of beetle, had devastated southern cotton crops. In response, Carver began focusing his research on crops for farmers to alternate with their cotton crops, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, which were both healthy for human consumption and would help restore nitrogen in the depleted soil. As part of his work, Carver began promoting the use of sweet potatoes and peanuts in recipes.

By the early 1920s, a chemist named Joseph Rosefield added partially hydrogenated oil to the peanut butter, which prevented it from separating. And by the 1920s, the first peanut butter company, Peter Pan, was founded using a license provided by Dr. Rosefield.

Nutritious and affordable, good for the soil and good for the body. And delicious in a cookie! For the recipe, I adapted one of my favorite cookie recipes: the America’s Test Kitchen Crinkle Cookie. I wanted a lot of peanut butter flavor, but I didn’t want them to be too thick, chewy, or crispy. The results were… very fluffy, and very dangerous.

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Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes between 24 and 36 cookies.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 cup white granulated sugar, for rolling 

Instructions:

In a small bowl, melt together the peanut butter and butter, stir to mix together, and set aside to cool slightly.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract until well-combined.

Add the peanut butter mixture to the sugar and eggs mixture and stir together until combined. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir together until there are no more white flour streaks. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.

Move a rack to the middle rung in oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Fill a bowl with granulated sugar. Scoop 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into the sugar. Once all sides are coated, pick up and form into a ball in your hands. Place on cookie sheet. Continue, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each ball, until you’ve filled the baking sheet. Using a fork, slightly flatten each ball and make a crisscross shape across the top of each ball. Bake for 6 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees, and continue baking for another 6 minutes. The cookies will look soft, but they will be done. Don’t over-cook! Continue on the second baking pan, until you’ve used all the dough.

Allow the cookies to cool on the pan before serving or transferring to an airtight container.

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My husband described these as cookies for people who love cake. They are incredibly soft, with the slightest crisp edge. You will have a terrible time not eating the whole batch because they’re so light and pillowy. Because of this, they do not hold their traditional crisscross imprint very well, but you won’t hardly have time to notice.

 

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Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

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It was painfully cold here in Chicago this past weekend. The kind of cold that, when I get into the house after putting a load of clothes in the wash in our basement, I find myself irrationally angry. Angry cold. That’s where we are. And, as a perfect Chicago response, it was almost 50 degrees yesterday. Just warm enough to keep people from losing their damn minds.

Freezing temps gives me the perfect excuse to stay inside and bake. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. In my last post, I told you how my mom had been sending me my grandma’s old recipes. The recipe parade continues. Usually mom will send recipes for dishes that I’ve had 100 times and sometimes she sends me giant questions marks. One of the more recent question marks piqued my interest: cottage pudding.

Grandma had a habit of writing down all the ingredients in a recipe, along with oven temperatures and cooking time. What she fails to include, though, are basically any description or assembly instructions whatsoever. From the name, I thought it might be some kind of pudding made from cottage cheese, but the recipe did not call for cottage cheese and this “pudding” actually turned out to be a sheet cake, made in a 9″ x 9″ pan, with sweet sauce, made separately, and meant to be poured over the top. Instead of combining the two together at the end, I realized that I could use grandma’s  recipe to create a version of an upside-down cake made in my cast iron skillet. And, I figured I’d go ahead and make it with persimmons, because I haven’t made anything with persimmons this year and usually they are the fruit that makes my winter go ’round. I’m so glad I did! I’ve never made an upside-down cake before, but it was really quite easy (minus the flipping part) and actually, really delicious. I imagined that I was going to pull some dense cake out of the oven, all gummed up with caramel. Instead, the cake was super soft, not too sweet, and accented with pretty drizzles of persimmon-infused caramel sauce.

I think you could use almost any soft fruit for this recipe, like apples or plums. Or, I suppose you could forgo fruit all together and just make a caramel cake. That’s your prerogative.

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Persimmon Upside-Down Cake
Very slightly adapted from Grandma Dini’s Cottage Pudding recipe.

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp, flour
2-3 persimmons, sliced 1/8-1/4-inch thick

Persimmon Caramel Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice 2-3 persimmons, horizontally, very thin. Just enough slices to cover the bottom of a 10″ cast iron skillet. Hold on to any extra pieces of persimmon that do not fit in the pan. You should have about 1/2 a persimmon left. Chop into small pieces.

In a small sauce pan, combine the leftover persimmon pieces and 1/2 of the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Some of the water will evaporate, which is fine.

Turn the heat down to low. Add brown sugar, butter, flour, vanilla, salt, and additional water to the sauce pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring often, though not constantly, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. At this time, you can remove any larger pieces of the persimmon, leaving the smaller bits in the caramel. Set aside to cool slightly. You should have between 3/4 of a cup and 1 cup of caramel sauce.

For the cake, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, whisking to combine.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together for about 2 minutes. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla extract, and beat until just mixed. Add in the flour mixture in about 4 batches. Mix until just combined with each addition of the dry ingredients. (This batter will be quite thick, which is perfect.)

Grease the sides of your cast iron skillet with butter to ensure a smooth removal of the cake. (You only need to butter the sides of your skillet; the buttery caramel will take care of the bottom of the skillet.)

Add half of the caramel mixture to the bottom of the skillet. Next, add the thinly sliced persimmon to the bottom of the pan until it is mostly covered. Add the remaining caramel over the top of the sliced persimmon.

Next, add the cake batter over the top of the persimmons and caramel. Do your best to get the batter to the edges of the skillet, as evenly as possible. If you have a spots where caramel is poking through on the edges, that’s fine.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes, by inserting a toothpick all the way through to the caramel. When it comes out clean, it’s done.

Quickly cover the skillet with heat-safe dish, invert the dishes together allowing the cake to slide out of the skillet and on to the serving dish.

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