Flare Food: How To Make Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies

Being a grown-up requires being a child now and then. Our baker Leanne Shapton crosses back and forth with peanut-butter cookies, and fall fashion trends for those delicious fork marks, too

Photograph by Leanne Shapton
Photograph by Leanne Shapton

 

As far as lunch-pail fare goes, the ubiquitous chocolate-chip cookie gets all the glory, but it’s the peanut-butter cookie that tops my list. Peanut butter itself is reliable, evocative and sustaining. While it’s also useful for Asian cooking, it’s usually seen as kid stuff. Dogs and mice like it, too. And, with the alleged rise in peanut allergies and the ensuing school-wide bans, the baked goods that lived in the basement apartment of the edifice that is culinary culture have a new whiff of danger, controversy and, dare I say…exoticism! But still, if the PB cookie were a shoe it would be a scuffed penny loafer, if it were a coat it would be a duffel, pants a pair of dungarees. It is hardy, healthy and homey.

My peanut-butter-cookie fixation began when I was a competitive swimmer. At a 1992 varsity meet in Toronto, I bought a cookie beside the register in an undistinguished Bloor Street coffee shop, and my life changed. This was the era of the crispy-chewy cookie. The rage was for straight-out-of-the-oven softness, achieved through god knows what combination of chemicals and hydrogenated oils. My preference is for a baked-through texture: a dense snap and crumble. The Bloor Street cookie became my madeleine, double-stuff of comfort and memory, transporting me back to Brownies bake sales, swim meets and my best friend’s kitchen. The cookie was large and Saran Wrapped, but it crumbled wonderfully like soft packed snow when bit. The taste ran to the burnt and salty spectrum, but had a classic Kraft peanut butter flavour.

Left: London label E. Tautz. Right: Tess Giberson's chunky PB- style knits
Left: London label E. Tautz. Right: Tess Giberson’s chunky PB- style knits

I bought cookies from the coffee shop regularly, making them last as long as possible, until one day I was visiting the city from New York and saw that the shop had turned into a Greek diner. (It’s now a frozen yogurt joint.) Thus began my quest to reconstruct that cookie. I tried for years, and it took about 15 for me to hit on cornstarch as the possible secret ingredient. I bake a batch at least twice a month: to bring to my long-standing charades nights; to drop off in the apartment lobbies of stressed-out friends; and to eat mid-morning with tea, or from tin foil on long drives.

Squirrel It Away: Nest Treasures

nuts of you

From top left: Vintage hip hop on my back-to-old-school playlist: Peanut Butter Wolf’s Ladies First CD (2009). Health-food-store heaven, $2, amazon.com. For Baking, I stick with the roof-sticking classic. Dishcloth from A Magpie and a Dove, amagpieandadove.etsy.com. My friend Christy-Claire Katien reads Eileen Myles’ poem “Peanut Butter,” soundcloud.com

Hashtag Heaven: How To Make Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies
This is my own peanut-butter cookie recipe, based on years of trying to achieve a stick- to-the-roof-of-and-melt-in- your-mouth sablé-slash- shortbread texture.The trick is to use enough egg to bind the flours without the cookie getting muddy or puffy.

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1/2 cup     butter
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 cup soft brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1 1/2 cornstarch
1 1/2 flour

Cream the butters and sugar together. Add salt. Add egg and flours, mix well until batter looks a little bit crumbly but not dry.

Roll into balls the diameter of a toonie and press with a fork. Bake at 350° F for 25 minutes or until a deep tan.

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