Decadent Peanut Butter Cookies

Hey folks, everybody’s favorite guest blogger here.  I probably should have written the one on pizza dough instead, but the ship already sailed on that one, so here I am. Fortunately, I know a thing or two about cookies, so you are in good hands.

Anna has had a drama-filled history with peanut butter cookies as of late, but I’m here to tell you that these cookies are the best.  Don’t bother with any other recipes, this will do it.  Unless you have limited time and ingredients, in which case see these other ones.  I should also tell you that this recipe is from the excellent book, The Commonsense Kitchen.

Decadent Peanut Butter Cookies
(makes 2 dozen medium-sized cookies)
1 1/2 sticks butter (3/4 cup)
1 cup natural peanut butter (peanut butter without added sugar or oil)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt (use only a pinch if the peanut butter is salted)
3 cups flour (we used a finely-ground %100 whole wheat flour)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Add the ingredients in the order listed to a mixing bowl. After each addition, cream the delicious, delicious concoction.  After adding the flour, roll cookie-sized balls of dough in your hands and flatten into a thick disk before placing on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet.  Use a fork to put the traditional crosshatch shape onto each cookie.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until, you guessed it, golden brown.  The cookies will only puff up slightly, but the result is a densely peanut buttery nugget of goodness!

Whole Wheat Pizza and Simple Brussels Sprouts (but not together, thank goodness)

I may be the luckiest person on earth because freshly baked pizza has recently had a habit of popping out of ovens within my general vicinity.  And I didn’t even make it.  I may be responsible for some of the toppings, like capers or olives, but the pizza dough miraculously appears, I swear!  First it was Peter’s experiments with making %100 whole wheat flour pizza (extremely tasty) and then it was the Italian I know inviting us all over armed with the approved list of pizza toppings (including capers and olives, in case there was any doubt).  Before that it was too many pizza parties to count, although the most memorable was before we owned a pizza peel and Peter dropped an entire pizza between the oven and oven door; it slid down that pesky crack at the base of the oven door, oozing cheese and sauce all over the kitchen floor.  Lovely, I know.  But might I add that there were volunteers to eat the pizza even after it’s great escape?

This should really be a guest post by Peter, as his pizza skills far exceed my own, but as his research lab is currently holding him hostage, I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with me.  Our favorite pizza dough recipe involves letting the dough sit overnight, but I have no idea what Peter does to make it turn out so well, I’ll stick to the Joy of Cooking recipe that only takes a couple hours. But before all that, a word must be said about toppings.  Unlike my Italian friend, I am in support of extreme experimentation, although some of the best pizzas of my life were absurdly simple: think sauce, cheese, basil, tomato.  Here is a partial list of those toppings that rock my socks:

  • Tomato sauce
  • Cheese: mozzarella, grated parmesan, goat cheese, blue cheese
  • Fresh tomatoes
  • Grilled veggies such as zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, and onions
  • Caramelized onions
  • Arugula, spinach, or fresh herbs
  • Sliced sausage
  • Capers, olives, and artichoke hearts
  • Roasted red peppers

Simple Pizza Dough from Joy of Cooking (with the simple suggestion of less salt!)
(2 ~12 inch pizzas)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
1 1/3 cups warm water
3 1/2 cups flour (we have successfully used %100 finely-ground whole wheat flour)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoons salt (the original recipes calls for 1 teaspoon, which is too salty!)
1 tablespoon honey (or sugar, but honey goes well with whole wheat flour)

Step 1)  Mix the yeast with warm water in a large mixing bowl and let sit for 5 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, then knead for 10 minutes; the final dough will be nice and smooth.  Put the dough in a clean bowl that has been coated with olive oil and cover the dough with a light layer of olive oil by turning it around in the bowl.  Then cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let sit about an hour or more until the dough has doubled in volume.  The whole wheat flour version of this dough never seems to rise as much, but that’s ok.

Step 2)  Put a baking stone in the oven, if using, and preheat to 475 degrees F (the pizza stone will need at least half an hour to warm up).  Since it always takes me a bit of time to put toppings together (grating cheese, making sauce, cooking sausages), you could do this now while the dough is rising.

Step 3)  Now return to the dough, punching it down and separating it into two balls.  Let the two balls of dough rest for another 15 minutes or so, covered in damp towels or plastic wrap.  Then roll each ball of dough into 12-inch wide circles and place them on a well floured surface, either on a pizza peel (you’ll have to bake them one at a time on the baking stone) or on baking sheets.  If the dough is difficult to stretch into a 12-inch wide circle, let it rest for a couple minutes in a semi-stretched state, and then it should be easier to work with.  Once the dough is rolled out, let it sit for another 10 minutes.

Step 4)  At this point we usually pre-bake the dough for about 5 minutes, which makes it easier to use a pizza peel to transfer the pizza plus toppings onto the pizza stone.  Then top the pizza with delicious things and bake each pizza for 5 minutes if pre-baked and 10 minutes if not.  Enjoy!

Brussels sprouts are now in season here, and many tempting recipes have been peering out of the internets at me, just begging to be made.  All I normally do is to steam them and then saute them in a bit of butter, with a dash of salt and pepper.  Their outer leaves get a bit brown in an oh-so-pleasing way.

There were also the peanut butter cookies that were, I hesitate to say terrible, but certainly my least favorite.  I will now suggest what every person in their right mind should do right now: bake these peanut butter fudge brownies instead.  They are incredible.  They are actually beyond incredible, more like a peak at that yonder world of infinite delight for good people.  But you don’t have to be good to eat these.  In fact, I’m a bit worried, after reading the ingredients list, that they are only made by people with no sense of morality (yes, Jen, that’s you) because I’ve been craving these chocolate peanut butter bombs every moment since I learned of their fleeting existence.  Here are some photos of deceptively tolerable peanut butter cookies to distract you from the epiphany of peanut butter fudge brownies.  You will need them!


Black Sticky Gingerbread Cake

The motivation for making what may seem like a rather complicated gingerbread cake (it calls for blackstrap molasses, honey, and mascobado sugar) was both the beautiful, and mouthwatering, photos on 101 Cookbooks and the Amazon reviews of the cookbook from whence the recipe originated: In the Sweet Kitchen.  Like the Gingerbread People recipe we made before Christmas, this gingerbread cake starts by melting butter and a number of sweeteners together in a pot to create the most delicious holiday aroma, and perhaps the main reason why I seem to be obsessed with ginger and molasses combinations this year.

Since I followed the recipe from 101 Cookbooks almost exactly, I would recommend consulting it for a more detailed discussion of good pan sizes, for example.  The first time I used a bundt pan because Peter’s parents have such things and I had never used one before (laugh all you want about me being excited about baking a cake in a new shaped pan, but there it is).  The second time I made a small cake in a parchment paper lined glass pan and a heart-shaped cake in a spring-form pan.  Merry cake-making!

Black Sticky Gingerbread
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup water
3/4 cups blackstrap molasses
3/4 cups honey
1 cup packed mascobado sugar (or very dark sugar)
3 cups white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter a bundt pan or butter and line a 13×9 pan with parchment paper.  Melt the butter, water, molasses, honey, and sugar in a pot large enough to mix all the ingredients in (a small to medium pot) on low heat, just until the butter melts.  Let it cool while you mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves).  When the molasses mixture is room temperature (or at least body temperature), add the eggs one by one and then add the milk, mixing well.  Fold in the dry ingredients and mix with a whisk to get out most of the clumps (some clumps are ok).  Add the fresh ginger and mix.  Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 45-60 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed lightly.  Check the cake for doneness after 45 minutes.  After the cake is out of the oven for 10 minutes, transfer it to a cooling rack, or plan to serve it in the cake pan.  This cake can be refrigerated and then just brought to room temperature before serving.  As with all cakes this delicious and interesting by themselves, a bit of whipped cream, with or without boozy additions, would be an excellent topping.

The first time we made this gingerbread we forgot to add baking soda (there were a lot of exciting things going on simultaneously), and guess what?  It was still delicious!  Closer to a gingermousse cake than a gingerbread, perhaps, but at least it came out cleanly from the bundt pan.