On Monday we made ~ My Favorite Sugar Cookie: The Snickerdoodle ~, then, on Wednesday we made ~ My Favorite Spice-y Cookie is: The Ginger Snap ~. Both recipes can be found in Category 7, and they are from my very 1st cookbook: a bridal shower gift to me 'way back when' in 1974!
Snickerdoodles (pictured above) and gingersnaps (pictured here) are referred to as "drop cookies". They are made by dropping uniform sized pieces of dough onto a baking pan. They are not fancy or gourmet (and I don't care for versions of recipes that try to make them so). They are the kind your mom and grandmom had waiting on the kitchen table with a glass of milk for you and your friends afterschool. The kind you grab on your way in the door or out the door. The kind you love to dunk in your coffee at breakfast or a glass of milk at the end of a long, hard day!
Today, T.G.I.F., I'm making peanut butter cookies. The ones with the signature criss-cross fork marks on top. Why bake cookies in mid-May? We've had a cold-snap here in Central Pennsylvania: 40-degree temperatures (which I dislike), with lots of rain (which I admit we need). Cold and damp gave me the perfect excuse to preheat my oven. The thermometer is predicted to go into the 70's tomorrow, so, look for me to head outside to the garden and the grill this weekend!
Why did I choose the peanut butter cookie as my third "cookie of my youth" this week instead of the chocolate chip cookie?
That is what my husband Joe wanted to know. My answer is simple: The peanut butter cookie came first in American history. Peanuts are native to the Americas (chocolate chips are not), and, hundreds of years ago, the Aztecs were pulverizing them into a pasty, edible substance. The transition from peanut paste to peanut butter was the gradual result of modern processing, which added oil to the paste to achieve a smoother, spreadable product which traveled well.
In a nutshell, here's a brief, historical timeline which explains it all (or most of it):
1895: Dr. John Kellogg patented a process for preparing nut meal (which included peanuts) and served it as a health food to his wealthy patients at his Battle Creek, MI, sanitarium.
1897: Popular Science News, under "Recent Inventions", proclaims that peanut butter could be used in recipes as shortening, in place of butter and/or lard.
1890's: (Similar to Dr. Kellogg) Dr. Ambrose Strab, in St. Louis, MO, provides peanut butter to his poor, toothless, elderly patients, as a souce of protien that didn't require them to chew...
1903: ... after years of work, Dr. Ambrose Strab patents his peanut-butter-making machine.
1904: Peanut butter was featured at the St. Louis World's Fair and soon afterword Beech-Nut and Heinz introduced it nationally, but, because it did not travel well, it needed to be produced regionally.
1910's-1920's: The hydrogenation process was developed. Hydrogenation raised the melting point of peanut butter, so that it remained solid at room temperature (it stopped the separation of the oil from the solids), which gave it a long shelf life. Peanut butter began being mass-manufactured and sold, in both smooth and crunchy form, in glass jars, by companies like Peter Pan and Jif. It quickly became a staple in American kitchens and lunch boxes.
1916: An issue of The Reading Eagle (Pennsylvania), published an article entitled, "Some of Mrs. Wilson's Favorite Recipes: The President's Wife Gives Hints on Cooking", which included a list of cookie recipes, one of which was a recipe for for Peanut Cookies that included peanut butter (and no chopped peanuts).
1930: Mrs. Wakefield accidentally invented the chocolate-chip cookie by substituting a chopped up Nestle chocolate bar for nuts in her cookies (because she ran out of nuts in her pantry). She expected the chocolate to melt (to form a chocolate cookie), but it did not, it stayed in chunks. She published her recipe in 1936. Nestle bought it from her in 1939 (for a lifetime supply of chocolate) and printed it on the back of their package.
1936: The Pillsbury Cookbook published their recipe for peanut butter cookies and introduced the famous and beloved criss-cross fork pattern on top of the cookies. The rest is history.
Did you know: Peanut butter contains neither nuts nor butter. Peanuts are legumes (seed pod plants that split up along both sides when ripe), just like beans, lentils, peas and soybeans!
Let's move on and bake some American cookie history:
1/4 cup butter-flavored shortening, at room temperature
3/4 cup chunky-style peanut butter, your favorite brand
1/2 cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped (chop after measuring)
1/4 cup additional granulated sugar
~ Step 1. Chop the peanuts as directed. You can use a cutting board and a chef's knife, or, if you have one of these "nifty chopper thingies", now is the time to use it. I chopped all of the peanuts in less than a minute. Note: I do not recommend using a food processor, as it tends to chop them too small, which defeats the purpose of chunky peanut butter cookies!
~ Step 3. On medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, thoroughly combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula as you work, until smooth.
~ Step 5. Place the granulated sugar in a small, shallow bowl and set aside.
Note: Don't have 3 large baking pans? Your option is to coat, put the criss-cross fork marks on top, and bake the cookies in batches, but pans must be completely cool before placing unbaked cookie dough balls on them.
Note: These cookies are going to spread out quite a bit as they bake, so don't be tempted to try to crowd any more on the pan.
Time for the criss-cross fork marks!
~ Step 8. Using an ordinary table fork, press down on the center of each cookie, until it reaches a thickness of about 1/2". Reverse the direction of the fork and repeat. It's sort of like making a tic-tac-toe board on top of each cookie.
Note: If you're inclined to skip this step, don't. Because this dough is so dense, cookies will not flatten on their own and what you'll end up with are cookies that are burnt on the outside and raw in the inside.
~ Step 9. Bake, one pan at a time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until lightly golden, about 10-12 minutes, or until light-golden and set, but not yet firm. Remove from oven and allow to cool, in pan, 5 minutes. Using a thin spatula, transfer cookies to cooling racks to cool completely, about 30-45 minutes:
Note: While the criss-cross pattern is more visible on peanut butter cookies made with smooth peanut butter, I wouldn't trade the look for the taste and texture of these any day of the week!
Special Equipment List: cutting board and chef's knife, or, "nifty chopper thingy"; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; fork; 2 large cooling racks; thin spatula
Cook's Note: I can't write about peanut butter without mentioning this one. If you're looking for another way to get a real-deal peanut butter fix, you can find my recipe for ~ Agnes Starosta's Creamy, Dreamy "Killer" Peanut Butter Fudge ~ in Category 7. This recipe is legendary in our family!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)