Taste a Classic: Grandma’s Peanut Butter Cookies

Crisp, Light, and Perfect

When I was a kid, we ended every family dinner with dessert. Cake or cupcakes perhaps, or maybe ice cream or sherbet, pudding, jello, or the occasional pie. But we seldom had cookies for dessert. If we did, it was because my mom just couldn’t get a real dessert ready that night. Cookies were strictly for snacks or lunchbox fare. Not worthy of the dinner spotlight.

Flash forward. As is true for many of us these days, I don’t have dessert on a regular basis. People these days are a lot more conscious of nutrition and more mindful of sugar consumption—and their waistlines.

But when I do have a treat at the end of a meal, especially at home, there’s a very good chance it will be a cookie. That’s because cookies are the perfect dessert.

Cookies are accessible—that’s part of their allure. Maybe that’s what kept them off my family dinner table. They’re easy to serve and to eat; you don’t have cut them up or scoop them into a bowl. You don’t even need to eat them with utensils or off of a plate. They kind of sneak up on you; they’re not showy. They’re the Tom Hanks of desserts.

Cookies can be light as air and or rich and gooey. They can be sweet and buttery or fragrant with spice. Easily portable, endlessly variable, cookies have become my specialty since I started baking. They are beyond a doubt my most eagerly requested treat.

Chocolate chip cookies were my Baking 101. I made them the way my mom did; she followed the Toll House recipe and used salted butter instead of unsalted. Over the years I’ve made some tweaks that include using half salted, half unsalted butter, mixing toffee bits in with the chocolate chips, and chilling the dough before baking. They’re really good.

Every season I try out at least one new cookie recipe. I’ve assembled a roster of favorites that includes snickerdoodles, lemon creams, and molasses spice cookies. I’ve wanted to add a peanut butter cookie to my repertoire and made Edna Lewis’s Boiled Peanut Butter Cookies. They’re good (and gluten-free), and kind of a cross between candy and cookie. I wanted to try a more traditional recipe, as well.

Some years back Lake Isle Press published the revered baking bible, “Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book.” What better source for a classic peanut butter cookie? The book is beloved for its dependable modern adaptions of vintage American baking recipes. I thought it would be fun to dive into a taste of the past, and tried Jim’s recipe for Grandma’s Peanut Butter Cookies.

They’re easy to make, and they came out perfectly, though mine were a little bigger than advised. (Scroll down for the recipe.) The recipe suggests a yield of three dozen cookies, I wound up with a little over two dozen. I guess I wasn’t too good at eyeballing what two inches in diameter should look like. I’ll try making them a little smaller next time.

But the larger size didn’t seem to impact the flavor. They have a delicate peanut butter taste and a firm but light texture. I usually go for chewy cookies, but I really enjoyed these-substantial, a touch crispy, but not at all dry.

My mom didn’t start baking her chocolate chips until I was well into my teens, maybe even older. So I didn’t grow up eating homemade cookies; we tended to eat generic store brands. Another reason, perhaps, for our family’s dismissal of the splendidness that is the cookie. I’m older now, and oh so much wiser. Pass me the milk?

Grandma’s Peanut Butter Cookies

Click here for printable version

This recipe is tried and true and very old-fashioned. The use of cornstarch makes these especially crisp, and the crosshatch design pressed into the top of each cookie with a fork is a sure sign of a real peanut butter cookie.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup chunky peanut butter

1. Evenly space two racks in the oven and preheat to 350°F.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch, and baking soda.

3. In a large mixing bowl, with a handheld electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar and the brown sugar. Add the egg, salt, and vanilla; beat until thick and light, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the peanut butter. With a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients to make a moist dough that can be pressed together.

4. Using 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough for each cookie, roll the dough into balls between the palms of your hands (they will be about 1 1/4 inches in diameter). Place them on ungreased baking sheets, leaving 2 1/2 to 3 inches between them. Dip a fork in sugar and press it on top of each cookie in two directions to make a crisscross design, dipping fork back in sugar after each pressing. The cookies should be 2 inches in diameter after pressing. Bake about 12 minutes, until light golden brown around the edges. With a spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack and cool to room temperature.

Reprinted from “Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book” by Jim Fobel, published by Lake Isle Press, 1996

Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on June 24, 2020.

Dara O’Brien is the Creative Director of Lake Isle Press. When she isn’t cooking or writing about cookbooks, she writes plays and sometimes acts in them.

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