The cookie is an unusual specimen here in the UK. You see, we already had the biscuit. They have their similarities – the crunch and chew as you bite into it, the crumbs spraying down your front, the urge to dunk an edge in your cup of tea – but when you compare the digestive, or worse, the rich tea to the American chocolate chunk cookie, you wonder if they are the same species let alone made from the same ingredients.
I remember my first taste of an American cookie, aged five. It was my first trip to the US and we were driving along the Maine coast when my mum passed my sister and I a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies. Their iconic white paper bag holds so many memories for me as when I bit into the soft, crumbly, chewy texture of this unknown biscuit-shaped-item, I was in cookie nirvana. Maybe that was the sheer ecstasy of a sugar-packed snack as, quite frankly, the biscuits here don’t offer the same sensation. I was accustomed to bourbons, custard creams and pink wafers; all perfectly acceptable during morning break at nursery but, ultimately, disappointing in comparison to this chocolate speckled chewy entity. What does the pink wafer even taste of anyway?
Nigel Slater accurately describes Britain as the ‘everyday biscuit capital of the world’ and who could beg to differ with our array of chocolate digestives and fig rolls, hob nobs and gingernuts. We know a good biscuit – we are the nation that could tell you without a doubt when a digestive biscuit is stale, can detect when the crunch and snap of a gingernut is less pronounced than usual, every time we eat a Jaffa Cake we engage in that eternal debate, and we then house them all muddled together in the barrelled biscuit tin with its cherry-shaped handle.
So now enter the American cookie and all the possibilities it brings. Although British biscuits offer jams, cremes and chocolate coatings, the cookie is far bigger, it contains solid lumps of chocolate, and flavour concepts are seemingly endless. Instead of ‘generic sweet flavour’ you have oatmeal raisin, macadamia, cinnamon sugar, peanut butter, and any creme filling flavour under the sun – take your bow, double-stuffed red velvet. From a world of pink wafers all these options can seem a little overwhelming. What we all really want is just squishy, sticky and soft, scented with brown sugar and vanilla, some thick chunks of chocolate, and everything else is incidental. These peanut butter morsels define all I want from a cookie. However, the incidentals prove to be quite crucial.
These cookies are packed full of peanut butter, garnished with a sprinkling of salt, and are a harmonious balance of salty and sweet, stodgy and crunchy, making them undeniably moreish until you realise you’ve eaten three in a row and you really should stop. Unlike most biscuits these don’t contain any flour and are solely made with peanut butter, brown sugar, vanilla and eggs, thus creating a flawlessly fudgy texture. The recipe calls for smooth peanut butter, however, a mixture of smooth and crunchy adds a few surprise nuggets of peanut amidst the chocolate shards. The chocolate needs to be dark – rich and slightly bitter – to offset the salty sweet cookie batter. Four ingredients and you have the perfect cookie.
Peanut butter cookies
Adapted from Ovenly’s recipe
If you’d like to add some crunchy nuts replace 100g smooth peanut butter with crunchy.
335g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g smooth peanut butter
100g dark chocolate
Sea salt to garnish
- Whisk the sugar and eggs together in a bowl until well combined. Add the vanilla and peanut butter then beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until thick, sticky and smooth.
- Roughly chop the chocolate into shards and stir into the batter.
- Put the bowl in the fridge and chill for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F and line a couple of trays with baking parchment.
- Using a tablespoon, scoop out golf ball-sized pieces of dough. Roll in your hands and gently squash on the baking tray. Repeat with all the mixture keeping the cookies apart by a couple of inches – these cookies don’t expand as much in the oven as others do. Sprinkle the cookies with a pinch of salt.
- Slide the trays into the oven and bake for 20 minutes until they are a deeper shade of gold, and slightly paler in the centre. Place on a cooling rack until cold – it’s not easy but worth it. (Although they are delicious with the hot molten chocolate.)