We have spoiled our kids and grandchildren with all the indulging goodies during the holiday season; and they loved it. Now, we feel guilty to cut them out from their lunch box completely; however, logic tells us that we cannot and should not continue to pamper them with high-sugar content snacks for the rest of the year (although, I am sure they will not object to it).
After a long day of thinking about how to select a middle road, I came up with a genius idea. Most kids love that simplest of treats, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. According to the National Peanut Board, the average kid eats 1500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating high school.
I decided to channel the essence of the peanut butter and jelly (PB&J) into an even more delicious peanut butter and jelly cookie. This combines a healthy snack that is packed with many of the important B-complex vitamins and antioxidants, with the need to satisfy the cravings for sweets.
What goes better with peanut butter than chocolate? We all know by now the many health benefits of dark chocolate. There is a growing credible scientific evidence that dark chocolate has a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing chemicals, with benefits to both the body and mind. Chocolate cookies would be my sandwich bread.
I thought it would be easy, but I should have known better: just because something is simple it does not necessarily mean easy.
Interestingly, the “PB&J” got its first start not as a treat but as a desperation meal.
In the Depression, meat was hard to come by. Peanut butter had been a delicacy served in high-end restaurants until the 1920’s, when mass production brought down the price. Also invented in the 1920’s—pre-sliced white bread. Presto—when times were tough, peanut butter sandwiches proved the perfect protein solution. Peanut butters of this time were even stickier than today, so jams or jelly made it easier to eat, as well as offering what every child wants, sweet.
But the peanut butter and jelly sandwich only really made it when it received the blessing of the U.S. military. In World War II, the military used peanut butter as a cheap protein alternative, which when combined with wheat bread, makes a complete protein. Jelly was added to make it easier to eat. Meanwhile, back home, peanut butter was one of the few protein sources that weren’t subject to rationing. What started, as a necessity became habit and then affection. In the postwar years, the PB&J became the cultural icon it remains today.
For my first attempt at PB&J cookies, the cookies spread too much (apparently too much sugar) and lacked flavor. The peanut butter took control over the taste and texture. (I was so disappointed that I forgot to photograph the “ill” cookies). Nevertheless, I was ready for the improved batch.
Of course, I was going over the recipe and the method of preparation to find the source of the problem. The first thing I came up with (aside from the too much sugar) is the store-bought peanut butter (I used Jiffy). I also have to tell you that somehow during my traveling around I lost my scale and I did not have a chance to replace it yet.
I decided to buy a more expensive “au natural” organic peanut butter for my next batch. This one had the oil separated from the mixture, kind of floating on the top. I knew that I can mix it and most likely it will be creamy and taste “peanut buttery” with a touch of creamy milk chocolate.
Two things happened: first, I had a hard time to mix the oil and the peanut butter and most likely I did not mix the two well. Second, the baked cookies’ texture was too hard almost immediately after cooling. The next day, I needed a good set of teeth to be able to take a bite. I did not think that it is for children (especially young ones) with their primary teeth.
There could be a number of reasons for cookies to become tough (and that could be discussed in a separate report), but Good Housekeeping advocates placing a slice of bread into the jar where you keep the cookies to soften them. I question this method because I am not sure what else the bread will do to the cookies.
Although they did not look over baked, I cannot thing that anything else could have caused the over hardening. I also should have remember that in convection oven, what I used this time, you need to cut the baking time.
This time, however, I photographed some of the cookies, because they looked so nice and I worked hard to create a design on half of the cookies, so that when I made them into a sandwich, the design would add another attractive touch for the kids.
In the next batch I did not change any of the ingredients; I used the home-made peanut butter butter cream for filling (see recipe at the end of the post) and watched the baking time very carefully.
When I took out the first batch from the oven, I looked at he cookies, then I looked up and whispered: Thank you…
These cookies not only looked attractive but tasted delicious with the roasted peanuts giving them a bit of a spicy touch. I went on to create as many varieties as I had strength to do (after the long hours I worked the entire day) by playing with the fillings.
Here are some of my creative productions:
- Some had a layer of raspberry jam on top of the homemade peanut butter butter cream for fillings between two cookies (first photograph below);
- Some cookies had a layer of homemade peanut butter butter cream as a filling between two cookies topped with a layer of raspberry jam sandwiched with a third cookie (second photograph below);
- Other variation included a sandwich cookie with peanut butter butter cream swirled with jam.
- A unique presentation included a “real” triple-decker cookie that contained 6 cookies: first cookie was spread with the pure peanut butter butter cream topped with a cookie that was spread with pure strawberry jelly and sandwiched with another cookie that had peanut butter butter cream swirled strawberry jelly sandwiched with another cookie. I forgot to mention that all cookies were dusted with powdered sugar for attractive presentation (third photograph below).
Finally I went with chocolate butter cookies for the “bread.” I used non-dutch-processed cocoa powder for the chocolate flavor, but this time I added roughly ground roasted peanuts to the dough, to give it a little crunch and more peanut flavor without affecting the color.
To make things a little more interesting, I used a boat-shaped tartlet pan as a cookie cutter. This also gave it a little more of a loaf-like appearance. In addition, I successfully used roasted peanuts to make my own peanut butter butter cream. (recipe below). I roasted the peanuts myself and used the coffee grinder for grinding the peanuts. Finally, I topped the cookies with a touch of coarse sea salt before baking.
The result, I think, was a PB&J extravaganza fit for a young prince or princess. The soft, melting texture of the cookie is reminiscent of Wonderbread, albeit denser and far more flavorful. The smooth succulent combination of homemade peanut butter and unsalted butter mixed with sugar is irresistible. And the salty top accentuates the salty-sweet combination that defines the peanut butter sandwich. Yummy!
1. Butter Cookies with Ground Roasted Salted Peanuts, Sandwiched with Peanut Butter Cream, and Raspberry Jam
- 8 Tablespoons (4 oz.) softened, sweet butter
- 1/2 cup (3.5 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (3.0 oz.) light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 cup (all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup shelled salted, roasted peanuts, roughly ground
Creamy Peanut Butter
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Butter a parchment paper and line the baking sheet with it with the buttered side up.
- In a bowl, cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until the mixture is light in color and fluffy in texture.
- Add the vanilla extract and egg. Beat well.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold it with a wooden spoon
- Lastly add the ground peanuts and blend well.
- Drop rounded tablespoons of the batter about 2 inches apart, onto the buttered parchment paper (or use Silpat). Flatten the dough with the back of a tablespoon and make a small hole in the middle with the tip of a knife (only half of the cookies).
- Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes, or until they are light brown and cool them on a rack.
- Spread one cookie with store-bought, smooth peanut butter and top the peanut butter with another cookie that has a hole.
- Sift powdered sugar on the sandwiched cookie for presentation.
2. Chocolate Butter Cookie Sandwich with Roasted Peanuts and Homemade Peanut Butter Butter Cream
- 8 ounce (2 sticks) sweet, unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup (1.5 oz) non-dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 cup (7 oz.) Bakers sugar (granulated is fine too)
- 2 large eggs and 1 egg yolk
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (no imitation)
- 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
- 2 ¼ cup (11.25 oz.) all-purpose flour, sift it after measuring
- Zest of 1 orange (use your finest zester)
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1-cup (6 oz.) raw peanuts roast them for 10 minutes in a 350F oven; once cooled, grind them roughly.
- Place the oven rack to the middle position;
- Heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the cocoa powder and stir until mixture forms smooth paste. Set aside.
- Mix the remaining (12 tablespoons) butter, sugar, salt, and cooled cocoa mixture with either a standing or a hand-held mixer until well combined and fluffy (it may take 2-3 minutes).
- Add the eggs and the egg yolk and mix to incorporate the eggs well
- Add the vanilla and almond (optional) extracts, orange juice and orange zest and mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined (about 1 minute)
- Add flour in three additions, waiting until each addition is incorporated before adding the next.
- Lastly fold the roughly ground peanuts into the dough.
- Continue to mix until the dough forms a cohesive ball.
- Turn dough onto a lightly dusted counter, (do not worry if you will lose some peanuts during this process) divide into two and form it into a disk shape.
- Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and a foil wrap.
- Refrigerate until dough is firm yet malleable (about 1 hour)
- Alternatively, you can shape the dough into a log (2 inches in diameter and about 12 inches long) use parchment paper or plastic wrap to roll into a neat cylinder. (Chill until very firm and cold, at least 1 hour.)
- Roll out one dough disk between 2 large sheets of parchment paper to even thickness of 3/16 inch. (If the dough becomes too soft and sticky, slide rolled dough on parchment onto baking sheet and re-chill until firm (about 15 minutes.)
- Peel the parchment from one side of dough and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters (I used a boat-shaped tartlet pan for interesting presentation for the kids)
- Place the cut cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet (I used Silpat; I love to work with them. Easy to use, easy to clean) spacing them about 1 inch apart.
- Gather the dough scraps and chill, and then continue to use it as above (For the cylinder-shaped dough, simply slice the cookies 1/4 inch thick and place them on parchment-lined baking sheets.)
- Sprinkle a touch of sea salt on the top of cookies, before baking
- Bake until the cookies show slight resistance to touch (about 10 to 12 minutes), rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking time; always err on under baking vs. over baking. NOTE: if the cookies become too dark on edges, they have been over baked.
- Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the remaining dough disks and scraps, re-rolling scraps just once (NOTE: do not re-roll more than one more time; the cookies will become too hard if worked-on too many times).
- Decorate as desired.
Ingredients for Peanut Butter Butter Cream
- 1 cup roasted peanuts (about 6 oz.)
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil (you can use other nut oil, like walnut, or almond); do not use olive oil.
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) salted butter
- ½ cup (3.5 oz.) granulated sugar
Method of Preparation
- Grind the roasted peanuts finely (it should start to be a paste); you can either use a food processor, or a coffee grinder. If your Food Processor is a powerful one, it should do a good job. My processor was not good enough, so I used the coffee grinder.
- Add the 1-tablespoon oil and mix it well. If it is still too stiff, add another tablespoon of oil and mix it well.
- Add the sugar and continue to mix it well in the food processor. You do not want to feel the sugar pieces in it.
- Lastly add the softened butter and mix it well. Keep it refrigerated.
Assemble the Sandwich Cookies
- Take one cookie and spread the peanut butter butter cream on its underside to the thickness of your desire; place another cookie with the underside touching the butter cream.
- Decorate he top as you wish. I just used the peanut butter butter cream brush stroke.
- Let me know if you decided to bake both, or one of the recipes of the cookies. I’d love to learn how they came out? How you and the kids liked them? Would you make them again?
We will have a cookie contest again later this year. You may want to experiment with various recipes until then.