Typing this up post-cookie delivery (took the cookies into the office on Friday) while listening to my 2007 Halloween mix CD (a strange mix of Battlestar Galactica soundtrack music, Bollywood music, opera, a dose of the 60s with the Supremes, and other good stuff that seemed relevant to me between late 2006-late 2007 – the Halloween to Halloween period)… it is strange how certain things evoke very specific, almost tactile memories.
Hearing the songs on the mix make me relive the exact moments in which the songs became somehow more important than other songs during the course of that year as well as the whole time-consuming business of choosing the songs and compiling the CD just before Halloween. “Closer” by Low, which closed out the 2007 mix, for example, transports me to my long vacation that autumn… I remember putting my MP3 player on random (thus enabling me to hear a whole lot of stuff I had not heard in a long time, or in some cases, at all). I was feeling miserable, alone, desperate… standing in a rather 1960s-era kitchen in an apartment in central Grenoble (France) doing dishes. I had gone to spend a few weeks with someone there who turned out to be not at all who I believed him to be. And my vacation was spent cooking, cleaning, and doing his errands while he went to work from 0800 to 2100 daily. (Some vacation, eh?) Feeling rather put out, washing dishes, it was the first time I had ever heard the song and I knew immediately that it captured exactly how I had been feeling. (And listening again to the songs that spoke to me then, I realize that I keep repeating the same or similar mistakes!)
I digress. That had almost nothing to do with the peanut butter cookies about which I set out to write. Actually, there is not a lot to write about peanut butter cookies themselves except that being American, a law school dropout and acutely aware of both the litigious nature of my fellow Americans and the whole peanut allergy/sensitivity phenomenon, I contemplate very seriously how wise it is to bake and take peanut-butter-laced baked goods. At the very least, I feel a certain compulsion to post disclaimers and warnings everywhere and take all kinds of crazy steps to keep the PB items from touching other items. No one is nearly as paranoid as I am about this, I guess. But hey, I knew a woman in the US who accepted some popcorn from one of her government agency colleagues and then tried to sue the government because she broke her tooth. (Way to take responsibility!) I really don’t want to get sued for offering people peanut butter cookies. Seriously.
Apart from the apparent menacing dangers of peanuts, most people seem to be firmly on the love or hate side when it comes to peanut butter. Given the passion with which many people (especially Europeans) vilify peanut butter (and the fact that I live mostly among Europeans), the temptation is to just skip anything peanut-butter related. (Peanut butter aficionados are more inclined to argue on the timeless topic: “crunchy versus smooth”.)
Unlike many of the cookies I make regularly, peanut butter cookies are not ones I make very often. I have no explanation for this except perhaps the aforementioned reasons – peanut butter is not universally popular, I don’t want anyone to have an allergic reaction thanks to me, and until a couple of years ago, I could not find a recipe I really liked. I tried many, but they too often turned out very dry (definitely not good).
I set aside these considerations and decided to make the cookies. I almost always bring more than one type of cookie, so it is not as though anyone is stuck with the “peanut butter or nothing” dilemma. Many people (of the few who actually are neutral) go out on a limb and try the peanut butter cookies and find themselves pleasantly surprised. As Sensei Teddy says, “Choice is the greatest liberator.”
PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C
¾ cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, your choice)
½ cup of vegetable shortening (you can use butter or margarine if you prefer or don’t have shortening)
1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons milk (I often use soy milk or even plain yogurt in a pinch)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
Combine peanut butter, shortening, milk, vanilla extract and sugar. Beat until well-blended. Add egg. Combine dry ingredients together and then add that to the creamed mixture. Mix all until blended. Drop a small tablespoon-sized ball of dough (you can do this by hand and roll the ball to make it smoother) on ungreased cookies sheets (I generally line all cookie sheets with parchment/baking paper). Flatten slightly with a fork in a criss-cross pattern and bake. (Sometimes, instead of fork-flattening the cookies, I like to press the dough down by adding a chocolate, such as the Hershey’s Kisses type, in the center. Peanut butter and chocolate make a very nice flavor combination and livens up the cookie. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes.