Surprise, surprise – I was baking yesterday – some crowd favorites like ANZAC biscuits and then some new things, like these Nutella and peanut butter cookies. Since I don’t eat cookies, and even if I did, I despise Nutella and hazelnuts in general, I have no idea what they taste like. I will have to rely on some trusty worker-bee taste testers in the office. While I was making these cookies, though, I did not quite have as much Nutella on hand as the recipe called for but plowed ahead with the recipe, hoping for the best. Amateur bakers (not that I am professional by any means, but I do have experience) would not be wise to try these kinds of maneuvers. To me, it seemed like it would still turn out all right. But this is one of those things that comes only with experience. Then, sometime after I had already baked one tray of them, I realized I had failed to add the egg to the recipe. No wonder the dough was so dry! While I am still uncertain about the final outcome, it should at least be edible.
This made me consider, however, how much for granted I take the baking ability and the knowledge I have accumulated over time. Many people at work have expressed interest in baking for themselves using my recipes. They come to me after their first and sometimes second attempts, disappointed and discouraged that things did not turn out exactly like mine.
What I would advise, though, is that you keep at it. Baking is not difficult, but like everything else in life, it takes a little bit of practice and comparative knowledge to set you on the right course. You did not learn to speak a new language in one day; you did not learn to drive a car in one day. While baking is considerably easier to master than a new language or driving a car, the same principles are at work. You keep trying and start feeling out for yourself what seems like it is going to work for you.
Another point I should make is that there are many factors that can change the composition of what you are baking, so even though you should follow recipes carefully (because baking is a delicate chemical balance) – you need a bit of trial and error to find out, for example, if your oven holds an even temperature throughout the oven or has hot spots in certain places that make cookies burn or brown more quickly on one side than the other. (I have to turn every pan of cookies around once in the middle of baking because the back of the oven is hotter than the front.) Is the temperature setting true to what it says it is? All kinds of things can affect the outcome: the elevation where you live, the moisture in the air, what ingredients you are using, etc. etc. With some patience, time and practice, you will come to a point where you can foresee and handle these things with ease.
Back to the cookies, though. Yes, Nutella and peanut butter.
Nutella is something that strikes me as very European even though it is widely available in the United States as well. I think hazelnuts in general seem more European, in that most European chocolates are tainted (haha) by hazelnut, sometimes even when they are not hazelnut chocolates. Perhaps this European association goes back to my college days when I had the most heartbreaking, massive crush on a European classmate. When our class (which consisted of about five people) went to his apartment once, I saw a number of things littering the kitchen that seemed so “European” (whatever that really meant), the most prominent being this giant jar of Nutella. I remember his disappearing to another room in the apartment and then coming back and touching my cheek and saying, “Don’t be sad, sweetheart.” I don’t remember what I was sad about, but I clearly remember the moment and how it just made me feel worse. (Also, and perhaps unrelated, he was married and an incorrigible flirt.) For me, Nutella is very much this moment in my memory. (So many of the most vivid memories of having intense feelings come before the age of 20; it is like I became a cynical, jaded lady at 21.)
And now the recipe:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup Nutella
1/4 cup peanut butter, I used crunchy peanut butter, but this might be better using smooth
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar, for rolling
Whisk together the dry ingredients a medium bowl. In another bowl, beat butter, 1/2 cup sugar, Nutella, and peanut butter until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until just blended. Beat in dry ingredients (give it maybe half a minute, you don't want to overmix).
Place 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into small balls; roll in sugar. Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet; slightly flatten. Preheat the oven to 350F. (You can also wrap the dough and chill it for a while if you are not ready to bake immediately.)
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on pan for 2 minutes then place cookies on wire rack; cool completely.
(Opinions and maybe more pictures later.)