Memories of countries and cities I’ve visited are strongly intertwined with my culinary experiences there. Whenever I’m asked about my trip to Cuba, memories of the music, culture and politics, the beauty of the countryside, the cars, and the buildings are always drowned by the paddies of rice starch dotted with beans which faced me every meal time. The lone cylinder of “Master Potato Crisps” (lesser Pringles), furry with dust, which commanded an entire shelf in an embargo-challenged grocery store emerged as a perverse highlight.
I will never be able mentally to separate Canada from the oozing, sticky-sweet clasp of a particular Toronto cinnamon bun (it may have been preceded by some, but its superiority has eradicated all past and future competition). New York is always a complete sensory overload: last year I ate overtime to cram Lebanese, Thai, raw vegan, Chinese, Italian, modern European, American, French, Greek, Mexican, and Brazilian into five days - delicious and, arguably, gluttonous. Yet, despite this mammoth accomplishment, one of the most outstanding of the culinary delights I’ve sampled there is something rather less exotic: the peanut butter cookie. It may be humble in name, maybe in appearance too, but it is most certainly not humble in nature. The source of this ambrosia is the well-established City Bakery, off Union Square, known best for its croissant pretzels, seductively viscous hot chocolate and, of course, its peanut butter cookies -crumbly on the outside and soft and chewy in the interior, with salty and sweet in fine-tuned balance creating an insatiable desire for more.
At brunch a couple of weekends ago, one of my friends confessed her current obsession: sneaking off to her kitchen cupboard armed with a bread stick to pair with that American favourite of jam and peanut butter.
The memory of the palate-coating, salty-sweetness of the City Bakery peanut butter cookies reasserted itself. Over the next week it took up stubborn residence, so I made up my own. They worked. I know this because I made them twice: I left the first batch out to cool, exited the kitchen for 10 minutes, and when I returned, they were gone, my brother unabashedly dusting the last few crumbs off his sweater. With family members temporarily banished from the kitchen, the second batch survived long enough to be photographed. Although delicious on their own, I sandwiched mine with raspberry jam to offset the sweet salty nuttiness with a little tang. Julia D. you are to blame for this recipe (and it is, indeed, dedicated to you).
Often cookie recipes frustratingly demand that the dough is chilled before baking. These can be made, baked and eaten in 20 minutes - no torturous chilling necessary.
Ingredients (makes 34 individual cookies)
115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
190g granulated sugar
60g light brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
250g smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
140g white spelt flour (or plain flour)
150g raspberry jam (optional)
2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment
- Preheat oven to 180˚C.
- In a mixer (or by hand), cream together butter, granulated sugar, light brown sugar and salt until pale and fluffy. Mix in peanut butter, egg and vanilla extract until fully combined. Gently stir in the flour.
- In the palms of your hands, roll a tablespoon of the mixture at a time to form 4cm spheres. Space them out on the tray. When the mixture is used up, gently press a fork into the spheres to flatten them and form a criss-cross pattern as pictured.
- Bake in oven for 12-14 minutes until slightly golden and still soft to touch. Allow to cool slightly before sandwiching each pair together with a teaspoon of raspberry jam.