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One of the cookies always in Grammy’s Christmas tins were a peanut-butter-and-chocolate combination. They were sparkly cookies: Grammy rolled the unbaked cookies in granulated sugar.

You know, I never really liked those cookies.

It was not until I started to play around with them that I realized why. Even for a Christmas cookie — in the season where too much sugar is not enough — these cookies were too sweet. And the chocolate was not good. Grammy used Hershey’s Kisses, big sweet milk chocolate blobs. If a cookie was on the small side, you really just got a Kiss with a bit of dough. Not satisfying on the cookie front, and certainly — with apologies to those who just love Hershey’s Kisses — not satisfying on the chocolate front.

Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chipsSo I messed with the remembered cookie. I used natural peanut butter — chunky — instead of creamy Skippy peanut butter. That cut the sweetness considerably, and upped the peanutty goodness. Sugar on the outside? Gone. And the chocolate? Ghirardelli 60 percent chips, a surprisingly good bittersweet chip that has the bonus feature of being a bit bigger than semisweet chips. I happen to be able to get these at my Whole Foods; if you can’t find Ghirardelli, see what you can find in bittersweet. Because one chip was just NOT enough, I lined up three, making the cookies look like little shirt-fronts with buttons.

What we have now is a bit of a grown-up version of Gram’s standard — less sugary, a bit crunchier, better flavor and fun to look at. And I can hear Grammy saying, “now these are interesting.”

Peanut Butter Buttons from Baking Family

Peanut Butter Buttons

If you have a Kitchenaid mixer, use it for this recipe; if you don’t have a mixer, make sure the peanut butter and butter are very soft (or that you really like a mixing arm-workout).

Makes about 6 dozen

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup good peanut butter (natural and unsweetened, if you have it)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, peanut butter, the sugars, eggs and vanilla; work until fluffy and well blended. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; first combine gently to keep from spilling, then mix well.

Pinch off 1-inch blobs of dough, and using your palms, roll the dough into balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Transfer cookie sheet to oven and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until cookies are just beginning to brown. Remove sheets from the oven, and immediately press three chips into each cookie. Let cookies cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container; they will keep for several days, and can be shipped.

My grandmother was born in 1900, and lived through several wars as well as the Great Depression. Though her family seemed consistently insulated from the worst, Grammy was a product of the messages of her time: She threw nothing away. When it came to kitchen drawers, that meant she had little scraps of tinfoil, rubber bands and glass containers lurking everywhere. When it came to food, there was no way Grammy was chucking the egg yolks when she made an angel-food cake, or the whites when she made custard sauce. Her collected recipes complement each other: The yin of yolk usage fits with the yang of a recipe employing whites. Meringues — whether as surprise cookies like these or just plain crisp meringue — were a stalwart repository for left-over egg whites. (A richer white-catcher is Titusville Cream Custard.)

Surprise Meringue Cookies from Baking FamilyThe “surprise” in these meringue cookies are mini chocolate chips and pecans. When I made the cookies recently, I followed Gram’s instructions — and ended up with something so sticky that I couldn’t get it past my molars. What’s more, the chocolate and nuts were lost in the meringue’s marshmallow.

So I upped the cooking time substantially, lowering the oven temperature to dry out rather than brown up the meringues. Divine. A whisper of crunchy meringue, grounded by chocolate and nuanced by nuts.

And next up? The custard sauce that I made out of the leftover yolks.

Surprise Meringue Cookies

If you are using a dark cookie sheet, drop the cooking temperature by 25 degrees and keep an eye on the bottoms of your cookies so they don’t get too brown.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

  • 3 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add vanilla and salt. Continue beating while gradually adding sugar until mixture is thick and glossy. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by heaping teaspoonsful onto lined cookie sheets. Bake for 55 minutes or until dry to the touch and browned on top.

Recipe and photograph copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Most of Grammy’s recipes are not detailed. Yes, they list all the ingredients, though sometimes in the text rather than the way we’re used to seeing them now, all lined up at the top of the recipe. And yes, there are usually directions — often vague on cooking times, pan type or size, or special mixing needs. So when I came across a recipe for Helen Witty’s Blonde Brownies in the typed parchment sheaf, I was curious. This recipe was remarkably detailed, with three whole paragraphs of instructions. Hmmm. Was this really a Grammy recipe?

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