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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.

Oh my heavens, how could I have just posted Chocolate Coma Cake without its partner in crime? Here you go.

This is the same icing that led to the recent unfortunate icing disaster, but that’s just because I was truly messing with it. Done without fiddling, this icing is foolproof — dark, delicious and easy.
Read the rest of this entry »

My other favorite cake in this book — the best basic yellow cake around — makes two restrained layers. If you’re going for chocolate, however, you might as well jump in with both feet: Three hefty layers, tangy with sour cream and rich with chocolate.

This recipe is mine, not Grammy’s. I handwrote it, years ago, when all my recipes fit into a half-size canvas loose-leaf binder. The title of the recipe started as plain “chocolate cake,” but after a few makings, I amended the title with the word “coma.”

When you serve this, you have about twenty minutes after the cake hits plates until your guests develop glassy stares and conversation lapses into sugar-induced silence. The cake is worth it.

Renee's birthday cake from Baking FamilyBesides pure heft, the advantage of a three-layer cake is that you can get fancy with the icing. The last two times I’ve made this, I’ve put a simple dark chocolate frosting between the layers, then topped the whole thing with white buttercream and used the rest of the chocolate icing to decorate. Fun, and not as complicated as it sounds.

(I almost called the dark-chocolate frosting a “ganache.” Then I realized that at least a few of my dear readers would laugh their heads off if I put “ganache” and “simple” in the same sentence.)

The straight-up way to serve this cake? Just wrap that chocolate frosting all around, inside and out. That’ll give you the full “coma” effect. And your guests — or family or co-workers — will love you for it.

Chocolate Coma Cake from Baking Family

Chocolate Coma Cake

Makes one 9-inch three-layer cake

  • 6 ounces (6 squares) unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour — or butter and line with parchment — three 9-inch cake pans.

Break chocolate into a saucepan and melt over moderate heat; don’t let it boil. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture in three parts, alternating with three parts milk and mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into the pans, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cakes smell good and are springy to the touch. Set pans on racks to cool, then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.

Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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