Tuesday, 11 October 2011

pb and chocolate chip cookies

just out of the oven
peanut butter and i were lovers at first bite. 

we first met out of a skippy jar, the one with the turquoise sticker and turquoise cap. the one that called itself creamy. this particular jar had traveled all the way from the land of uncle sam in a huge carton packed with other fun things, for instance toys that had been neatly adapted for water fights so that i had a calculator that squirted water when you'd press its buttons. this was all courtesy of my baba who was away in missouri on a training course. i think there may have been a barbie in there too. although the recollection of the barbie is hazy, the jar of skippy creamy peanut butter and a candy bar called payday, a contrast of salted peanuts held together by a very chewy caramel have held sway over my memory. perhaps this is because my meeting with peanut butter was the beginning of an enduring relationship. 

see, when i first tried peanut butter it was a novelty in pakistan. i am talking about the late eighties and early nineties in pakistan when things like kelloggs frosties, cans of olives, tinned tuna and sardines and olive oil were bought from diplomatic bonded warehouses. by the late nineties peanut butter along with lots of other things was no longer a novelty. in fact you could get all manner of american things from aunt jemima's pancake syrups to smucker's goober pb and j ( a peculiar mix of concord grape jelly and peanut butter in vertical layers in a jar which i bought despite mama's disgust and which languished in our kitchen for a while before being thrown) in kohsar market in f6. by this point we were travelling abroad too and so the horizon of food had broadened substantially.

my initiation into the world of peanut butter and jelly (pb and j) happened when a cousin of mine moved from chicago to pakistan. at first the idea of eating peanut butter with jam was very odd but after having tried it the first time it was such a perfect fit that i wondered why i had never tried it before. mama made all manner of jams and so in the summer it was her strawberry jam that i would eat on white bread with peanut butter. in twenty o one i came to london to read law at university college london. a staple of my student years was peanut butter on a wholemeal bagel. sometimes i would smear on thick set honey, a spreadable version of honey roasted peanuts. but this was before i become more discerning about the type of peanut butter i had. 

when it comes to peanut butter lovers i am pretty certain that there will be divisions in the camps and ranks of those who prefer the processed kind which of course is supremely creamy because of the addition of hydrogenated oil, salt and sugar in contrast to the more natural organic kinds. i know that in our house o much prefers the creamy sugary stuff with its preternatural colour whilst i am firmly ensconced in the latter camp. it is true that organic peanut butter is less creamy and more resistant to being spread easily but what i love about it is that despite being smooth it retains the slightly grainy texture of the nut as well as a dense peanut flavour. aside from the variables of smooth or crunchy, natural and organic peanut butters come with the additional options of no salt, no salt and no sugar or no sugar added. i find that i tend towards the no sugar added kind but with sea salt. what is more is that most of these peanut butters are made of peanuts roasted and ground in theirs skin and so they have a textured smoothness.

ready to go into the oven
this is the kind of peanut butter i love eating with a spoon and a little bit of nutella, honey or apricot conserve, which is usually how i eat my peanut butter. i very rarely eat it on toast. when i am feeling very indulgent i make peanut butter cookies with the peanut butter as a proxy for butter. there is something curious about the interaction between peanut butter and sugar in that bringing the two together with an egg stiffens the batter enough for it to be scooped into a cookie. i have a preference for dark soft sugars over refined white ones not only because they lead to a moister cookie, but also because they have a treacle and strangely espresso note. on sunday, we had a couple of friends over for tea which was a perfect excuse to make peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. these cookies are not cloyingly sweet and are good served with a strong cup of tea or in my case an espresso stained with milk.

{peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies}

an egg
250 grams dark brown soft sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
a teaspoon of vanilla essence
280 grams no added sugar peanut butter. i use meridian natural smooth peanut butter.
100 grams chocolate chips

to bake the cookies
a measuring tablespoon to shape the cookies
a lightly greased non-stick cookie sheet

start by whisking the egg and then add the sugar, baking soda and vanilla essence to it. 

add the peanut butter and mix well. i use a wooden spoon to do this as the peanut butter is quite sturdy in character and requires a good strong hand to incorporate it into the sugar and egg mixture. then add the chocolate chips and give the batter a final stir to ensure that the chips are evenly distributed.

now, before scooping the cookies on to the baking tray set the oven to pre-heat at 180 degrees celsius. i find heating it earlier than this leaves a very hot oven and runs the risk of an over baked cookie. 

use a measuring tablespoon to scoop the batter and place at evenly spaced intervals on the greased cookie tray. you want to leave at least an inch of space in between each cookie as they will spread in the oven.

bake for 10 - 12 minutes. you want the cookie to be lightly set and coloured only along the edges. resist the temptation to over-bake the cookie even if it looks or feel unfirm. baked right, the cookie should have a firm exterior with a chewy centre. 

you will get roughly twenty eight cookies from this batter.

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