Call it tradition, call it an excuse to eat sweets, but December calls most of us to bake cookies. My family’s cookie routine starts just after Thanksgiving, when we prepare Vanilla Bean Cookies and Chocolate Rum Balls so that they can “ripen” in time for Christmas. Many other cookies follow, with old favorites and new flavors filling the holiday platter when the family finally gathers.
Many holiday cookies only appear once a year, but I always add some all-occasion cookies to the plate. I tackled peanut butter cookies this year. These cookies have been around for close to a century, with most sources attributing the classic crosshatched pattern to a 1930s Pillsbury cookbook. But many recipes specifically avoid natural peanut butters and instead pile extra sweeteners onto commercial peanut butters already heavy on the sugar and hydrogenated oils. Recipes I’ve tried that call for freshly ground peanut butter turn out more peanut slab than cookie. By testing and tweaking basic cookie ratios, I came up with a version that can be enjoyed year-round and dressed up for special occasions.
Freshly Ground Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup freshly ground, unsalted peanut butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla
10 tablespoons milk
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
In a large bowl, mix the butter into the peanut butter. Cream in the sugar, and then mix in the egg, vanilla, and milk until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring until just incorporated. With a food processor or sharp knife, finely chop the peanuts and then fold them into the dough. Cover the dough and place it in the freezer for about 20 minutes so that it’s easier to shape.
Shape a spoonful of chilled dough into a ball, placing it on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining balls, placing them about 2 inches apart, until the sheet is full. Using the back of a fork, press down on each ball in a crisscross pattern. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes, until just set; let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Scrape any crumbs from the baking sheet and continue baking the remaining dough. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 60 cookies.
Tips & Tricks
- Many health-food stores, and even some supermarkets, have machines for grinding dry-roasted peanuts on demand. This is the freshest version you can buy and has just one ingredient: peanuts.
- Stir your peanut butter well before measuring it to ensure the oils and solids are fully incorporated. Bringing it to room temperature first makes the stirring and creaming easier.
- When testing these cookies, we found that extra chopped peanuts improved both the flavor and the texture. Without them, you’ll end up with more of a nut-flavored butter cookie.
- As a variation, you can add 1 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips to the cookie dough. For a party, melt that chocolate into a ganache and pipe it into the center of the cookies (see below).
- The ratios used for this recipe make it easy to mix up a half-batch. The dough also freezes well: Roll it into balls, freeze them on a cookie sheet for an hour, and then drop them into a labeled zip-close freezer bag. Let them sit at room temperature for about an hour before baking so that they’re soft enough you can add the crosshatch pattern.
Twice as Tasty
Peanut butter thumbprints sometimes filled cookie tins at the holidays when I was a child. I think we helped my mom make them when we were too young to properly mix cookie dough but old enough to press a thumbprint into their center—and not so old that we could discover and devour the bag of Hershey’s Kisses before the cookies were baked, forcing her to fill them with homemade jam instead.
After testing separate ratios for thumbprint or blossom cookies, we found that the best version was the easiest: simply make Freshly Ground Peanut Butter Cookies and gussy them up. But since you’ve gone to the effort of sourcing natural peanut butter, it’s worth upgrading the candy kisses to homemade ganache.
Peanut–Ganache Thumbprint Cookies
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
5 ounces heavy whipping cream
Mix the dough for Freshly Ground Peanut Butter Cookies, letting it rest in the freezer for about 20 minutes before shaping it into balls about 1 inch in diameter, slightly smaller than you would make for flattened cookies. Instead of crosshatching the dough, bake the balls at 375°F for 8–10 minutes, until just set; let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 1 minute, and then press your thumb into the center of each cookie, leaving an indent. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Scrape any crumbs from the baking sheet and continue baking the remaining dough.
In a small saucepan, make your Chocolate Ganache: Bring the cream just to a simmer. Remove immediately from the heat and pour in the chocolate chips, swirling the saucepan to ensure the chips are covered. Put a lid on the saucepan and let the mixture sit, without stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and whisk the chocolate into the cream, starting from the center and working outward, until smooth.
Let the ganache sit at room temperature for about 2-1/2 hours, until it’s the thickness of frosting but still pliable. Scoop it into a piping bag with a star-shaped or other decorative tip. Hold the bag straight over a cookie, squeeze firmly but just enough to release a dollop of ganache that fills the thumbprint, and then pull up to form a point and release the tip from the ganache blossom. Repeat the process to fill each thumbprint. Store for up to a week in an airtight container. Makes about 72 cookies.
Tips & Tricks
- I still call these thumbprints, but many modern recipes seem to have switched to calling them peanut butter blossoms. You can see why when you pipe in the ganache, especially if you use a flowery tip.
- As a variation, you can transfer the chopped peanuts to the outside of the cookie. After shaping each dough ball, roll it into the ground nuts until its coated. If the nuts won’t stick, dampen your fingers with water to help them cling.
- I like bittersweet chocolate with fresh peanut butter and use a light hand with the sugar and salt. For a slightly sweeter version, opt for a semisweet or milk chocolate instead.
- Don’t have a piping bag? You can improvise by clipping the corner from a plastic food-storage bag and squeezing the chocolate through the hole. Or simply spoon the chocolate into the center of each cookie: Let the ganache sit for about an hour so that it’s only as soft as pudding.
- You can always find a use for extra ganache: drizzle it over other cookies, stir it into coffee, spread it in a crepe, or make a large batch and use it to glaze a cake.
- My mom’s jam standby is actually a fabulous thumbprint variation: drop in a bit of Apricot–Raspberry–Mint Jam and relive childhood PB&J lunches. Use a few jams, and you can turn one batch of cookies into a colorful party tray.
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Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- I have a reusable piping bag (like this), a coupler, and a few tips that take up less drawer space than a vegetable peeler. Although I only use them a few times a year, they’ve lasted years and save me lots of fuss.
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