My young cousin Hema is visiting from India, and she’s apparently determined to “learn cooking” from me. The irony is that I’m not doing much cooking at all at the moment because my mother’s here – I know, it’s not fair to leave it all to her, but the thing is, she’s at home all day and I am at work all day… so, given the circumstances, it all works out conveniently well for everybody (yes, especially me.) Anyway, I do cook on weekends, so I’m not taking total and unashamed advantage… or so I like to believe. (Kind readers, please don’t stick the needle of derision in my pathetic little bubble of denial!)
So the project for the day in the cookery department was a simple one, courtesy Hema – peanut butter cookies. It didn’t strike me to ask about her choice till later, although I remember thinking that it seemed a bit strange – well, very American, in other words. When I did ask her, eventually, where she’d eaten peanut butter cookies before, she replied that she never had. Then how did she come up with that suggestion? Apparently, because she likes peanut butter.
So peanut butter cookies it was. And in consideration of my mother shunning eggs and everything containing eggs, we made the cookies eggless.
Now I’ve never eaten peanut butter cookies before. I wasn’t even a fan of peanut butter till fairly recently, and even the jazzed up chilli-hot Indian-style “peanut chutney” didn’t quite tempt me. As for the American fascination with peanut butter-and-jam (I refuse to call it jelly) sandwiches, I’ve been known to accuse it of being weird… but everything comes full circle and I now am forced to admit that I’m rather partial to peanut-butter-and-orange-marmalade on toast… something in which I try not to indulge too often!
Anyway, to come back to the point, since I’m not burdened with a sweet tooth and there aren’t any takers for cookies in my house, I’ve never really tried my hand at baking cookies.
I’m actually going to deliberately deviate from the point now – fair warning, right? My first attempt at baking was a recipe for lemon cookies. The recipe seemed simple enough, so I beat and mixed and rolled the dough into balls and placed them on a tray and gave them spreading space - everything seemed to be going swimmingly well as I put the trays in the oven.
The recipe said to bake the cookies for 8 minutes; eight antsy minutes later, I checked the cookies – they were still soft, so back inside they went for another few minutes. They remained stubbornly soft 10 even more antsy minutes later, and I was certain that the recipe had got the baking time wrong. So I just went on baking them. Eventually when the cookies had firmed up through the centre (the edges had gone extremely brown – pretty much black - by then) to my satisfaction, I took the trays out. The recipe instructed me to let the cookies cool for 3-4 minutes before removing them from the tray, so I waited the requisite number of minutes, then tried to detach a cookie to taste it.
It didn’t budge.
I tried again with another cookie, trying to lift it off the tray.
The entire tray rose in the air, but the cookie stayed firmly attached to it.
I tried chipping them off off with various things – a spatula, a knife, a cake slice, even a chisel… but the cookies just crumbled into bits. Pete tasted the bits and said that they were nice (which was very kind of him, because those things were anything BUT nice)… but comforting though his words were, I wasn’t – and am not – as dumb as I looked, and I knew I had a first class disaster on my hands. Or on my trays, to be literal. So I dumped everything in the bin – cookies, crumbs, tray and all.
I blame the recipe, of course I do. I didn’t know that cookies firm up as they cool… why would I? I’d never had a proper oven, never done any baking… and the recipe didn’t think to mention that little fact. To be fair, I guess to experienced bakers, that particular fact is basic knowledge – so basic that they just assume everybody knows it. But I didn’t… so when the cookies felt soft, I assumed that they hadn’t baked enough. And so it turned out a recipe for disaster.
I didn’t try baking cookies for ages thereafter, so making these peanut butter cookies cookies was more or less a “first” for me and Hema both. I didn’t quite know how they would turn out, but one thing I knew for sure – I would stick to the baking time specified!
As it turned out, we must have underbaked the cookies a little, for they stayed just a wee bit soft in the centre even after cooling. But they tasted so good – slightly salty, somewhat sweet – that I don’t think anybody minded.
Recipe for: Eggless peanut butter cookies
1-1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup demerara sugar (or brown) + extra for sprinkling
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp water
2-3 tbsp milk
1. Preheat oven to 180C and line two baking sheets with non-stick paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornflour and water. Reserve.
2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Beat butter, peanut butter and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended.
4. Beat in both sugars.
5. Stir in half of the flour mixture.
6. Add cornflour mixture and continue mixing, then add the remaining flour mixture and stir it in.
At this point I found the dough to be very very dry, so I added milk, tbsp by tbsp and kneaded it until the dough could be rolled into a ball. (Or rather, my cousin did all this under my - ahem! - supervision!)
8. Roll the dough into 1" balls. Arrange the balls 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets (the cookies wont spread much).
With a fork, flatten the dough balls and make a criss-cross pattern on top.
9. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and bake in a 180C/350F oven for 15-16 minutes, until the cookies are dry on top.
10. Remove baking sheets from oven and let the cookies remain on the sheets for 3 minutes,
then remove to racks and let cool completely before storing in an airtight box.