Hey, it’s another report in my series on Joanne Chang’s cookie recipes — with any luck, I’ll be done by the end of the month. Cookies work well for me this summer because I’ve been doing a lot of bike commuting, and it’s not practical to carry bulky foods like layer cakes or fruit pies in my backpack, whereas I can fit eight or ten cookies easily and share with my co-workers in the usual way. (I rarely bake anything I can’t share these days because I need to not eat this stuff — the whole point here is to make something that I’d like to try and then trick other people into eating the surplus for me!) For the Fourth of July weekend I made Peanut Butter Honey Cookies, another recipe from Joanne Chang’s Baking with Less Sugar (Chronicle Books, 2015; p. 108). I messed this up in a couple of different ways, so I can’t exactly claim that my results are representative, but I also found an error (albeit a minor one) in the recipe as published. Perhaps as a result, I wasn’t especially pleased with the outcome, and the comments from my tasters were not especially favorable. Here’s how it went:
Starting as usual with the mise en place means explaining the error in the recipe I mentioned above. Like most cookies, this recipe starts with butter, and the ingredients list says “140 g/¾ cup unsalted butter”, which is clearly wrong. Since Chang’s recipes are generally based on bakery formulas, I assume that the weights are more reliable anyway, and so I went for the 140 g figure (that’s 5 oz or 10 tbl — 2 tbl short of ¾ cup). Other wet ingredients are 260 g unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter; 170 g honey (I used the local, raw, wildflower honey shown in the picture); one whole large egg and one egg yolk; and a tablespoon of vanilla extract. (I note that the recipes in this book in particular tend to call for much higher quantities of vanilla extract than those in Chang’s previous cookbooks, but I’m not sure what to make of that.) The dry ingredients are 105 g all-purpose flour, 50 g old-fashioned rolled oats, ½ tsp baking soda, 1¼ tsp kosher salt, and 100 g chopped raw peanuts. I wasn’t able to find raw peanuts in the store (in fact, I don’t ever remember seeing raw peanuts, so I looked for some lightly roasted peanuts to use instead, and I chopped them in the food processor, which unfortunately leads to a very uneven mixture of peanut pieces, some whole and some tiny fragments.
The first step of the process involves beating the honey and sugar together until thoroughly mixed and creamy. It’s best to start with butter that is quite soft, much softer than one would usually prefer for the traditional creaming method with crystalline sugar.
After whisking the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla together, they are added to the creamed butter-honey mixture and beaten for several minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, until homogenous. This takes a while, again rather longer than with the traditional creaming method, and it’s best to start with ingredients at warm room temperature. Once the mixture is fully combined, the peanut butter is quickly beaten in.
Separately, the dry ingredients are stirred together to combine (and as with last week’s recipe, it’s easier to whisk the salt and soda into the flour separately before adding the chunky ingredients), and then the dry team is folded into the wet until fully incorporated.
The recipe makes about 850 g of batter. I transferred it to my small Pyrex bowl and covered tightly with plastic wrap to spend a day in the refrigerator, as Chang recommends for all of her cookie recipes. Taking note of the total weight and the advertised yield of the recipe, I calculated that each cookie should be 50–55 g in weight of raw dough. However, the latest government warnings about birds defecating over wheat fields did not prevent me from eating some of the raw dough, and I only had about 750 g of dough left when I portioned out the cookies the following day.
I experimented with a couple of different dishers and decided to use my #30. In retrospect, I should have used a #24 disher instead; while my first few dough balls with the #30 were close to my 50-gram target, overall I ended up averaging about 41 grams, and that had an impact on the resulting cookies. (But as a bonus that meant that I could claim each cookie was only ⅘ of a serving!)
The cookies are baked in a 350°F (175°C) oven for about 16 minutes. The recipe calls for squashing the dough balls flat with the palm of your hand, and then cross-hatching them with the tines of a fork in the traditional way before baking, but I totally missed this step in the recipe for the first 12 cookies I baked — I ended up using a spatula to flatten the cookies halfway through the baking process when I realized that I had forgotten this step. I think these turned out relatively OK, albeit a bit thicker and cakier than I would prefer; the ridges you see are the result of the slots in the spatula that I used for the flattening.
You can see the four cookies where I actually got the preparation right on the left: they are flatter and darker than the first batch of twelve, and actually a bit overbaked. (I gave them the same baking time as the first sheet.) Overall, I think I prefer the full-sugar cookies, rolled in granulated sugar and fork-squashed like I remember from my younger days, and the comments from my tasters generally reflected this preference as well. The cookies were plenty tender, but even with the added chopped peanuts lacked a certain crunch that most tasters expected.
|Serving size: 1 cookie (50–55g unbaked)|
|Servings per recipe: about 16|
|Amount per serving|
|Calories 271||Calories from fat 167|
|% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 19g||29%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||30%|
|Trans Fat 0g|||
|Total Carbohydrate 20g||7%|
|Dietary fiber 2g||8%|