Saturday, 5 March 2011

Charlie Brown’s peanut cookies

Couchbound illness prevails while the sun shines gloriously outside. In an attempt to drag this fledgling blog from congee back to baking, let me tell of Maida’s Charlie Brown’s Peanut Cookies I made a couple of weeks ago.
I was drawn to the name, and these got an enthusiastic wrap by other Maida Heatterers online, and the very American approach of focusing a cookie upon peanuts had previously gone down well with the workmates flocking around the biscuit barrel.

Well. Not bad, but never again. These ‘hand-formed cookies’ took up an outrageously hefty chunk of valuable Sunday evening.

Wait a tic, or feel free to skip the following digression. Baking often strikes me as a weird and paradoxical pursuit to be drawn to, and not only because the image of apronned, Betty Draper feminine domesticity traditionally associated with it brings me out in hives politically. Here it is, the true heart of the matter: I loathe the feeling of any flour or eggwhite slime or dough gunk on my hands. I seem to get past both the hands thing and the feminist ambivalence, but still. Weird. It helps not to wear a floral pinny, I guess, and also to let the KitchenAid take care of kneading. Dried crusted flour on fingers. Under nails. Shudder. Anyway, apologies, this is a discussion for another day and merely a longwinded and tangential way of relating that I was washing my squeamish mitts every five seconds here.

From Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, 1977, pp231–2

Makes 36 (more like 46 for me, and they didn’t seem small…)

2 cups (220g)* plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon double-acting** baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
236g butter***
1 cup (200g) dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs (one whole, the other separated)
1 teaspoon water
285 g roasted salted peanuts, chopped medium fine
smooth peanut butter – just spoon from the jar.****
dark choc chips

*Your devoted correspondent has taken account of the fact that US cups are different to ours, and has found online converters that offer cups by weight. Place your trust in me; I’ve placed it in an online converter. I’ve offered you the original cup measurement if you’re not with me on this journey.

** Double-acting, you cry? WTF is that? I’d never come across it before either. It’s about chemical compounds and what happens when. From googling, I think pretty much any baking powder you can buy these days from Woolies is what decades ago was considered double-acting, reacting in two stages to the liquid of the batter and then to the heat of the oven, distinct from a single-acting baking powder, which only produces a reaction when first encountering the batter and needing immediate baking.

***Being American, Maida calls for 2 ‘sticks’, which my research has established are 118g each. Want to round it up to 240g? Oh, fine then. In fact, just use those 50g-increment lines printed on the butter paper, like I do all the time. What could go wrong?

****Don’t look at me like that, I’m not being inexact here – Maida says: ‘it is not necessary to measure this; you may use it right from the jar’! It was probably about half a cup I used, perhaps not even.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and set aside. Cream butter with electric mixer. Add sugar and beat to mix. Beat in one whole egg and one egg yolk. Lower the mixer speed and gradually add the dry ingredients only until thoroughly mixed. As in, don’t let it sit there mixing away for ten minutes while you’re catching up on Twitter – it’ll overbeat the mixture and really I can’t say what might happen then. That’s because I don’t actually know, but suggest it’s not good if Maida warns against it.

Preheat oven to 190 C and cover a couple of flat trays with baking paper or that reusable silicone stuff.

This bit to follow differs from Maida’s way, which calls for long strips of waxed paper and division of dough into 36 equal mounds and then flouring hands before rolling each mound into a ball. You’ve endured my rant on how I feel about floury hands, so this is my way, which I learned in the making of chicken meatballs. It’s the dead opposite – keep wetting your hands to roll the dough into balls. They’ll turn out shiny and slippery and leaving no residue until it’s time to wet your hands again – about every five balls. I put them to rest on a dinnerplate or two, rather than great sheets of waxed paper I have no bench-room for. Also, waxed paper may have changed since Maida’s day, but the Home Brand crap which was all Woolies had last time I was in the market for it soaks up any liquid and dissolves. ‘Greaseproof paper’ my foot.

Put the chopped peanuts in a shallow pasta bowl or dinnerplate. Beat the egg white and water with a fork in a small bowl or cup, and dip each dough ball into it, sliming the egg white all over it before proceeding to roll it around and coat thoroughly with peanut bits. Place these 4cm apart on the prepared baking trays as you go, but the mucking-around is by no means over yet.

Next, you need to form a depression in each ball. Maida suggests you use either the handle of a wooden spoon or your thumb. I tried both and found much greater control with the latter, which handily had a very short nail for once, from lute practice. You want the impression fairly big, but not so much you breach the bottom or sides, and you can use your thumb to shape it out better than a rigid handle. Then I used a small pointy coffee spoon to fill the impression with peanut butter, topping it with 5 choc chips.  

Bake until browned a bit – Maida says 12 to 13 minutes, but in spite of that broad span, mine took more like 20. I used that time scrubbing and anointing my hands. Let them rest on the trays for a few minutes before lifting them onto a cooling rack with an eggflip. I overlooked Maida’s instruction to put them in the fridge once they’d cooled to room temperature, to solidify the peanut butter and choc chips, but take heed from my error. The choc chips never regained their solidity, and stuck to each other when layered in a Décor container to take to work, so that some lucky colleagues ended up scoring double their biscuit entitlement, with the peanut-butter-choc-chip component of the biscuit below theirs.
They tasted great, and were moreish, but in a very one-note, unsophisticated way – the attractions of chocolate and peanuts were right up front, so to speak, and in appearance they were far from elegant.  Meh. The peanut butter cookies I’ll tell of another day were far simpler and just as crowd-pleasing.

No comments:

Post a Comment