Wednesday, February 27, 2013

pb+j cookies

I am quite possibly the only person on this planet that does not love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As a child, whenever I opened up my lunch bag, I was hoping for turkey, salami, anything other than pb+j. I never said anything to my parents when they'd pack me pb+j for 5 days in a row. I figured they were just too busy and maybe didn't get around to grocery shopping. So, I'd choke it down even though I grew to despise such a thirst-quenching sandwich.

Needless to say, pb+j is still not my sandwich of choice. However, I'm all about making things I hate into things I love. So, I thought.. peanut butter and jelly reinvented into cookies.

Let's start with the J. Homemade jam is surprisingly doable. I know it's even easier to buy a jar at the store, but I personally get sketched out by the additives used to extend shelf life.

Berry Jam

1 3/4 cup crushed mixed berries
1 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 tsp lime zest
2 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice

For the mixed berries, I used frozen. I then thawed, drained if needed, crushed with a potato masher or fork, and measured. I totally use fresh when I have them. Frozen berries are okay to use as long as no extra sugar or syrup is added.
Instead of lime, you can alternatively use lemon. I have tried it both ways. The citrus brings a subtle punch to the berry flavor, and I find that either lemon or lime will work. Orange would be interesting to try, too. 
In regards to the sweetness of this jam, I generally use a 1:1 ratio as a rule of thumb. It does make for quite a sweet jam. 2 ways to alter the sweetness would be to either cut down on the sugar or add more of the citrus (the acidity will create more balance).

1. On the stovetop, add crushed berries, sugar, lime zest, and lime juice into a saucepan on medium heat. Use a saucepan that is large enough to fit about double the size of the mixture, because it will bubble up and expand as it heats up. Stir to combine all the ingredients.
2. One the mixture comes to a boil, set a timer for 20 minutes. Gently stir occasionally in between while scraping the bottom of the saucepan, as well. As it cooks and thickens, it will stick to the bottom and the sides a bit-- just try to keep it moving.
3. After the 20 minutes, turn off the heat and set the saucepan aside to cool. The mixture will look liquidity but will solidify as it cools down. I prefer a gradual cooling process instead of shocking it from hot hot to immediate cold refrigeration. After about 15 minutes cooling at room temp, you can speed up the cooling by transferring the jam mixture into an airtight container-- like a jar-- and refrigerate. Since this recipe does not have added pectin, this jam will be good for about a week in the refrigerator if stored properly. You can also freeze and bring to room temp when ready to use.

Whipping up all this jam gave me the perfect excuse to create a vessel for this sweet, tarty berry goodness. I've seen tons of pb+j thumbprint cookies but that wasn't quite what I wanted to achieve on this mission. Then, click-- the lightbulb went off in my head.

I had a mind-blowing experience when I discovered the glory of stuffing cookies. So, I thought, why not stuff some peanut butter cookies with this jam?! I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but it was definitely worth a shot. I knew that if the jam didn't explode all over my baking sheet (and this is exactly why I use rimmed baking sheets.. just in case), I would have a dream pb+j cookie.

I found the perfect peanut butter cookie recipe, but I changed up the directions a bit. Having worked at a bakery, I'm extremely dependent on my stand mixer. So, I went against the instructions suggested by the original recipe and stuck to what I know I'm good at. Guess what? It worked.

PB+J Cookies 
Recipe adapted from A Cup of Jo
Yields about 25 cookies

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar + more for sprinkling
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
berry jam (your favorite brand or see my recipe above)

1. In a bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together butter and peanut butter. Scrape down bowl and beat again until even consistency. 
3. Add granulated white sugar and light brown sugar to butter mixture. Beat until fluffy. Then beat in egg and vanilla. Scrape down bowl and paddle and beat everything again until well-combined.
4. Add dry mixture into wet mixture on the stir speed. Allow to stir until just combined. Avoid over-mixing! 
5. With a small cookie/ice cream scoop, dish out even portions of dough (about a 1-in diameter ball) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
6. Make an indentation into each dough ball with your thumb. Fill the well with the jam. To enclose the jam, pinch the dough together. You may have to add additional dough on top to make sure it's completely covered.
7. Roll stuffed cookie dough balls into extra granulated white sugar. Place back onto the baking sheet. Then pat down slightly. I used a fork to make a slight crisscross pattern (but the pattern didn't show up anyway). 
8. In a preheated 350 degree F oven, bake the cookies for 7 minutes. Then rotate the baking sheet and bake for an additional 8 minutes. The cookies should look like they are just browning. They make appear somewhat soft still but they will set as they cool. Try not to overbake!
9. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool directly on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes. Then carefully transfer to a wire cooling rack.
10. Eat after cookies have cooled or store in an airtight container for later.

This was a successful test-bake. I made a whole batch of these cookies without a mess of jam spilling out everywhere. Because these expand and crackle a bit as they bake, you will find that some will have jam peeking through the peanut butter cookie. I absolutely adore this. It gives the cookie character and also teases eaters with what to expect.

The peanut butter cookie is tender and melt-in-your mouth worthy. Then you hit the chewy, gooey, jam center, which truly puts this cookie over the top. As much as I hate pb+j sandwiches, this cookie has changed my perspective of the oh-so-famous duo of peanut butter and jelly. Then again, I'd trade cookies for sandwiches any day.

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