When I was a kid, we had a lot of American shows on TV: from “Happy Days” to “Charlie’s Angels” to “The Love Boat” and “Dynasty.” They were all subtitled in Greek, which was actually a big help in learning English. There were a lot of things that the characters on these TV shows talked about that we didn’t really know about or were ever able to experience. One of those was the mythical “peanut butter.” It seemed to be everywhere. On sandwiches and in desserts, it sounded like the most delicious thing my sister and I could imagine. In fact, we did imagine that it probably tasted like an even better version of Nutella, which we did have available to us and which we adored. So, we always begged our dad to look for peanut butter at the store but he always came back empty handed. It simply did not exist in Cyprus.
Then one day, when we were teenagers, he came home with a jar of peanut butter. My dad worked at the American Embassy and somehow, he got a hold of some of this spread that seemed to be the American equivalent to the Cypriot tahini, ubiquitous and universally loved. My sister and I couldn’t hold our excitement. My mom joined us, and the four of us each held a spoon. My dad opened the jar and peeled away the plastic cover. We all took a spoonful, marveling at the thick, luscious consistency and placed the spoons in our mouths. As if in a slapstick comedy bit, we all started gagging. How could this be what Americans loved? It tasted like peanuts (go figure!) and stuck your tongue to the roof of your mouth with a faint grit and a tiny hint of sweetness that just wasn’t enough for us. We all hated it. We threw out the jar and never thought about it again.
Several years later, I moved to the U.S. and my love affair with peanut butter began. I don’t know what changed. Maybe I had better peanut butter, maybe the one we had in Cyprus was old and stale. More likely, peanut butter is one of those things that you kind of have to learn to love, like Vegemite and stinky cheese. I know that even today, with peanut butter available world wide, many non-Americans despise it.
There are many ways to enjoy peanut butter, but this recipe for peanut butter cookies is one of my favorites. Four simple ingredients (five, if you count the salt), one bowl, and 15 minutes in the oven, will reward you with the most exquisite, crispy on the outside, meltingly soft in the middle, cookies. They’re good enough to perhaps entice even the most ardent peanut butter haters.
Salted Peanut Butter Cookies – Very slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 3/4 cups (335 grams) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (450 grams) smooth/creamy peanut butter (I use the Jif Natural kind and it’s perfect)
Coarse-grained sea salt, like Madon, to finish
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the light brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then the peanut butter until smooth and completely incorporated; you shouldn’t be able to see any ribbons of peanut butter.
Preferably, chill the dough by freezing it in its bowl for 15 minutes, stirring it once (so the edges don’t freeze first), before scooping it. Scoop or spoon the dough into balls, about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. If you want them bake into a more rounded, tall shape, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Or you can bake them immediately for flatter cookies, like the ones in the photo above.
Sprinkle the dough balls lightly with coarse-grained sea salt just before baking. Bake cookies for 18 to 20 minutes. When finished, cookies should be golden at edges. They’ll need to set on the sheet for a minute or two before they can be lifted intact to a cooling sheet.
Let them cool completely before serving. Otherwise, you won’t get the nice crispy outside.