How to Make the Perfect Peanut Butter Cookie
While “perfect” is relative, for me it’s all about a cookie that’s crisp and crumbly around the edges while dense and chewy in the center. Also, since it’s called a peanut butter cookie, I think the flavor should be first and foremost about the PB, with caramel and vanilla notes there to support the star.
The texture and taste of cookies are dependent on an intricate balance between the starch, sugar, and fat they contain, as well as the length of time they’re baked. Let’s start by breaking down these components.
All baked goods are fundamentally made by mixing a starch with sugar and fat. The thing that sets cookies apart is that they have a relatively high sugar and fat content. This is what gives cookies their distinctly dense texture and taste, and why you wouldn’t want to eat a cookie the size of a slice of cake.
While most cookies use flour as the starch, I like to use a 50:50 blend of oatmeal and all-purpose flour. The oats not only boost the fiber content of these cookies, but they also help out the texture by lending the well-done edges some flakiness, while the underdone interior ends up pleasantly chewy without becoming tough.
For the sugar, I like using a combination of coconut sugar and brown rice syrup. The coconut sugar contributes some nutty caramel notes that work brilliantly with the peanut butter, while the brown rice syrup helps bind all the ingredients together.
In case you’ve never worked with it, rice syrup is a very thick liquid sugar that’s made from malted brown rice. It has a viscosity like chilled honey (even at room temperature) and is part of the reason these cookies are so delightfully chewy. Both coconut sugar and brown rice syrup should be available at high-end grocery and health food stores, as well as online.
Because peanut butter contains so much fat, it’s possible to use it without adding any extra oil. Aside from making these cookies plant-based, it also means I get to max out the peanut flavor. But don’t let the word “vegan” discourage you from making them as these are delicious by any measure.
I usually prefer creamy PB for my sandwiches, but I like using chunky peanut butter for these cookies because it means I can add chunks of peanuts to them, without getting out a knife and cutting board. If you don’t want pieces of peanuts in your cookies, smooth peanut butter will work fine. Just make sure your PB does not include any added salt or sugar as these will mess up the ratios, and you’ll need to make adjustments to the recipe to compensate.
Baking Time for Chewy or Crispy
The final (and perhaps most important) key to controlling the texture of cookies is the baking time. The longer you bake them, the more moisture they lose, the more the sugars caramelize, and the crunchier they will get.
For my convection oven, six minutes at 355 degrees F gives the perfect balance between a crisp ring of crumbly cookie surrounding a chewy center. However, you need to keep in mind that baking time is dependant on how big you make the cookies, the type of oven you have, and how accurate the thermostat is (most ovens have a wide margin of error).
Unfortunately, you can’t tell what the final texture of the cookies will be while they’re still hot, so you may need to make a couple of batches to nail the perfect timing for your oven. The good news is that these cookies don’t contain any eggs, which means you can eat the dough raw. If you want to ensure your cookies are chewy from the first batch, I’d recommend erring on undercooked.
On the flip side, if you’re the type that likes your cookies crisp, then just bake these a bit longer, and the sugars will caramelize, the moisture will evaporate, and you’ll end up with peanut butter cookies with a nice snap.
Variations on Peanut Butter Cookies
To crank the peanut butter flavor up to 11, you can sandwich some peanut butter in between two cookies. I like to whip the peanut butter when I do this, to give it a lighter texture.
To go for something more chocolatey you can arrange a few chocolate chips on each cookie as soon as they come out of the oven. The residual heat will melt the chips and bond them to the top of the cookie. Since these are pretty sweet, I recommend using dark chocolate or even unsweetened chocolate if you’re going to do this.
If you’re looking to make peanut butter blossoms, you can skip step 4 (flattening the balls with a fork) and then press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Finally, this method can be used with other nut butters and flavorings to make totally different cookies, like my double chocolate chunk cookies.
- Put the rolled oats, flour, coconut sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the oats are ground into a flour.
- Add the peanut butter, rice syrup, and vanilla and process until a dough forms. If the mixture is too crumbly, you can add a bit of water (1 teaspoon at a time) until the dough holds its shape when pressed together.
- Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, and then arrange them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. The cookies will spread a little in the oven so be sure to leave some room between each one, so they don't stick together.
- Flatten the balls with a fork in one direction and then turn the fork 90 degrees to add a cross-hatch pattern to the tops of the cookies.
- Bake at 355 degrees F (180°C) for 6 to 8 minutes.
- Cool the peanut butter cookies on a rack briefly before removing them from the parchment paper. Cool on a rack, or enjoy them warm.