I’ve been holding out on you. I should have posted this recipe long ago, but this cookie has a way of slipping through the cracks.
Years ago, my sister called me up, raving about a fantastic peanut butter cookie recipe that she insisted came from me. I had no idea what she was talking about.
My sister was shocked. “You mean you don’t make these cookies anymore? Oh, you must make them!” She told me the recipe was in the cookbook that I put together for her when she got married.
I took a look at the cookbook and I remembered how I came up with the recipe. I wanted a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, so I added some peanut butter to a chocolate chip cookie recipe. So far, pretty standard. But, then I had the idea to add in coffee powder, and lots of it. It was part of my Maida Heatter phase. Maida Heatter often added in coffee powder to intensify a dessert’s flavor, and it became my secret weapon. Here, I fearlessly wielded that weapon like a cudgel, adding in 2 tablespoons of coffee powder.
I called my sister back. “Do you really follow the recipe and add 2 whole tablespoons of coffee powder?” She told me, that, yes, she does, and why was I asking, since it was my recipe in the first place? Well, okay . . . .
I made the recipe (using a little less coffee powder) and found that the coffee and peanut butter flavors fused together in an interesting way, balancing each other so that the cookie was not strongly coffee-ish or peanut butter-ish, but mostly a very intense chocolate chip cookie with a deep rich flavor.
Depending on how much coffee powder you use, the cookies will taste and look quite different. My mother goes full on with the coffee and her cookies look almost as dark as if she used cocoa powder in the dough. I can’t bring myself to use that much coffee (I know, I know . . . it was my idea to begin with). With 1 1/2 teaspoons of coffee powder, the coffee is barely there, subtly intensifying the peanut butter flavor, making the cookies more Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-ish (see above picture). With 2 teaspoons, the flavor is almost like Cracker-Jacks, with a rich caramel molasses and roasted peanut flavor (see below picture).
Caramel and roasted peanuts (well, roasted anything) have added flavor compounds and a certain bitterness that comes from the process of caramelization and the Maillard reaction. Coffee has a certain bitterness, too. In fact, coffee flavor is in part a result of the Maillard reaction because coffee beans are roasted, as well (which is not to say that coffee is bitter only because of roasting, but there are those who argue that roasting is primarily responsible for bitterness in coffee). Cocoa beans (chocolate) are also roasted. The browning of cookies and the enhanced flavor from that browning comes from the Maillard reaction. Could this be why a little coffee powder intensifies flavor so well, because it has flavor and bitterness associated with well-browned food?
Random food science digression: food scientists now believe that the antioxidants in coffee come not from caffeine or the chlorogenic acid found in green coffee beans, but these antioxidants are rather mainly a direct by-product of the Maillard reaction during roasting.
You can also get different effects by using all light brown sugar, or half light brown and half white, or half dark brown and half white. Although the recipe calls for white flour and margarine, I have successfully made the cookies with whole wheat flour and oil.
Peanut Butter Mocha Chip Cookies
You can use oil and whole wheat flour for a healthier cookie. The dough is a little easier to handle and the texture is somewhat better if you use margarine, but the difference is fairly slight. Chilling the dough overnight subtly improves the flavor and texture of the cookie.
Update: the vote is in.
My family prefers these cookies made with just 1 1/2 tsp. coffee powder and the maximum amount of chocolate chips that the dough can hold (batch 1, the top cookie picture). Update two: No wait, cancel that . . . we have shifted loyalty to the 2 tsp. version, except for my son, who like the lesser amount of coffee which lets more peanut butter flavor come through.
1/2 cup margarine (or 3 ounces oil)
2 Tbl. coffee powder (You can use much less like I do now—use about 2 teaspoons to get more oomph from the coffee; 1 1/2 tsp. is fine for a very subtle flavor lift–this lesser amount is what my family prefers)
1 Tbl. vanilla (yes, a whole Tbl., not a stingy teaspoon)
1/2 cup sugar (3.5 ounces) (you can also use light brown sugar, but it should be 3 ounces)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (3 ounces) (you can also use light brown sugar for the dark)
1/2 cup peanut butter (4.5 ounces)
1 cup flour (4.5 ounces) (you can use King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat Flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (if you are using Diamond Kosher Salt, use a scant whole tsp. because kosher salt packs less densely than regular salt in measuring spoons)
6-12 ounces chocolate chips (if you use oil instead of margarine, it will very hard to incorporate more than 6-8 ounces of chips since the dough with be drier and oilier)
If you are using margarine: Cream the margarine until soft. Add the sugars and beat until the mixture is fluffy and lightened in color. The beating is important because it adds air to the mixture and helps dissolve the sugar, which makes the texture of the cookie better. Feel a little of the mixture between your fingers to see if the mixture is gritty and beat the mixture little more if it is. Add the peanut butter to the creamed mixture and combine well.
Dissolve the coffee powder in the vanilla extract in a very small bowl or in a cup. Add the coffee/vanilla extract to the creamed mixture. Beat well until evenly combined.
Add the egg to the creamed mixture and beat until well combined.
If you are using oil, do as follows: Combine the oil, sugar, eggs and coffee/vanilla extract. Whisk well or stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula until evenly combined. Mix in the peanut butter. Let the mixture rest 3 minutes and then mix vigorously again. Feel the mixture to see if it feels very gritty with undissolved sugar and mix a little more if it does.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir the flour into the batter, stirring until the flour is completely absorbed and you have a soft cookie dough. If you used oil, the batter might seem a little oily–that is okay.
Stir in the chocolate chips. You won’t be able to get an oil based dough to hold more than about 6 ounces of chocolate chips, but you can add as much as 12 ounces of chips to a margarine based dough. If you want to deepen the flavor of the dough, you can wrap the dough in parchment paper and refrigerate it overnight.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll pieces of dough into 1″ balls. You should get about 30 balls of dough (2 1/2 dozen). If you roll them quite small, you might get as many as 40 balls of dough. Place the dough on parchment lined baking sheets about 2″ apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes. For an oil based dough, use the shorter time of 12 minutes. Oil based cookies can get overly hard if overbaked.
Variation: leave out the peanut butter for regular chocolate chip cookies, but leave in the coffee powder and use 12 ounces chocolate chips.
Tip: Notice how the cookies in the top picture seem to be bursting with chips? If you want to get in as many chips as possible and you are using an oil based dough, mix 6 ounces of chips directly into the dough and reserve some more chips for pressing into the tops of the rounds of cookie dough before baking. The top picture of cookies used this approach, the second picture did not.
Bonus food science fact: Ever wonder why some cookies get a cracked appearance on top? Cracking happens when melted sugar recrystallizes on the surface of the cookie and forms a crust before the cookie has finished spreading and rising. The sugar will recrystallize on the surface when the cookie is fairly low in moisture and high in sugar and water evaporates from the sugar on the cookie’s surface, drying it out early in the baking process. (Sugar.org and Handbook of Food Science)