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.