Begin the baking season with a batch of classic cookies

Wolfgang Puck/Tribune Content Agency Published December 8, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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Tribune Content Agency

Classic peanut butter cookies make excellent gifts throughout the holiday season.

I love the holiday season. It’s not just the actual holidays that I love, though I certainly look forward to and enjoy them. But I get excited in early December, and for a very good reason that stretches back to my childhood.

My mother and grandmother began their holiday baking in early December. Both of them were excellent, professional-

quality bakers, and from the earliest age I, the eldest child, was their No. 1 fan. Those two good, generous-hearted women baked box after box of holiday cookies as the main Christmas gifts our family gave to other families, and there were many families in our town that looked forward to receiving the cookies, but not as much as I enjoyed sampling them.

Over the years, I’ve been happy to share several of my family’s holiday classics. But this time I’d like to offer, instead, an all-American recipe instead of those old Austrian favorites. Why? Because simple, old-fashioned treats are often those we look forward to the most at the holidays.

Butter cookies cut into festive shapes and covered in simple icing tinted with bright colors. Classic chocolate-chip cookies and fudgy brownies. Oatmeal cookies studded with walnuts and raisins. They sound good, don’t they? So, how do you top them? Let me offer a classic recipe from my Spago restaurant files for one of the most basic, easy, all-American baked goods I know:classic peanut butter cookies.

Peanut butter is a childhood staple that remains a favorite among adults, too. Combine it with some flour, butter, sugar and eggs, and you get cookies that are a little bit crisp, a little bit chewy and full of rich, earthy, nutty flavor.

As you’ll see, the recipe couldn’t be simpler. It’s easy to do everything ahead of time, refrigerate the balls of cookie dough, and bake them as you need them. You could even bake batches weeks in advance and pack them in layers between waxed paper in airtight tins. The recipe is also easy to vary to your tastes. Add currants or chocolate chips, if you want. Or press down thumbprints into each ball and fill with your favorite preserves for peanut butter and jelly cookies. If you or a loved one has a peanut allergy, feel free to substitute another nut butter you can enjoy.

No matter how you prepare this all-American recipe, the result will make you feel like a happy child after just a single bite. That’s exactly how I feel whenever I taste one of my Austrian favorites during the holidays.

CLASSIC PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup chunky or smooth peanut butter

2 large cage-free eggs

1 1/2 cups dried currants or small raisins (optional)

Directions:

Over a mixing bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. Set aside.

Insert the paddle or beaters into an electric mixer. Put the butter in the mixer’s large bowl, and beat at medium speed until softened. Add the granulated and brown sugars, raise the speed to high, and continue mixing until fluffy, stopping the machine as necessary to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Add the peanut butter, and beat until thoroughly combined, stopping as needed to scrape down the sides.

Reduce the speed to medium, and one at a time, add the eggs. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour-baking soda mixture, and beat just until incorporated.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the currants or raisins and, with the spatula, fold in the currants/raisins until evenly distributed. Scrape out the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap completely, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. With clean hands, divide the dough into balls about the size of a walnut, weighing about 1 ounce each, rolling them between your palms until even; you should have about 48. Place the balls on the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart, and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Bake the cookies until they are slightly firm to the touch, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the trays front to back about halfway through baking. Immediately use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. If reusing the baking sheets, let them cool slightly before placing more dough balls on them.

Once the cookies have cooled, store in airtight containers before serving.