The Truth About Peanut Butter Cookies

I haven’t made my mother’s peanut butter cookies for a long time because my grandson is allergic to peanuts.  It makes me so sad that so many kids in the younger generations can never enjoy peanut butter cookies and milk–not to mention that staple of school lunches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

After School Peanut Butter Cookies

After school snack of peanut butter cookies and milk. Harriette Kaser’s china, vintage Daffy Duck glass and Grandma Vera Anderson’s apron*

A recent conversation with my sister, who has very firm ideas about what is and is not allowed in cookies, reminded me not only of oatmeal cookies with raisins, but also peanut butter cookies with crisscross marks on top made by a fork.  Where did that particular form come from? After all, you can just put a ball of dough on a cookie sheet and let it spread, or you can press it flat with a glass or the heel of your hand. But fork-made crisscross means peanut butter cookie, doesn’t it? Why?

And are peanut butter cookies a strictly American thing?  I don’t imagine that our British and German ancestors had access to peanut butter. And when did peanut butter become such a big deal in the U.S. anyhow?

Peanut Butter History

So, off to do some research. And first thing I found? A website called PeanutButterLovers.com . But of course!  Their handy timeline held some surprises, and a couple reasons we Ohioans might particularly be addicted to peanut butter.

  • Like many foods that became popular, peanut butter started out as a benefit for health in 1890 when a doctor marketed a peanut butter paste for people with bad teeth. According to another source, he described it as “providing protein for toothless elderly people.” (Wonder how that turned out?)
  • At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, peanut butter was sold in a booth and thus introduced to the rest of the world.
  • At that point peanut butter was made by boiling in a process patented by Kelloggs in 1895. Now it is roasted for a much better flavor.
  • The oldest existing peanut butter company, Krema, was established in COLUMBUS, OHIO in 1908 (two years after my mother was born).
  • In 1922 Joseph Rosefield invented a method of churning that resulted in a smoother peanut butter and a shelf-stable product which he sold in California.
  • Other early peanut butters were one produced (1928) by Swift and Company (later called Peter Pan), using Rosefield’s methods. Rosefield retaliated by creating Skippy, and produced the first crunch peanut butter in 1930. Jif was a latecomer, first made in 1958, and Jif is now owned by Smucker company of ORRVILLE OHIO.

Although this timeline does not take us into the 2000’s, Peanut Butter has become a trendy food, with small batch peanut butter sold at farmer’s markets and peanut butters in many flavors manufactured by lesser-known brands. You can even grind your own nutbutters at the store in many natural foods markets. (Right beside the coffee bean grinders.)

And more peanut butter is exported from America than any other country. China is the other big exporter.

Peanut Butter Cookie History

More than you ever wanted to know about the history of peanut butter cookies (unless you’re a cooking nerd) appears on the website New England Recipes.

At first, peanut butter cookies were made with ground peanuts instead of peanut butter. George Washington Carver, father of peanuts, published 105 recipes for peanuts that had the first peanut cookies. Then it was discovered that peanut butter could substitute for all or some of the shortening in a recipe.

But cookbooks did not carry the peanut butter cookie recipe we use today until the 1940s. In 1947 the Boston Cookbook School Cookbook finally switched to today’s standard recipe using half brown and half white sugar and equal amounts of shortening and peanut butter.

It appears that Mary Ellis Ames, who worked for Pillsbury, is responsible for our associating fork hash marks with peanut butter cookies, according to the What’s Cooking America website. 

The 1933 edition of Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes by Mary Ellis Ames, Director of the Pillsbury Cooking Service, contains a recipe for Peanut Butter Balls. It instructs the cook to roll the dough into balls and press them down with the tines of a fork. This practice is still common in America today.

Peanut Butter Cookie Recipes

You can find numerous variations on peanut butter cookies on the Internet, but for purists, the recipe below is very close to the first recipes published in America for  peanut butter cookies.

Since I don’t have a recipe card from mother’s recipe box, I guessed that she used the recipe in the Better Homes and Garden’s Cookbook. But I had one problem. Mother’s cookies were a little soft, and following the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, I got very crispy cookies. In the notes to the recipe, I address how you can convert the same recipe to get a softer cookie. (Ironically, by reverting to the one measurement where Better Homes differs from the first recipes published.)

I also trampled on tradition with half of my batch of cookies, by melting dipping chocolate and either dipping part of the cookie in the chocolate, or spreading some on top. (My husband think every cookie in the world is improved with chocolate, and the chocolate lovers of the world must be served.)

Peanut Butter cookies with chocolate

Contemporary Chocolate dipped peanut butter cookies with tea

Let me know where you stand on peanut butter cookies. Crispy or soft? With additions or not? Do your have crisscross fork marks?

ONE MORE TIP:  Mother always put a slice of apple or a piece of bread in the cookie jar to keep the cookies soft. And by golly, a piece of bread even made my crispy cookies nice and soft!

Family Favorite: Peanut Butter Cookies

Serves 8 doz cookies
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 50 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 10 minutes
Allergy Egg, Peanuts, Wheat
Meal type Dessert, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
From book Better Homes and Gardens (1960)
Traditional peanut butter cookie with crisscross fork marks on top.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shortening (softened but not liquid)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • 1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted flour ((see note))
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • dash salt

Optional

  • 2 cups Dipping chocolate wafers

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until smooth, add sugars and vanilla and beat until creamy
2. Beat eggs in small bowl, and add to butter/sugar mixture and beat on medium setting just until combined.
3. Whisk or stir soda and salt into flour. Add to other ingredients and stir just until combined.
4. Line cookie sheets with parchment, or use ungreased cookie sheets. Form balls of a tablespoon of dough and place on cookie sheet.
5. Press each ball down by making a crisscross design on top with a fork that has been dipped in water or flour.
6. Alternatively, roll dough into log and wrap tightly. Refrigerate until ready to use, then cut 3/8" slices and press each with fork as above.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes. (Original instructions say 375 for ten minutes.)
Chocolate coating
8. Melt dipping chocolate according to directions. The wafers melt very quickly, stirred over boiling water.
9. When cookies are entirely cool, dip and set upright with chocolate on top, wedged into a cooling rack, or lay on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet. Then chill in refrigerator for ten minutes to set the chocolate coating. Or for a simpler procedure, spread chocolate on top of cookie and cool on a wax-paper lined cookie pan before putting in the refrigerator.

Note

The original recipe, calling for 3 cups of flour, and baking at 375 degrees for ten minutes, resulted in a very crispy cookie.

If you prefer a softer cookie, use my recipe, which reduces the flour by 1/2 cup and the baking temperature to 350 instead of 375.

In either case, remove the cookies while they are still slightly soft on top, as they burn on the bottom quite easily, and will finish baking, even on a cooling rack.

If you store the dough "log" in the refrigerator before baking, it may take as much as an hour at room temperature to soften enough to slice and bake.

If you choose to use the chocolate coating, consider storing the finished cookies in an airtight container in the refrigerator, particularly in summer.

*A note about the family heirlooms in the first picture can be found in my next post.

7 thoughts on “The Truth About Peanut Butter Cookies

  1. Jana Last

    What a fun, interesting, and yummy post! I love peanut butter. Hmm, I haven’t made peanut butter cookies in quite a while. And I love the idea of dipping them in chocolate. Peanut butter and chocolate, such a delicious combination!

    Reply
  2. Jeanne Insalaco


    Twitter:
    Oh, I love peanut butter cookies and sure wished I had a couple of them right this minute. I believe my older recipe from my mother in law called for crisco – I’ll have to pull it out and compare. I just may have to make a pan of these soon – just for me. Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
  3. Kristin

    My husband is the peanut cookie baker here. I believe he uses a recipe from my Joy of Cooking book. they are kind of soft with the marks, of course. I’ll have to share your recipe with him and we can compare.

    Finding Eliza

    Reply
  4. Michelle Taggart

    I have never thought about dipping peanut butter cookies in chocolate, but they sound wonderful. I have never been a big fan of peanut butter in general, but I really do like peanut butter cookies! Sadly, like you, I have 4 grandsons (in two different families) that are allergic to peanuts, so I haven’t made peanut butter cookies in ages.

    Yes, I did the crisscrosses on them when I made them. It’s fun to know how that tradition was started.
    Michelle Taggart would like you to read..Foto Friday- What Is the Message?My Profile

    Reply

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