Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Peanut butter and chocolate. Such a tried and true pair. Familiar, but somehow always still exciting because it’s jut such a perfect match. I was looking for something delicious to send in my Valentine’s Day packages to friends, but was worried about making anything too buttery knowing they would be traveling to either coast in non-refrigerated boxes for two to three days. My search took me around the usual online haunts, through the dessert archive of Pinterest, and then to one of my recipe notebooks where I clip and paste recipes that pique my interest from various magazines and newspapers. Call it antiquated, but it’s tactile and I like that in a hobby after spending so much time reading online all day. These notebooks of mine are pretty meticulous and organized, probably a lot like the famed fastidious journalings of Lewis and Clark…only minus the colonialism.

While looking through my dessert journal, I came across a recipe for flourless peanut butter cookie and while I was sure they’d be delicious, I worried they’d be too soft to mail. Note: if you’ve never made or consumed a flourless cookie or cake, the result is usually that the main flavor is much bolder and richer, while the texture of the food is more delicate, moist and chewy. Meaning, flourless desserts are amazing, they’re just not the most conducive to being handled by the USPS.

To combat the problem, I kept the cookies flourless as written, but added bulk to them with large chunks of dark and bittersweet chocolate. I also made them fairly large and avoided flattening them much in order to keep the cookies sturdy enough to travel, but still soft and chewy enough that they feel luscious and over-the-top. It also helps to not cook these for long. Mine were in and out of the oven in 8 minutes exactly and while that might seem like a short time for such big cookies, you don’t want to go further or the texture will get too crispy and you won’t get that dense, gooey bite you’re looking for when making something flourless. Use a timer, for sure.

While these cookies certainly aren’t any kind of “health food,” they are gluten-free (so long as your peanut butter is unopened or has never seen a knife that just spread jelly on bread containing flour) and use no butter or white sugar. I’ll admit that I normally wouldn’t bother making a dessert that met all three of these qualifications simultaneously, but my faith in peanut butter and chocolate convinced me this was the path to go and I’m one awesome recipe better for it. These are total keepers.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yields approximately 30 cookies

2 cups of chunky peanut butter
2 cups of light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
12 ounces of dark and/or bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped
Note: You can certainly use chips here, but you won’t get that streaky pattern in the cookies or the melty blobs from the bar. The stabilizers in chocolate chips prevent this. Also, I chopped and threw in a few Hershey’s miniatures “Special Dark” bars because they were the last to go in our bag from Valentine’s Day. Someone – not me – ate all of the Mr. Goodbar and Krackle leaving only the bland stuff behind. Ahem.

With a handmixer, beat the peanut butter and the brown sugar together until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, the baking soda, the salt, and the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Stir in chopped chocolate by hand with a spoon, so as to not pulverize the chunks. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours. You can make this dough up to 3 days in advance, so long as it’s wrapped well. At this point, it’s also freezable.

When you’re ready to bake off your cookies, preheat the oven to 350° and line or grease two cookie sheets. Using a 2-inch cookie scoop or 2 Tablespoons of dough per cookie, drop rounded balls of dough onto the sheets leaving approximately 2 inches between cookies. Fill the baking sheets and then go back and gently flatten the top of each mound with your fingers. This will help the cookies level off, but keep their structure. Bake for 8 minutes – no more than 10 if you want a slightly crispier edge – or until the edges are lightly browned and the center is barely set. The chocolate in the center of the cookie might seem only barely melted, depending on the size of the chunks. This is ok, as they will continue to melt a little as they sit. Allow cookie to sit on baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 more minutes.

When cooled, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week. You can freeze the baked cookies, too. When eating cooled and stored cookies, feel free to bring them back to “just baked” stage with a quick 5-10 second zap in the microwave.

Oreo Cookie Truffles

Oreo Truffles

True fact: I’m not really a huge chocolate fan. I love the occasional brownie or a few bites of a really amazing chocolate cake, but generally, it’s too sweet for me. I eat a few bites and I’m bored or feel like I’m developing cavities. Heavy chocolate desserts, while delicious, make me crave ice water to cut through them. I guess I like a little more contrast in my sweets. Like, the salty element of chocolate-covered toffee, for example, or the burst of tartness that comes from the combination of fruit and dark chocolate. Chocolate in the form of sweet, baked goodness, though, just doesn’t get me going the way it does the majority of folks. Which is why it’s so strange that I can take down these Oreo cookie truffles like a cheetah to a gazelle without feeling Chocolate Overload™.

Maybe it’s the whole block of softened cream cheese that gets blended with the crushed Oreo’s that makes these little bonbons sweet and deeply chocolatey, but slightly tangy and so delicious you just keep going back to them. If that combination of cream cheese and Oreo’s gives you any pause, don’t let it. Something completely magical happens when the two are thoroughly combined, creating a dense, cakey interior that is like the fudgiest cake you’ve ever had, but never overwhelming. Dipped in a simple, vanilla white chocolate bark, when hardened, create these two-bite packages of perfect.

I kept the decoration limited on these, sprinkling some leftover Oreo crumb on top to signal what might be inside, but you could make these really glamorous with some edible glitter, luster dust, or even just some pretty piped CandyQuik designs. An even simpler idea for a stepped-up presentation is to tint the white bark to match a theme or holiday. I love the thought of pink and white truffles in little paper liners packaged up in a cute box for Valentine’s Day. I’ve also made these with mint Oreo’s and tinted the coating pale green, but you can also change the cookie completely. I’m thinking a buttery shortbread cookie with a maple-extract-spiked CandyQuik would be amazing, too. Oreo or Lorna Doone, these make an adorable sweet treat that trumps those tired cupcakes and cake pops, for sure. What other combinations would you try?

Oreo Cookie Truffles
Makes approximately 30 truffles

1 package of original Oreo cookies; avoid the Double Stuff variety no matter how tempting
1 – 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened in the microwave
1 package of white chocolate or vanilla bark

Using a food processor, pulverize the entire bag of Oreo’s – cream and all – into a fine ground. If you don’t have a food processor, you could absolutely use a large resealable bag and a rolling pin or heavy can, but I suggest doing it in batches to really get a fine sandy texture as shown above. Set aside approximately 1/4 of a cup for decorating tops, if desired. If not, leave it in. Mix the rest of the Oreo crumbs with the softened cream cheese and stir until thoroughly combined. On wax paper or a silicon baker’s mat, roll the truffle mixture into small balls and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up. This will prevent crumbs from falling into the melted bark once you begin dipping. Before removing the truffles from the refrigerator, melt the bark in the microwave per package directions. Roll the truffles individually through the melted bark, allow excess bark to drip off, and return to the wax paper or mat. Before they dry, sprinkle the top of each truffle with the reserved 1/4 cup of crumbs and allow the chocolate shell to harden. Share with someone you love or proudly consume them all yourself!

Princess Bars

When you go to college with just over 2,000 other women, there’s a lot to laugh about. In fact, I don’t think it’s healthy to make it through 4 years of school at the Bryn Mawr’s and Smith’s of the world if you’re incapable of identifying moments where the whole notion is a little bit hilarious. Don’t get me wrong, my time at Mount Holyoke College in picturesque Western Massachusetts was nothing short of wonderful. It changed me in ways that any college experience should, forced me to read the American canon, and introduced me to lifelong friends. But it was also stuck in a constant tussle between the traditional, bougie image of being the nation’s oldest women’s college and the rampant liberalism and queerness of its student and faculty bodies.

Imagine then our nightly tradition of Milk & Cookies, aka M&C’s, where the dining hall of each dorm opened up between the hours of 9-10pm for some kind of sweet treat and the milk, soda, or hot beverage of your choice. The dorks, the divas, the white girls with dreads, the crew and rugby teams (swoon!), all of us, clamoring downstairs to stuff our little faces. We had it so good. My beau, who was down the road serving time at UMass this very same moment in time, never misses an opportunity to make fun of M&C’s, imagining it as The Facts of Life meets The Golden Girls around a towering table of cheesecakes and bonbons. It’s not far from the truth.

Anyway, when you have M&C’s every weeknight for 4 years, two things happen: 1) You develop a fevered addiction to having dessert every single evening between 9pm & 10pm and 2) You wind up picking favorites. There were college-wide top choices like vanilla and chocolate cupcakes or magic cookie bars. No one was ever disappointed for jumbo peanut butter cookies or brownies. Less popular nights were baked goods containing some kind of dried fruit and yet, still worse, were the nights we’d be greeted with a few boxes of graham crackers and a tub of peanut butter. It’s ok to not feel sorry for us.

Baby Houseman & Princess Bars: destined for the corner, no more!

I seemed to be in a camp of one though when it came to my hands-down favorite dessert of M&C’s: Princess Bars! Call it the obvious choice, or part of my femme root, but Princess Bars were perfection – oatmeal, coconut shortbread bars with a layer of sweet and tangy raspberry jam between the toasty, crumbly layers. Nomtastic! And yet, they were overlooked and under-appreciated amidst the hope and possibility of homemade swiss rolls. Unjust! So now, just like when Johnny came to rescue Baby (a to-be Mount Holyoke student, btw) in Dirty Dancing, I seek to revive the Princess Bar. No more will the masses put this baby in the corner.

Princess Bars
Serves 9 approx. 3-inch by 3-inch bars

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 Tablespoons of sweetened coconut flakes, separated
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup oats
1 cup seedless raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a square, 8-inch pan and set aside. Combine all ingredients together except for the jam and reserve 2 Tablespoons of the coconut. Press 2 cups of the oatmeal shortbread mixture into the bottom of the greased pain. Spread the jam over the shortbread base stopping approximately 1/4-inch from the edge. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of coconut to the remaining oatmeal shortbread mixture and combine. Sprinkle these remaining crumbs over the top off jam layer. Some spots of jam should be visible between the crumbs. Bake for 35 minutes or until the jam is slowly bubbling and the crust is golden brown and fragrant with the smell of toasted butter and coconut. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes before cutting into bars and transferring to wire rack to cool and finish setting up.

Note: This is not the official Princess Bar recipe of Mount Holyoke College, as I was unable to find it anywhere. This is my attempt at its re-creation.