BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Wednesday, 24 June 2020
Believe it or not, I hadn’t ever made peanut butter cookies until recently!
While I was isolating during COVID-19, I decided to give them a try and work on them until I thought they were perfect. During eight weeks of isolation, I tried variations of this recipe seven times!
It’s like this, folks. The isolation of COVID-19 left me a bit worried and lonely and sad. New York was the hotbed of virus cases in the United States, particularly New York City, which is only a few hours away.
Lots of people who live in the city also have weekend houses up in my county, and they came here to escape. I don’t blame them, but it also made me nervous.
There is a nursing home a mere two miles from me, and they had 30 cases of the virus, with 12 deaths. I was too cautious to even go to my favorite sandwich shop in town, because I knew the nurses and CNAs and other workers from this nursing home were passing through there.
So, I asked myself, what could I do at this frightening time that was positive, to try and take my mind off all this?
I’m not a nurse, or a doctor, or a scientist, and I can’t treat people, I can’t cure them. I can’t figure out what causes COVID.
I’m not a musician, and I can’t put on a Facebook Live concert every Friday night to entertain people, and help them forget about their worries for awhile. I’m not a famous singer who can record another version of a beloved song from my living room which will make people happy, and score a million YouTube views in the matter of a few days.
But what I can do, something positive, one of the things I’m good at, is baking cookies. My cookies always turn out. They make my house smell good. They make my son happy. They make me feel smiley and successful.
Baking makes me feel a bit more in control of this crazy world. I can usually predict how things will come out, and if it’s not quite right, then I can tweak a few things until I’m satisfied.
I love making cookies. Cookies are one of the ways I add a little bit of happiness and beauty back into a world which is sometimes full of sadness and ugly, unpredictable things.
So, when I first started researching peanut butter cookies, I looked up a bunch of different recipes and background information online. I wondered why peanut butter cookies always have a crisscross pattern made with a fork. Have you ever thought about it, or just taken it for granted?
I discovered the main reason is because the dough is so dense, it needs to be flattened out before it bakes, so the cookies will bake evenly.
I also suspect it’s to make peanut butter cookies easily identifiable. Without the crisscross, they might be mistaken for sugar cookies, right? People with peanut allergies need to be able to identify them at a bake sale.
Then, I found out something even more fascinating. The very first mention in print of peanut butter cookies having a crisscross pattern happened right here in New York state!
On July 1st, 1932, the Schenectady Gazette published a recipe calling for the fork crisscross. Schenectady (that’s pronounced Skeh-neck-tuh-dee) is a city just about an hour north of here!
So New York, this what I did, to try and stay positive during such a scary time. I made delicious peanut butter cookies, and I named them after you.
NEW YORK PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat in peanut butter.
Add egg and vanilla and mix. Dump in flour and sprinkle baking soda across the top. Then stir again, until all ingredients are incorporated.
Roll into small balls and place on greased cookie sheet. Using a fork with long tines, make a crisscross pattern on each cookie. Bake 8 minutes. Enjoy!
Save the wrapper from your stick of butter and use it to grease the cookie sheets.
I hate cleaning peanut butter out of a measuring cup. I think it’s a waste, because it’s hard to get out. I just place a one-cup measuring cup near my mixing bowl, and use it to gauge the amount of peanut butter I put directly into the bowl.
Speaking of peanut butter, I don’t refrigerate mine. It’s much easier to spread on a sandwich or mix into cookie dough this way!
Dennis DeYoung singing and playing “The Best of Times” from his home in April 2020. Viewing time is under three minutes.
Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx, performing live in Los Angeles in 2014. Viewing time is 1 hour, 40 minutes.
One of Dennis’s guitar players, August Zadra, put on Facebook Live acoustic guitar concerts every Friday night during COVID. At this writing, they’re still happening. Check out his Facebook page at August Zadra Music.
I used this recipe from Fannie Farmer the first two times I made the cookies, then adapted it to be more to my own liking.
In order to get a softer cookie, I increased the amount of brown sugar and decreased the amount white sugar. I experimented with baking times of both 8 and 10 minutes, and decided 8 made for a much softer cookie.
Then I increased the amount of peanut butter, wanting a more peanut-buttery taste.
Here’s the recipe I started with: