Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Beauty In the Eye of the Beholder: A Cookie Only A Mother Could Love!

When my husband and I were first married and moved from Indiana to California, his mother still sent him care packages even though he wasn't in college anymore.

Cookie care packages. Actually, primarily one type of cookie.

At that point in my life, I didn't really have much time for baking beyond the occasional chocolate chip cookie so I was glad he was getting his fix.

The cookie she sent him was quite a humble little thing -- not attractive by any stretch of the imagination. And the fact that they usually arrived in many broken pieces didn't matter to him at all.

As the years went by, his mom had less time to make his favorite cookie so I assumed the cookie mantle.

This unattractive and humble tribute to all that is American about milk-and-cookie-time after a hard day at school is none other than Peanut Blossoms. The blossom part of the name makes it sound like a beautiful cookie now doesn't it?

In reality it is a Hershey Kiss set into the middle of a partially baked peanut butter cookie then baked a few minutes more to meld kiss and cookie together. A mouthful of peanut butter and chocolate very much like a very tall Reese cup.

And the origin of this family favorite? Just like ring-a-lings, Peanut Blossoms were also an entrant in a Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. This time the year was 1957 and was created by Freda Smith of Gibsonburg, Ohio. I guess I shouldn't be surprised given that both of our moms were from the Midwest and were housewives during the 1950s but still, I think it is one more reason for our compatibility!

The Pillsbury Bake-Off Cookbook noted that sometimes this cookie is also called Brown-Eyed Susans but I think the Peanut Blossoms moniker is more fitting. Something about that pointy Hershey kiss makes the eye reference a bit jarring!

So, I gamely made this reminder of his childhood for every Christmas cookie platter.

Each year at the holidays, my large family would gather for our annual cookie bake. Although we now bring our finished cookies to our Christmas Eve gatherings, in the early years we would actually bake and exchange the cookies at one of our houses the week prior to Christmas. It was a flour and sugar fueled afternoon and it was a lot of fun.

In the beginning, I couldn't see how my humble cookie could compete with the beautifully decorated sugar cookies or laboriously piped Spritz cookies that were my mom's claim to cookie fame. How could a cookie that took so much less time and effort and was ugly to boot share the same cookie tin?

But I baked them each year although I made sure to bake a second cookie selection in an attempt to deflect from my ugly duckling cookie. But Peanut Blossoms were always a constant.

I think my family took them to be polite and they made their way into the trash once they were home!

But then an interesting thing happened: children. Once my siblings and I started having kids, the cookie exchange got bigger in scope and definitely a lot messier!

And the kids LOVED Peanut Blossoms!

And not just the cousins but in confirmation of the magic of genetics, my daughter shares her father's love of Peanut Blossoms. It is her favorite cookie.

These cookies also make an appearance at another time of the year other than Christmas -- October 24. See, one of my nieces loves them maybe even more than my daughter.

I bake them for her on her birthday each year. Not sure how this tradition started but it makes me happy to do it for her. She is one of the more quiet members of our large family. We don't talk a lot or are overly demonstrative with each other but we share a quiet compatibility. I like to think she knows I accept her just as she is and that I would show up if she needed me.

That might be a big burden for one humble cookie to bear but when she is off to college next year I have a feeling I'll be mailing a few care packages.

Peanut Blossoms

Typical of a cookie that has been around for so many years, many different recipes exist. The biggest difference is usually the choice between shortening and butter. The original recipe used shortening but I now use butter. I think it makes for a richer flavor but either one works.

This recipe is from the 1998 cookbook, FamilyFun's Cookies for Christmas. They also have a recipe on their website but it is different from the one in the cookbook. The only change I made is that I don't roll the dough balls in extra sugar before the first bake. I think it makes the cookies too crisp.

Peanut Butter Sealed with a Kiss

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon and sweep)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 9-ounce package chocolate kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream the peanut butter, butter and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla.

Sift the flour, salt and baking soda together. Combine with the peanut butter mixture.

Shape the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 8 minutes, remove from the oven, and press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie. Bake for another 3 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack. Makes 40-50 cookies.

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