Family trips to the grandparent's farm in the hilly terrain of Western Wisconsin are some of my favorite memories. In that two hour car ride I'd memorized every landmark, and been to every Kwik Trip bathroom en route. We'd hit the curvy back roads and I knew that soon I'd hear the familiar crackle and pinging of tiny rocks as we turned onto their gravel driveway. Mounting that last hill, Grandpa and Grandma's little farm spread out before us, and the sweetest mutt of a dog named Heidi rang alongside as we pulled in.
Upon entering the house, I was engulfed in a lavender/cookie scented hug from Grandma Edna, and then I'd run across the room to be swept up by my Grandpa Carmen. And every time, as long as I was little enough and he was physically able, he always threw me up in the air and said, "Ellie May, you're gettin' so big!" He's the only person who's ever called me that, and I'm pretty sure nobody else could ever get away with it.
As the years passed things got more difficult for them, and the farm got sold. And then Grandma left us, and visits to see Gramps got harder. Watching a man who never took a sick day in his life rapidly deteriorate in health and strength is incredibly difficult. A tractor seat was replaced by a wheelchair, farm boots with slippers, patches and prescription eyeglasses for his once stellar vision. But he still wore his Packer baseball hat, still donned the same flannel shirts, and when I leaned in for a hug he still greeted me by "Ellie May."
But even that lessened, to the point where he barely recognized us. The last time I saw Gramps was during Christmas break, and the skinny man staring blankly into space was just not my Grandpa. I felt as though we'd lost him a long time ago.
As far as baked goods go, there is one memory that pops up in my head. I was just starting to get my hands dirty in the kitchen, and I remember asking Grandma or somebody what Grandpa liked to eat. Peanut butter cookies, I was told. I remember making the classic peanut butter cookie for him, criss-crossing the dough with a fork and thinking what a strange method it was. I loaded up a big ol' Ziploc for him and went on a trip with my dad to the farm. Presenting my Grandpa with those labored over cookies was everything to me, especially since peanut butter cookies are also my favorite among most baked goods. That is one thing I'm very glad we had in common.
I made these cookies a couple weeks ago, before I had any clue that Grandpa would be passing so soon. I'm glad I did, because they are the perfect cookie to mark his memory. My love for peanut butter has only grown as I've gotten older, and one woman who understands that better than most is Averie of Averie Cooks. She is the sweetest, and has a book out dedicated to peanut butter recipes, so obviously I like her.
I love the traditional peanut butter cookie, but one other cookie I also love is the Lofthouse-Style sugar cookie. You know, those disgusting, light, soft-frosted sprinkled cookies you see in grocery stores? Love 'em. Basically, Averie took that sugar cookie concept and threw in a peanut butter twist. It's pure genius. A super soft sugar cookie dotted with melted peanut butter chips, and mounded with a sinfully good peanut butter frosting that's so so smooth. It's perfect, my two loves combined. And because I'm crazy and was too lazy to run to the store, I made my own peanut butter chips, and that just took things up to a whole other level of goodness.
I adapted a peanut butter chip recipe I found on Culinary Adventures in the Kitchen, originally from mah gurl Izy at Top with Cinnamon. They're were so easy to whip up, and as long as you keep them cold, they hold their shape very well, and are way too tempting to pop into your mouth. Just know the instant they're out of the freezer they get melty, so keep them in there until the last possible second.
That being said, these are ah-mazing. They do rather fall apart in your hands, and I think I squished mine down a bit too much prior to baking so they turned out a little flatter and more fragile than Averie's, but they were still magnificent. Do not skip the dough chilling process, it's mandatory for a thick cookie. I did do a pre-chill in the freezer for 10 minutes to speed things up a bit, but do what you will.
That all being said, I leave for Phoenix on Monday, and I am excited/scared/don'tknowwhattoevenfeel. Here's to opportunities, and I'm glad I got to say one last goodbye to my Gramps before I left. I know he would've loved these cookies, and he and Grandma would both be proud that I'm going off exploring with their daughter. They both taught me so much, and I'm especially grateful for their awesome sense of humor.
Ellie May's all grown up now, but there will always be a part of me that will forever love the farm life and peanut butter cookies.
Soft Frosted Peanut Butter Chip Sugar Cookies
Yield: 13 cookies
Ingredients for the peanut butter chips (if you decide to go the homemade route):
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1-3 tablespoons milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Ingredients for the cookies:
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour (no substitutions, I used Swans Down)
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- A pinch of salt
- 1 2/3 cups of peanut butter chips, or a 10 oz. bag (the recipe above will make just enough)
Ingredients for the frosting:
- 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (half a stick), softened
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- A pinch of salt
- Splash of cream or milk, if needed to achieve proper consistency
- Chocolate sprinkles, optional for garnishing
To make the peanut butter chips, line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl, starting with only 1 tablespoon of milk. Stir until well combined. Add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until your mixture has reached a smooth consistency. Conversely, add more powdered sugar if your mixture isn't thick enough. It should be of piping consistency, but still moist, like Play-Doh.
Scoop your mixture into a large Ziploc bag (with a small hole cut in the corner) or a piping bag outfitted with a small round tip. Pipe little chips onto the prepared baking sheet and place in the freezer until firm (it doesn't take long). Transfer into an airtight container and store in the freezer until the very moment that you are ready to use them.
While you wait for your chips to freeze, you can make the cookies. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), cream together the egg, butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the cake flour, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the peanut butter chips and mix until just incorporated, dough will tacky and sticky.
For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), combine the peanut butter and butter, and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, salt, and mix until frosting comes together. Add a splash of cream/milk to achieve desired consistency.
Add a generous dollop to each cookie (about 2 tablespoons) and smooth as desired with a knife or small frosting spatula. Immediately garnish with sprinkles, you may need to press them in a bit. Serve immediately.
A few notes from Averie:Cookies will keep in an airtight at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. I'm okay with leaving buttercream frosting at room temperature for a couple days; if you aren't, refrigerate the cookies, knowing they'll dry out more. Unbaked cookie dough can be stored airtight in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 4 months, so consider baking only as many cookies as desired and save the remaining dough to be baked in the future when desired.