As a younger person, I never grasped the concept of comfort food. For me, food fell into only two categories – things I liked and things I didn’t. And the categorization was complicated – one might assume that peanut butter was in one category or another, but it wasn’t. A piece of bread, spread thick with the smooth and creamy nut butter was something likeable unless it was it was folded in half (or topped with more bread), in which case I didn’t like it. No, not one bit.
I can still remember my poor father’s baffled expression when I wouldn’t eat the snack that only moments before I had noisily craved. What he didn’t understand was that there was a vast difference between a peanut butter sandwich and what I called a peanut butter top. And so, when he enacted the dreadful fold, the craving died and the luster was off the nut – as I’m certain he thought I was off my nut, too.
I couldn’t explain it. It just was – might as well ask me why I have a big toe. I just do.
As a grown person, I don’t have that particular obsession anymore, well, not in the same degree. Nowadays, peanut butter sandwiches have zero appeal without jelly, but I retain an admittedly strange obsession with canapes and other foods served open-faced. And there is nothing that catches my heart, appetite, and eye quite like an open faced cookie. For it was the thumbprint cookie that revealed not only why I turned my countenance from Daddy’s sandwich but also transformed my inexplicable obsession into explicable reason.
At least to my mind.
My mother was fond of sandwich cookies – Vienna fingers or vanilla creams were a constant and welcome presence in the pantry. But there was one day, a glorious and epiphanous day, when some kind and generous soul gifted mother with a bag of Pepperidge Farm Strawberry thumbprint cookies.
Oh joyous day – every obsessive nerve in my little body quivered – here was the peanut butter top of cookies, and it had jam. JAM! But most importantly it was then that I knew! I knew why the peanut butter top was essential, and the peanut butter sandwich was vile. It was at the first moment of biting that cookie when I understood that the open face always smelled better and! And! AND! the impression of the first bite was not dominated by the bread or the cookie but was shared equally with the always magnificent, always delightful filling!
First impressions DO matter.
More important than my own epiphany, now my poor father would feel the sting of my refusal less keenly! He would understand, as I understood, that my rejection of the sandwich was a textural and olfactive thing and not some oedipal grudge. And he would no longer think that I was off my nut.
Alas, fathers, like children, I suppose, don’t always act like we want them to do– even 45 years later my dad remains uncertain about my sanity. But I know – and that’s enough.
And while my affection for peanut butter has changed significantly, there are two things that have become essential truth in my eating life: One is that peanut butter is always better with jelly; the other, good food with good open faced presentation is the road to Nirvana. And thumbprint cookies are the fast lane.
Sunday, April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. You may celebrate with a sandwich if you must, or you can really put the hammer down by making Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies. Mahasti has provided a recipe below – and will show you how easy it is to celebrate in open-faced style on WBIR’s Weekend Today.
And while baking these cookies and celebrating food holidays may only affirm your family’s worry that you’re off your nut, they’ll be grateful that you’re tasteful about it.
Flour Head Bakery’s Peanut Butter and Jelly thumbprint cookies
½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts ground fine
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Place peanuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until fine. Place peanuts in a bowl, add sugar and set aside.
For the cookie:
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Place butter in bowl of stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg and mix until well combined. Add vanilla and milk and mix well. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until all the flour is mixed in. Place the cookie dough in the refrigerator for an hour. Remove the dough and scoop into balls. Roll the dough balls in the ground peanut mixture and place 1.5 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven, allow the cookies to cool for 1 minute, then gently press your thumb in the middle. Spoon a small amount of your favorite jam in the imprint and serve.
Makes 20 – 24 1 inch cookies.