The Baking Bug isn’t a ladybug, it’s a wasp: once it stings you, you’ve been stung.
Such has been the case with my friend Josh Hume, director of my show on Food2 and a recent convert to the world of baking. He loves it. He calls himself Man Martha because of his love for Martha Stewart’s recipes and, most recently, he represented me at a Bon Appetit Magazine blogger bake-off. (Check out his bouche!) It’s no surprise, then, that Josh approached holiday baking this year with a fervor; not only did he bake cakes for several friends’ birthday parties (big, elaborate cakes) but he planned an enormous Christmas cookie exchange and assigned each person a different cookie to bring. My assignment? Pfeffernussen.
What are Pfeffernussen? I had no idea. But lucky for me, Josh provided a link to a recipe on–of course–Martha Stewart’s site. (Click here.)
My first reaction to the fact that I had to make this cookie was: “If I can’t pronounce it, I shouldn’t have to bake it.”
But when I saw how easy it was–just a stick of butter, a bunch of Christmasy spices, molasses, egg and vanilla–I knew I could attack these classic German cookies (so says Martha) with aplomb.
Here are the raw ingredients in the mixing bowl:
Here they are after some time in the oven:
Some of the bottoms got burnt, but luckily they got coated in powdered sugar so no one would know!
What did I think of these Pfeffernussen? They were a bit too dense for my taste. The molasses, perhaps, made it tough; it gave a bit too much resistance when you tried to take a bite. I did, however, like their spicy flavor–did I mention they have black pepper in them?–and it made me harken for a great Christmas cookie I made in the days of yore, the gingersnaps from Chez Panisse. (See here.) Spicy cookies are my friend.
These were orangey, buttery cookies of sheer delight. Look at all that zest:
Here’s Rob with a ruler, trying to figure out how to roll the dough up in parchment paper before refrigerating and slicing. I wasn’t much help in this regard (how does that ruler help anyway?) but he got the job done as I took this picture:
The resulting cookies were light and packed with orange flavor. If you like oranges and butter and butter on your oranges, this is the way to go.
The cookie exchange was a big hit. Look at all the fun people are having:
This is our friend Sasie, ladling some Food52 cider punch:
And here are my Pfeffernussen out on the table, for all to admire and pretend to enjoy:
As you can see, there were many other cookies. Here are two kinds of lime cookies and one kind of chocolate chip cookie:
But one cookie towered over the rest and had everyone clambering for more. It’s the cookie you saw at the top of this post, a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie so good–oozing with peanut butter, melty chocolate and, the kicker, flecks of sea salt–I had to beg Andrew and Cara (our friends who brought the cookie) for the recipe.
“Who made it?” I needled Cara. “Whose recipe was it? Jacques Torres? Maida Heatter? Pierre Herme?”
“It’s a Paula Dean recipe,” answered Cara, “adapted by my friend Lucy.”
“Oh!” I said. Could a Paula Dean recipe really taste this good? Be this excellent? Cause so many people to claw each other’s faces for another taste? Well, the answer, you snobby doubters, is undoubtedly: “Yes.”
Guess what? As an early X-mas present, I have the recipe for you right here in my e-mail (thank you Cara!) So prepare to make the chocolate peanut butter cookie of your dreams (it’s all peanut butter + chocolate and NO flour). I haven’t tried making it yet, so I can’t vouch that the recipe (as written) works, but I trust you’ll let us know in the comments. As for you Pfeffernussen pfans, do you have a favorite recipe? I’m willing to test my Pfeffernussen pfate one more time.
Thanks Josh for hosting a great party. And if anyone needs to hire a baker, Josh is your man.
The Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie of Your Dreams
by Paula Dean, adapted by Cara’s friend Lucy
1 cup creamy peanut butter [Note from Adam: I’ve found that using commercial brand peanut butter works better in baking than healthy, “real” peanut butter. Just a tip!]
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
chocolate chunks (dark or milk, whatever you prefer)
orange zest (depends on how orangey you want it but about 1 tsp)
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a baking sheet.
Mix peanut butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, orange zest and a pinch of sea salt until well integrated.
Make walnut sized balls on the cookie sheet. DONT PRESS THEM DOWN.
Press some chocolate on top.
Sprinkle a generous amount of sea salt (but don’t go overboard though. knowing the right amount is kind of a trial and error experience)
Bake for like 10 – 12 minutes. They’re just peanut butter, so its really just about cooking the egg and locking the flavors in.
You might have to let them cool for a few minutes to solidify before you spatula them off the cookie sheet to cool.