Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cookies. With or without sticks.

Two kinds of chocolate and a wee bit of peanut butter. Pretzels optional. © Ryan Schierling
In my now "vintage" 1970s recipe box there is a faded card that is spattered from decades of use, and the careful lines of my early teenage script are a barely-legible watercolor of blue ink. This is the mother recipe for innumerable batches of cookies I've baked in my lifetime. We all have a recipe or two like this tucked away somewhere – one from which a thousand improvisations are sprung. 

I was a lucky kid to help in the kitchen from a very early age, but somewhere around the age of eleven, baking cookies became a legitimate activity to stave off summer boredom. After hours of riding our ten-speeds on dirt roads through the middle of barley fields or walking the railroad tracks to the little general store with its weathered board and batten siding and shake porch that looked like something straight out of a spaghetti western, my friend Tammy and I would often choose to pass an afternoon baking cookies.

It didn't even matter what kind, as a general rule. We tried different recipes and played with variations on the basics. Sometimes there were waffle makers involved, but more often than not, chocolate chips. One of my favorite misadventures was the time we found ourselves so lacking the basic ingredients – in this instance, sugar – that we tried substituting some Sweet'n'low™ that we found in the back of the pantry. I'm pretty sure we were out of some other equally-critical ingredient, too, but I can't remember what that one was. The resulting "cookies" were horrible little rock-hard lumps that tasted nasty and were reminiscent of a kitchen catastrophe straight out of a Little House on the Prairie book.

Tammy and I occasionally get the opportunity to reminisce about those days. The interesting thread is that since that time we have both found that the baking of cookies is a therapeutic practice which serves to help us reset and regroup when things get a little crazier than we might prefer in our lives. Baking cookies isn't something one normally thinks of as a relaxing exercise at 10 p.m. on a weeknight. When nothing else seems quite sane enough to deal with directly, it's our natural go-to. I may be speaking for myself, but, tasty as they always are, the act of baking cookies is usually not even a little bit about eating them.

I don't suppose that makes for a knock-out lead-in to "selling" this cookie recipe. But, really, those late-night cookies do have a serious payoff when you need them the following day. These cookies are a more recent iteration of my riffs on that cookie mother recipe I mentioned earlier – which unsurprisingly is the classic Original Toll-House recipe. Since I seem to keep getting requests for these at work and haven't posted a cookie recipe in a while... here they are. These actually started out as just a very light peanut butter and two chocolate (mostly milk chocolate) cookie of extra large proportions. They have evolved to be adorned with pretzel sticks, which are a wonderfully salty-crunchy addition.

You'll notice that I prepare this dough from primarily cold ingredients. I'm not sure how much of a difference this really makes, but it is how I make them and the results are consistent and the outcome excellent. If it is warm in the house, I'll sometimes stick the mixing bowl in the fridge between batches. I don't necessarily recommend leaving it in the fridge for baking later, though, unless you have portioned and flattened the dough in advance. 

Milk Dark Peanut Pretzel Cookies. © Ryan Schierling
Milk Dark Peanut Pretzel Cookies

Preheat oven to 375º F.

In a stand mixer, combine and beat until creamy:
1/2 cup butter (salted) 
1/4 cup palm shortening
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

Beat in:
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon water
2 large eggs (cold, from fridge)

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, finely blended in food processor*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Gradually add:
2-1/4 cup cold all-purpose flour (cold, from freezer)

Mix in:
8 ounces large milk chocolate chips (cold, from freezer)
4 ounces extra-dark chocolate chips (cold, from freezer)
3 ounces peanut butter chips (cold, from freezer)

On hand:
90 whole pretzel sticks

Use a 1/4 cup (2 ounce) #16 cookie scoop leveled with dough to portion 6 cookies onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Press dough to about 1/2" disc on cookie sheet and top with 5 pretzel sticks.

Bake for 11-13 minutes at 375º F or until puffed and golden around edges.

Cool on rack and enjoy.

Makes 18 cookies.

*One of my favorite kitchen tools is the little mini food-processor attachment for my trusty old hand blender.  It's super easy and convenient and there is hardly a batch of cookies in this house that doesn't get some finely ground oats, nuts or dried fruit added to the mix.


  1. Pretzels and chocolate just are kind of meant for each other.

  2. Nom nom nom. My only concern is eating the whole goddamn batch.


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