For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was ubiquitous. It wasn’t just the default lunch option, but also the fall-back snack, playdate and birthday-party meal, so if you didn’t like it, you were badly out of luck. Zanthe is still haunted by the ghosts of all the PB&J sandwiches that defeated her with their unholy union of sweet and savory, their terrifyingly gloppy grape jelly, their squishy, tasteless bread. Of course, taste is largely formed by what you eat as a child (how else to explain Zanthe’s abiding love affair with Marmite toast?), and although we can train ourselves to enjoy more sophisticated flavors, PB&J never made it onto that list. Because of the massive uptick in nut allergies, it’s now fallen off the childhood menu, seemingly forever. These days, it’s the poor kid who hates pizza who’s in trouble.
But Zanthe’s blanket aversion to everything PB&J eventually ended, all because of the irresistible peanut butter and jelly cookies from ’sNice, a vegan café in NYC. More like little cakes than cookies, deep and chewy and filled with tart jam, they are the ones that got away: when the café closed unexpectedly, the recipe became elusive (though we’re not giving up yet). But their memory inspired the cookies below, offered to you in honor of National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day on April 2 and with apologies to the allergic.
Gluten-free by accident more than design, these cookies require some time for chilling but otherwise almost no work at all. You can make the dough by hand if you have decent arm strength and a sturdy whisk (or with the paddle attachment in an electric mixer if you prefer). With a cookie scoop–one of our favorite new tools, also known as a “disher”–and well-chilled dough, the cookies come out delightfully wrinkled, like oversize walnut shells. We used a high-quality sour cherry jam to add some welcome tartness, instead of grape jelly’s bland sweetness. But if you’re still not sold on the combination, by all means make the cookies without the jam: just sprinkle their rounded tops with some flaky salt such as Maldon and you’re good to go: peanut butter perfection.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies
Inspired by ’sNice and Smitten Kitchen
1¾ packed cups (335 grams) light brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1¾ cups or 450 grams (approx 1 medium jar) creamy peanut butter
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup red jam or jelly of some kind, preferably not too sweet
optional: flaky salt for topping
In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until smooth, then whisk in vanilla and salt, followed by peanut butter. Chill dough for at least 1/2 hour in fridge or 15 minutes in freezer.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Using a #40 disher scoop or a large spoon, drop 2 1/2 tbsp size scoops onto cookie sheet. With the back of a small spoon, make a deep well in the middle of each cookie, then fill with jelly or jam. Chill cookies on sheets in fridge for at least 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350𒎓℉.
Bake cookies either one sheet at a time in center of oven for 20 minutes, leaving extra sheet in fridge, or both sheets at once in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching and rotating them front-to-back halfway through baking (you may need to add a minute or two to the time depending on how quick you are at this). Cookies should be just going golden-brown around the edges; they will still be very soft.
Let cookies set on sheets for 5 minutes, then careful transfer to racks and cool completely. These are the rare cookies that are not at their best when warm from the oven, so be patient!
Makes about 18 large cookies