You KNOW you have to be an inveterate recipe tinkerer to start messing with Thomas Keller's recipes. First it was the Bouchons - the little cork-shaped chocolate brownie-cakes served at the Bouchon Bakeries in New York, Vegas and Yountville, and now the Nutter Butters. I tried them when I was in New York at the Gourmet Institute, but I'd kind of forgotten about them until recently, when James asked me to make him some peanut butter cookies. He had seen the recipe that won this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off - which called for refrigerated peanut butter cookie dough wrapped around balls of peanut butter and powdered sugar. (I know what you're thinking, and the answer is yes, that recipe won a MILLION dollars.)
I didn't want to use tube dough, so I started looking for a recipe - and then I remembered these. The ones at the bakery are crunchy but soft textured - they have to be to allow you to bite through without squeezing the filling out. I liked them, but when I saw the four sticks of butter called for just for the cookie - with another for the filling - I just couldn't do it. In my book, one pound of butter should really be enough for two dozen cookies - including the filling. My first thought was to replace one stick of butter in the cookie dough with just a little molasses - to preserve the softness while reducing the fat slightly. A quarter cup turned out to be a little more than I had bargained for, and the flavor was good but the dough was actually a little too moist. Another cup of flour worked in with the Kitchen Aid did the trick, producing a cookie that spread without going limp, with a nice chewy crispness. The molasses adds a little depth of flavor, and the sandwiches put together reminded me of one of my favorite candies - the peanut butter filled molasses taffy Mary Janes. They're very different from the original cookies, but I liked them even better. They actually probably shouldn't even be called Nutter Butters - but I think it sounds better than "Chewy Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies."
Keller recommends Skippy, and I've seen several recipes that recommend against natural peanut butter elsewhere, but I forged ahead with the organic chunky salted stuff I had on hand and it worked just fine. I like the natural salty flavor it gives, especially in the filling. If I were doing a lot of these, I'd probably use creamy though - the little chunks make it more difficult to spread on the cookies neatly.
I tried several different sizes for these - Goldilocks style. The ones on the sheet above are pretty big - the size they serve at the bakery. I also tried some smaller bite sized ones - but they were too thick, once sandwiched together with the filling. The "three bite" cookie, as James called it - was just right. Satisfying, but not overwhelming. In fact, he proclaimed them the best cookies I've ever made and jealously guarded them as "his" - refusing to let me give them away. Yes friends, my husband is six years old. These are also (relatively) safe to feed to the dogs, who loved them almost as much.
The trick to these is to not overbake them - since they're brown already - you can't rely on that trusty Maillard reaction to tell you when they're done. If they're crisp they're not quite as pleasant to eat because they sort of mash down when you bite into them and squeeze the filling out. The best hint I can give is to take them out as soon as the tops are dry. If you're not comfortable with that, try setting the oven time for 9 minutes and let them finish outside the oven - it's better to err on the side of slightly under rather than overbaking.
Even Better Less Butter "Nutter Butters"
loosely adapted from this recipe by Thomas Keller printed in the New York Times.
FOR THE COOKIE DOUGH:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2½ cups quick cooking oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup crunchy salted natural peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
scant 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
FOR THE FILLING:
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, softened but still cool
½ cup salted crunchy or creamy all natural peanut butter
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1. For cookie dough: preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add sugars and beat at medium speed for 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl twice.
2. Add the molasses and incorporate. On low speed, add eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until well mixed, frequently scraping down the bowl. Add peanuts and mix well.
3. Roll dough into balls about 1-1.5 inches in diameter and place on lined cookie sheets (a silpat is ideal). Wrap the bottom of a drinking glass in saran wrap, and flatten balls of dough to about 1/3 of an inch thick by pressing down with the bottom of the glass. Bake until cookies spread and are just dry on the top - about 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool and firm up, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before filling. The cooled cookies should be slightly flexible - if they are hard, bake the next batch one minute less. ( They'll still taste good - you just might want to eat them plain instead of filling them.)
3. For filling: using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar until very smooth. Add more sugar if it seems to be too soft - or place in the refrigerator to firm up.
4. To assemble cookies, use a spatula to spread a layer of filling on the underside of a cookie and sandwich the cookies together.
Makes about 3 dozen 2 inch sandwiches.