Soft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies (vegan)
My dad picked me up at the Seattle airport when I flew home for winter break. Throughout the semester I’d grown used to the unfamiliar – a different hostel every weekend, foreign customs, menus I couldn’t read. Seeing my dad’s face and falling into a bear hug made everything else disappear, like I’d never left home at all.
I breathed in the chilly air and looked out at the silhouettes of pine trees. Dad unlocked the car and I threw in my bags, a little white carry-on and the replacement backpack I bought in Rome. He raised his eyebrows as I slammed the trunk shut.
“Only two bags?”
“Dad, I’m only home for a month,” I said, rolling my eyes.
I didn’t understand the strange look that passed over his face. He’d later tell me that was the moment he knew I’d come back different, even though I didn’t see it then. How much can a person change in three months, anyway?
But now that I’m back on campus in Boston, little things are different. Last year I didn’t just love living in the freshman dorm with a roommate – I needed that sense of community so I wouldn’t feel lonely, so I’d feel a connection with people. But I think I left Europe with something else entirely. These days I’m living in a single, and I’ve finally learned that living alone isn’t the same thing as being alone.
My parents are living alone. I worried about my mom when I saw her over winter break – she was eating really simple meals and bundling up instead of turning on the heat. For the first time in my life, I wanted to take care of my family, instead of just relying on them to take care of me. And I found that the littlest things in the world made her happy.
Like grocery shopping. My mom and I opened our eating horizons this winter. No more instant noodles and steamed spinach. And while I can’t wait for summer produce – delicate asparagus and heavy, thirst-quenching peaches – the winter has a lot to offer. We discovered cara oranges, faint pink and tangy. Pomegranates cracked into a thousand faceted rubies and acorn squash caramelized in the oven, its skin curling like parchment.
By January, my mom was back in the kitchen. She baked bread for the first time in months. The juicer returned to our kitchen counter (my favorite is apple-carrot, heavy on the carrot.) One afternoon she bought a strange fungus from a Chinese grocery store, learned how to cook it, and introduced it to our table for the first time.
Then she said, “I want a signature dessert so I can bake when you’re not here.” This coming from the woman who once told me my buttercream frosting tasted like cavities.
Then I remembered these amazing peanut butter cookies. They’re naturally vegan – no eggs, butter, or milk – and use whole wheat flour. Plus, the recipe swaps canola oil for olive oil and refined white sugar for maple syrup. The dough comes together in one bowl, and the cookies are as simple as preheating the oven and owning a teaspoon.
The first time I made them, I brought an oven-fresh cookie to my mom. She examined it from top to bottom, took a hearty sniff, and finally tried the tiniest bite. Fifteen minutes later, we’d consumed nearly half of the cooling cookies, and agreed that they were far too dangerous for their own good.
We made these cookies together. I showed her my favorite way to scoop flour (fluffed with a spoon, leveled with a knife) and the best way to avoid over-mixing. She rolled teaspoons of dough into balls, flattened them with a fork, and sprinkled salt and sugar over each batch. All I did was taste test.
My mom makes these cookies for holidays, for dinner parties, for friends. She even baked six dozen of these gems for a cookie swap at work. When people asked if I’d made them, she got to smile and say, “These ones are actually mine.”
When winter break ended and I flew back to Boston, there were still four jars of peanut butter and three pitchers of maple syrup chilling in the fridge. And by the time I’m home again, asparagus and peaches and all my favorite summer produce will be in season, but there won’t be anything I look forward to more than a peanut butter cookie.
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Even though this is a ridiculously simple one bowl cookie, a few tips make a big difference. Sometimes whole wheat desserts can taste a little dry or heavy. To discourage that, I like to “fluff” the flour before measuring – just stir it around so it isn’t packed – then lightly spoon it into the cup. Level off the top with a knife. Another way to prevent a too-dense cookie is to avoid over-mixing, which creates gluten. Stir until the dough just comes together, then stop.
Our favorite peanut butter is the Trader Joe’s brand, but any natural peanut butter will work. When I open a new jar and there’s lots of liquidy oil at the top, I leave out the olive oil. When the peanut butter is a little drier, I throw it in.
As for the maple syrup, I like the strong flavor of Grade B, but it doesn’t make a huge difference.
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat, or spelt, or all purpose)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup natural creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk (or soy, or regular)
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Raw sugar & sea salt for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350F degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.
Stir the peanut butter, maple syrup, optional olive oil, and vanilla until combined in a large mixing bowl. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt over the top and stir until just combined. If the dough is hard to work with, chill in the fridge or freezer for 15-30 minutes or until easy to shape.
Shape into balls (I like to use a teaspoon) and gently flatten with a fork. If the dough sticks, sometimes moistening your fingers or the fork helps. Sprinkle the tops with salt and raw sugar. Bake for 11 minutes until set.
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