Soft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies (vegan)

January 22, 2012 at 4:34 pm 89 comments


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?

Baking sheet

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.

Chilled dough

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.

Soft Whole Wheat PB Cookies

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.

[Also – if you’re reading this before 1/22/12, I’m going to be a guest tonight on Olivia Wilder Talk Radio! Click here for more info and the number to talk to me on air.]

Ready to bake

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.

Soft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies (vegan)
Makes just over 2 dozen cookies
Adapted from 101 cookbooks via Oh She Glows

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.

Printer-Friendly VersionSoft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

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89 Comments Add your own

  • 1. teenagecook  |  February 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    These look absolutely delicious!
    I just came upon your blog since I was googling other “teenager blogs” about cooking and I love, love, love yours!

    I just started a cooking blog of my own, and hopefully mine will last as long as yours has, filled with amazing recipes!


  • 2. Kim  |  February 24, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Hi Elissa! Thank you for this lovely post and cookie recipe. I made an adaptation of this last night (using coconut oil because I had it on hand). I also used Grade B maple syrup. Everyone in the office thought it was lovely.



  • […] –         17 and Baking: Soft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies […]

  • 4. Courtney  |  March 4, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I made these for the second time tonight and they are the best!! I think this is the first time I’ve commented but I really enjoy your blog–keep up the good work! :)

  • 5. Kristina  |  March 7, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Ooo yum!! I’m making these for the first time tonight, they look absolutely delicious! Peanut butter cookies are one of my favorite and vegan makes them even better!

  • 6. Jessica  |  March 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    When do you add in the milk? The directions do not list that.

  • 7. esther  |  March 13, 2012 at 5:09 am

    your blog is wonderful. i love reading the short little stories that go along with each post. i was directed here from bakebakebake community for your Maple Pots de Crème recipe & predict that i’ll be surfing through your site for the next hour or so. i’m 23 & just started getting into baking and your clear instructions & absolutely delicious photos are so tantalising. i hope you never stop blogging about your baking adventures! :)

  • 8. Aankee  |  March 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    I thought these tasted ok, but I also forgot to add the milk, as this is not mentioned in the recipe…
    Might have contributed.

  • 9. Meghan  |  March 27, 2012 at 8:41 am

    I love, love, love your blog. I am going to try these cookies tonight. I love baking with whole wheat flour. Also, I added you to my favorite blog list on my blog, check it out, I am sure you’d love some of the healthy recipes! :)

  • 10. Annie @ Naturally Sweet Recipes  |  March 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I love this recipe!!! They look truly amazing. My sisters and I awarded you the versatile blogger award. Hope to see you over there!

  • 11. Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies « francesretigan  |  April 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    […] *Adapted from 17 and baking. […]

  • 12. Making Vanilla  |  April 11, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Peanut butter cookies are a favorite of mine. I can’t wait.

  • 13. The Fourth Broomstick  |  June 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I’m addicted (well, nearly) to peanut butter, and any new peanut butter recipe must be explored. And I also love maple syrup – it adds a much richer taste than just sugar. I’ve got to try these!

  • 14. Peanut Butter Cookies | Smash Beauty  |  July 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm

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  • 15. Carmen Wyld (@CarmenWyld)  |  July 17, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Thank you! I’ve been craving peanut butter cookies that I used to make over 15 years ago, but since have changed my diet… your recipe fits perfectly! Can’t wait to feel them melting in my mouth!

  • 16. bakingandme  |  July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Just making these now! They look so good! :) Thanks for the beautiful post as usual!

  • 17. S  |  August 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I really wanted to make these but didn’t have some of the ingredients. They aren’t in the oven yet but I’ve been munching it raw and it’s so good! Here’s what I did. I subbed in 1/2 a cup of brown sugar because I have no syrup, skipped the vanilla because I’m all out, used sunflower oil because I have no olive oil, used water in place of almond milk because the last of that went in my coffee this morning and then only used 1 cup of course whole wheat flour and it’s thick enough. I don’t have anything to sprinkle on top so I’m going to skip that part too. So basically I’m not really making your recipe but you gave me the basic idea of how to make whole wheat vegan cookies with natural peanut butter, which was my goal, so thanks!

  • 18. Dave Norman  |  September 5, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Making me drool!

  • 19. Hollee  |  September 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Thank You for the Recipe! Trying it now! Someone may have already posted this, but I noticed that the recipe directions don’t state when to put the milk in. Looking forward to some yummy cookies! Thanks again!

  • 20. Peanut Butter Apple Bars | boyandtherabbit  |  September 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    […] Peanut Butter Apple Bars (adapted from Elissa at 17 & Baking) […]

  • 21. Peanut Butter Cookie Sammitches | anythingbutranch  |  October 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    […] Being that I’m perpetually on a health/vegan kick, I was super excited to find a recipe I pinned months ago for Soft Whole Wheat Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies. […]

  • 22. vanillasugarblog  |  November 22, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    I can’t tell you how many pb cookie recipes i’ve done (it’s sad really) and I know I’m obsessed with them.
    And here to find another one to try–I’m overjoyed. lol

  • 23. s  |  December 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    What would be your thoughts on using coconut oil in these?

  • 24. thebakingyear  |  April 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I LOVE peanut butter cookies! My great grandmother has a time and true recipe, but I will be sure to give these a try!

  • 25. Confessions Of A Dizzy Blonde  |  April 16, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Thanks for a lovely article – baked these yesterday using honey instead of maple and accidentally added too much milk, which I made up for by adding some extra flour and they still came out great. Thank you!

  • 26. Best Healthy Recipes - Nutritious Taste Sensations  |  June 27, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    […] Whole wheat peanut butter cookies.  Recipe –>> 17 and Baking […]

  • 27. Searching the Web for Best Healthy Recipes  |  July 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    […] Soft Whole wheat peanut butter cookie – Vegan! – Recipe –>> 17 and Baking. […]

  • 28. Maryanne  |  September 13, 2013 at 10:33 am

    These were so yummy and light! Thanks for the recipe. I didn’t use olive oil since the Whole Foods 365 brand peanut butter is so oily, and the cookies were fantastic.

  • 29. Mona  |  October 27, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Tried making these with plain white flour (could not find any whole wheat flour in my local baking supplies store at the time). still turned out yummy though it did not taste as sweet or peanut buttery as I’d hoped. Perhaps it was the quality of my maple syrup. Shall adding dark brown sugar next time.

  • 30. Linda  |  December 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Made these today to take to a church pot luck tomorrow. The raw dough is so yummy! Can’t wait till they are baked!

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  • 34. K Bear  |  September 28, 2015 at 5:27 am

    Finally! A Chewy cookie that actually is what it says! These are scrumptious! Thank you!


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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