Saturday, March 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Week

We have been celebrating peanut butter week at our house, in honor of Mac's birthday. I always appreciate it when other people try a recipe and tell me how it turned out, so I thought I'd share these, both from Epicurious. I usually don't stray much from recipes, but I made a few changes on both of these and was pretty pleased with the results.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal M&M Cookies

First of all, if you have known me for a while, you will know that I have long been obsessed with the peanut butter oatmeal m&m cookies at Food for Thought in Missoula, Montana. They used to have a location called Second Thought over by my apartment and when I was in college, there were weeks when I would stop by every day on my walk home and pay $1.25 for a cookie the size of my face...which might explain the freshman 15...30...40. Anyway, I am happy to tell you that 1) I don't do that anymore (for one thing that location closed, and for another I moved, and for still another I, believe it or not, have healthier eating habits than I did back then)... and 2) This recipe is the closest thing I've ever found to my original obsession.

 Ingredients for my version
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (pretty sure I've used dark)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12-ounce bag m&m's
In a food processor (or blender with a sharp blade!) pulse 1 cup of the oats until ground fine. In a large bowl stir together ground oats, remaining 1/2 cup whole oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy and beat in vanilla and peanut butter. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and gradually beat in flour mixture. Add m&m's, stirring just until combined. Chill cookie dough, covered, at least 2 hours.  Preheat oven to 325°F.  Bake on ungreased baking sheets about 15 minutes, or until just pale golden. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely.  Enjoy!

Comments:  This recipe is really pretty perfect as is, but because I'm on a mission to duplicate the ones from my hometown...I'm going to keep playing with the proportions.  Perhaps increase the pb a bit and decrease the butter.  I also think I might try not grinding up the oats, but leaving them all whole.  I'll let you know if I stumble upon something magical (and please do the same)!

Next up, Peanut Butter Cake

Actually, on Epicurious, this is Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, but lots of reviewers said the chocolate, peanut butter and cream cheese frosting combo was a bit much, and anyway, Mac's not a huge chocolate fan unless it's Reese's (which you'll notice I substituted for the Butterfingers the recipe calls for).  So...I kind of changed this one a lot.  Instead of the chocolate filling which requires you to start one day ahead (I had about 4 hours), I made my own peanut butter cream cheese filling (which I kind of wish I would've used for the top and sides of the cake too, because it was yummy!).  Here goes...

Ingredients for my version

  • 2 1/4-2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar (they suggest light; I used some light, some dark)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 packages cream cheese (8 oz), room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 cup natural creamy peanut butter (for filling; if you want to try it for all the frosting, use more!)
Cake. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper. Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. In large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter and peanut butter until blended. Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions. Divide batter among pans and spread evenly. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (Mine was longer because I used an extra deep pan and cut the layers later...not recommended for this recipe). Cool cakes 5 minutes. Turn out onto racks; peel off parchment. Cool cakes completely.

Frosting and Filling. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. I honestly don't know if I used that much powdered sugar, I just kept adding it til it tasted right and seemed the right texture. Set aside enough frosting for the top and sides, and leave about 3/4 cup for the filling. Stir in 1/4 cup peanut butter and powdered sugar to taste.  I chilled both frosting and filling until cakes were cooled and ready, but if you had made the cakes ahead of time and they were already cool, I don't think you'd need to. Frost layers, chop up a few Reese's peanut butter cups for the top, and have a birthday party!

Comments:  My cake sunk in the middle, A LOT.  That's why you might notice some piecing together at the bottom center of that slice of cake.  Other than that, though, the layers of this cake held together (and are still holding!) very nicely.  I think the sinking might have had to do with my gigantically deep pan, and the rest of the cake cooking before the center had finished.  In order to get the center cooked all the way, I ended up overbaking, so beware of that.  Even with a little overbaked-ness, it was still pretty darn good!  As far as the cream cheese frosting, I don't know if I liked this one as much as others I've made, so if you have a favorite cream cheese frosting recipe already, I'd use that.

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