Baking With All-Natural Peanut Butter

by Elizabeth Skipper | February 24th, 2015 | Ask the Chef

peanut butter cookies (400x400)I buy all-natural peanut butter for our house. We all like it in sandwiches and on crackers.  However, I can’t imagine using it in cookies. I wonder if it is will be creamy enough and if I’ll need to use extra sugar. Do you have any advice?

You’re right to question the suitability of all-natural peanut butter for cookie making. The texture and flavor are very different from that of the popular conventional brands like Jif and Skippy. So much so, that I still remember a friend offering me a peanut butter sandwich late one night when I arrived having missed dinner. She and I have similar tastes, so I expected the sandwich to taste like one I’d make at home. Like you, I’d been eating all-natural peanut butter for years – so when she served me a commercial brand, I was shocked at how bad – to me – it tasted. Vive la differénce!

I did and still do buy peanut butter made solely of roasted peanuts and salt. Brand doesn’t particularly matter to me; it’s more important that the peanuts be organic. I’ve noticed, though, that the selection of nut butters and spreads available has increased substantially in recent years. Sensing an opportunity, some producers are changing their formulas to emulate the commercial brands by adding sugar and hydrogenated fats like palm oil. I haven’t tried them as I don’t like the taste they’re copying. The idea of a peanut butter that doesn’t separate is appealing, but once it’s been stirred it up and refrigerated, the all-natural kind isn’t any more work than one that won’t separate.

So what do the differences in taste and texture mean if you want to make cookies? Texture is the biggest challenge. If you get your peanut butter from the health food store where it’s ground on site, it will be much coarser than what you can get in a jar. There’s no fixing that, so avoid trying to use that kind in baking. But if you can find one with a smooth texture that isn’t too stiff, it should be OK for baking. You may need to add a little sugar to the cookie batter, but I doubt it. Most cookies have plenty to begin with.

To answer your question, I dug out my tried and true recipe for peanut butter cookies, and baked up a batch using what was in the refrigerator. They came out perhaps a smidgeon drier than the quintessential bendable cookie, but are more than acceptable to me.

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