In my experience, the who’s-who of American-style cookies has typically included chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, sugar, and peanut butter. If forced to rank them, I would declare chocolate chip as the obvious winner, followed by sugar, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin. In other words, I’m not really a peanut butter cookie person.
However, while stuck at home during the early days of COVID lockdown, I found myself craving cookies — any cookies. The only thing that mattered was which ingredients I had (or didn’t have) on hand. Since I was lacking flour, my options decreased significantly. But then I thought about the mythical soft and chewy flourless peanut butter-based cookies I’d heard about over the years. Their lack of flour made them perfect for my circumstances, so I put aside my feelings and decided it was time to seek the truth.
Chef Google, I discovered, has a million and one different variations of this same recipe. Some with leavening, some without, some with salt, some without (not to be trusted!), and all with various types and quantities of sugar, peanut butter, and bake times. Despite these differences, all follow the same basic principle: egg, homogenized peanut butter, and sugar can be combined and baked into a deliciously soft and chewy flourless cookie. So with that as my starting point, I looked around my pantry and set out to customize this basic set of ingredients into a peanut butter cookie that even I could love.
When I thought about my favorite foods with peanuts, it was spicy and savory dishes that came to mind. Papaya salad. Peanut sauce. Cracker nuts. I began to realize I enjoy the flavor of peanuts most when they’re matched with bold heat, high salt, funk, and texture. So why not introduce these elements into a cookie dough?
Inspired, I reached for yellow miso in the back corner of my fridge — a scoop of the fermented paste, I decided, could add really nice character and salinity. Next my hand gravitated towards a half-empty jar of chile crisp. Its crunchy fried soybeans, chiles and peppercorns, warming spices, MSG, and fermented black beans seemed like such an obvious choice that I couldn’t believe I’d only just thought of it. As I began to taste the cookie coming together in my mind, I knew I was on to something good. Once I combined the ingredients and adjusted the seasoning, the hyper-craveable spicy-savory-sweet peanut butter cookie of my dreams started to take shape. And the next thing I knew, I was someone who likes peanut butter cookies.
Note: If you’re also craving a spicy-savory-sweet peanut butter cookie, here are a few things to keep in mind when you try this recipe:
- Emulsified creamy peanut butter (i.e. non-separating) is essential to its success. Without flour, the dough relies on homogenized peanut butter for its binding properties. So save the nice stuff for toast. My choice pick is Skippy Natural, which is free of hydrogenated oil.
- Though this flourless cookie can be made without leavening, I use baking soda to achieve some spread. Crispy edges and fudgy middles are the goal.
- I prefer a more mild miso like white or yellow to add depth and punch to the dough. Red will absolutely work, but I’d recommended halving the quantity as it’s more potent.
- Because chile crisp contains garlic, it will give the cookies not just heat but a slightly savory funk.
- Since the cookies have quite a bold flavor, I like them small and snackable. I also find they bake better as minis.
- Once mixed, the cookie dough requires a minimum 2-hour chill for all the ingredients to hydrate and bind together. Again, no flour here!
Spicy Peanut Butter Chile Crisp Cookie Recipe
Makes 20 small cookies
1 cup (260 grams) creamy peanut butter (Skippy or JIF Natural is best)
1 tablespoon (20 grams) yellow or white miso
1 large egg, at room temperature
½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, plus extra for finishing
½ cup (100 grams) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon (4 grams) kosher salt
1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (24 grams total) chile crisp (I recommend Fly by Jing)
½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chile flakes
Step 1: Line a quarter sheet pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Step 2: In a large bowl, fold the creamy peanut butter, miso, and egg together until smooth and incorporated.
Step 3: In a separate bowl, toss the granulated sugar, light brown sugar, kosher salt, and baking soda to combine.
Step 4: Add the sugar mixture to the peanut butter base and fold together into a roughly incorporated dough. Add the chile crisp and fold until just combined. The mixture will appear slightly grainy at this stage.
Step 5: Use a tablespoon or half-ounce ice cream scoop to portion the dough (each will weigh about 25 grams) onto the pan. This is just for storage so there’s no need to space them out. Wrap and chill at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.
Step 6: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pan-spray or line 2 half sheet pans or cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Step 7: Toss the chilled cookie dough balls in sugar to liberally coat them and arrange them on the prepared sheets approximately 2 inches apart.
Step 8: Use a cross-hatched potato masher or fork to press down and flatten each cookie about halfway, imprinting a grid pattern on the top of the dough. Alternately, you can use your palm to flatten the cookies.
Step 9: Top each cookie with a pinch of chile flake.
Step 10: Bake for 7 minutes, rotating baking sheets around the 5 minute mark to check progress and adjust the baking time as needed. When finished, the cookies should be spread, puffed, and slightly cracked on top.
Step 11: Remove from the oven and finish the cookies with an additional pinch of sugar. The cookies will be delicate so allow them to cool completely before removing from the pan.
Zoe Kanan is a pastry chef in New York City.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep