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Recipe Mon Sep 22 2008
I'm a big fan of baking tasty vegan treats, especially when I have a friend helping. Or doing much of the work when I'm brewing up coffee. Meleah had picked out the recipe for the almond fingers we were about to make. And since I am a big fan of her peanut butter cookies, I asked that we take this opportunity for her to show me how to make them. I remembered their savory, brittle, and deep rich flavor from the many times she has given them to me.
Meleah's peanut butter cookie recipe comes modified from Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker's Joy of Cooking. The original recipe is on page 709 in Meleah's copy, a fact that she seems to tell me from memory. Meleah is not vegan, but she sees no reason not to bake vegan. It keeps her from needing a trip to the store for eggs, she tells me. Plus, her box of egg replacer powder lasts quite a long time. In went the egg replacer powder (mixed with water as instructed on its box) instead of the one egg that Rombauer and Becker call for. Non-dairy butter (Earth Balance in this case) went in instead of butter or shortening, plus a drizzle of olive oil for flavor. Substituting olive oil for all of the butter seems to impact a richer and crispy flavor, but, she tells me, the batter is much harder to work with. Oil makes a slippery dough that is tricky to hold together. Based on my samplings of her previous work with olive oil in the cookies, I would be far from complaining. But I'm just along for the ride. Near the end, we added a tablespoon or so of soymilk to free the batter of the last bit of dryness that peeked out when forming the round cookies.
Here's how to go at it. Use an electric mixer to soften 1/2 cup of non-dairy butter (Earth Balance), and then blend in the sugars (1/2 cup of packed brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of traditional, granulated, sugar) until it's all a soft mess, or as the book says, "creamy." The brown sugar was dark, leaving the cookies with a heavy tan, accentuated by the chopped up chocolate bar we added. The following ingredients then get beaten in, starting with the egg replacer and ending with flour. We made sure that the 1 cup of peanut butter we added was natural (which to me means richer, deeper and more savory), salted and chunky. Also, in went 1/2 teaspoon each of salt, baking soda, and vanilla extract. About 1 cup of whole wheat flour and some ground rolled oats went in instead of the original 1 to 1-1/2 cups of sifted all-purpose flour (more flour, the book notes, for a more oily peanut butter), leaving a full hearty taste to the rich cookies.
I shaped small bits of dough into balls, which I then flattened with the palms of my hands. That left the cookie in a disc shape, with a thick center and thin outsides that could burn, so Meleah showed me another way. Make the cookies in a puck shape, flat but with universal thickness. Start with a scoop of cookie dough on your fingertips. Use that finger's thumb to flatten the dough, while wrapping around the forefinger and thumb of the other hand to keep the cookie in a round shape. For a final touch, sprinkle a taste of granulated sugar on the top. The book calls for pressing out small balls of dough flat with a fork, which should work equally well and leave the iconic peanut butter cookie look of fork marks. Bake them on a greased sheet pan in a 375 F degree preheated oven until nicely tanned. Or get by at 350 F if you're trying them at the same time as the following almond fingers.
The almond fingers were vegan with one substitution (original recipe). We used Earth Balance again instead of conventional butter. They came out subtle and brittle like a good shortbread. The melted chocolate Meleah spooned over each cookie added a deep, velvety richness that took them to the next level. We also changed 3/4 cup of this recipe's flour to whole wheat, leaving just 1 cup of all-purpose flour in our new recipe. We used a different brand of the almond paste, and grated it in to the mix with a hand grater.