Who knew I would miss it? Who knew that Brazil wouldn’t have it? They have all the other ingredients: the jellies, the sliced bread, the raw peanuts, but… no peanut butter. That quintessential slice of Americana, the PB& J sandwich, I miss it. So does my husband. So much so that on my last return trip home I packed a jar of peanut butter just for us.
Well, I meant it to be for both of us. My husband interpreted the gift to be exclusively his, and was mildly irked when his stash of salty-sweet spread slowly disappeared before his eyes. I guess he had a point; I very well could have eaten myself silly on the stuff for the month while I was in the States. Did I really have to dig into his meager supply?
In any case, this happened:
And this week when I suddenly had a massive craving for peanut butter cookies, I was stuck.
One of my favorite ways of getting rid of my saudades is to cook. Eggnog and gingerbread men for the holidays, chocolate chip cookies and bread loaves for the comfort food. Bringing tastes of home to Brazil, the smells of childhood to my kitchen, is where it’s at. It ain’t always easy, you know. Aside from the issue of finding all the ingredients, the tools themselves are challenging. Most people in our town still cook in wood-fire ovens, and cooking in a gas oven is a luxury. (I don’t quite understand why since an entire gas tank is R$35-38 and one batch of baking might cost you a few cents? But I guess wood fire is free, so it’s all in your point of comparison). Many of the recipes I find in Portuguese have no-temperature instructions like: “Bake in a medium-heat oven.” It should have been no surprise that our newly purchased gas stove has less than accurate temperature markings. I’m pretty sure they just painted them there for decoration; what’s on the dial has very little to do with the actual temperature of the oven. For many months I diligently converted all my old recipes from Fahrenheit into Celsius and then was very disappointed with the results. Since I had no way to prove my suspicions another item that came back in my luggage was an oven thermometer (lifted from my mother’s stove, God bless her for supporting the cause). It has both Fahrenheit and Celsius markings, and sure enough: the Celsius temperature markings on my stove are wrong, wrong, wrong.
Back to the peanut butter cookie dilemma. This was a craving that I wasn’t able to shake. A week went by and I still wanted their salty sweet goodness. Time to get creative. We have peanuts in the stores. And peanut butter is just peanuts, oil, and sugar, right? So why not just dump all the ingredients together and bake? Logically this should work.
And so this was my recipe (adapted from this one):
Malvina’s No-Peanut-Butter-in-Brazil Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup butter (By the way, measuring cups are also nearly unheard of out here. Brazilian recipes say things like: “A teacup of…” “A soup spoon of…” Ok now, I’m hardly a scientific chef but those recipes make even my head hurt. My measuring cup is a recycled tomato sauce jar that I know holds 8 liquid ounces. Half cup? Third of a cup? I eyeball it and hope for the best.)
1 cup crushed, roasted peanuts (sold by the bag here)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup packed brown sugar (remember what I said about finding ingredients? The best place to find brown sugar is the Pharmacy, of all places, where there is a teensy health food section. Brown sugar is sold between the flax seed and crushed quinoa.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (also hard to find, but the Distribuidoras that sell ingredients to the restaurants/professional bakers usually carry this at a good price)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
Cream together butter, sugars, peanuts, and oil. Beat in eggs. Taste to make sure it tastes like peanut butter. Add some more ground peanuts if it’s too brown-sugar-flavored. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda. Taste again, just because. Roll into 1 inch balls. Flatten each ball with a fork to make a criss-cross pattern. Bake in a preheated oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit / 190 degrees Celsius (or on my silly oven halfway between the 240 and 260 degree mark). Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Be careful to not overcook; these cookies burn easily.
Best when served warm with a glass of milk. Savor the salty sweet goodness and the taste of victory.