cookie dough

I’ve been having a lot of bad luck in the kitchen lately.

I mean, not that anyone’s keeping track, but, in the last few weeks, the handful of times I’ve found to try a new recipe or carve out an hour to cook, the results were unimpressive (OK, with at least one exception). I made a squash and apple soup that had little flavor. I pureed pumpkin from a little $1.50 pie pumpkin at Meijer, and the three loaves of bread I made with it were barely edible—the one with pecans on top was the best, but even it found an eventual demise in the trash can. My version of candied sweet potatoes wasn’t awful, but that’s really the best endorsement of it I can give and, since when did making something not awful inspire anyone toward the stove?

I decided, sometime this past weekend, that there were a few different conclusions I could draw from this: 1) I’ve been picking bad recipes (over and over again); 2) I’ve been eating so well everywhere else that my standards have risen and maybe these OK things are what I would have once thought good? or 3), most troubling, I cannot cook.

Now, if the problem lies in either the first or second reasons, I can wait this out. But if it’s the third? What do I do—give up? It was starting to feel hypocritical even posting here—who am I to be telling you about recipes to try? I should be begging you for help.

But then I saw some peanut butter sandwich cookies and was inspired to give this kitchen thing one last chance. I can’t say if it’s because I was hungry when I saw them or because they are cookies, the first type of recipe I ever made and the kind that has yet to fail me, but I lost sight of every culinary disappointment and knew only one thing: I was making these cookies, and I was making them that night.

I am so glad I did.

peanut butter cookies with chocolate

Thing is, I think we get this notion in our heads that being a great cook is something you are born with or something that is innate and, if you are blessed to have that special gene predisposed toward good food, everything you touch will taste as good as chocolate-covered strawberries or hot and crusty Italian bread. Where does this come from? Even Julia Child writes that “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” and she, by the way, was well into her thirties when she started cooking school. We all learn by making mistakes and tasting things that aren’t good and, sometimes, by being disappointed. I hate that I forget that.

cookies on rack

Because I didn’t have heavy cream on hand, I opted away from sandwich cookies here and instead just the basic peanut butter cookies to be dipped into melted bittersweet chocolate. They were soft, creamy, with an almost crumbly texture when you bite in, but not because they’re dry like some similar cookies tend to be, and when dipped in chocolate, they remind me of peanut butter cups: rich, decadent and comforting at the same time. With only a little help, I ate the whole batch.

Yet this story doesn’t end there—despite this success, I’d find out my kitchen failures were not (are not) over: Sunday morning, there were mini frittatas, which, on the plus side, only took up 15 minutes of time to pull together, but, in the end, tasted like tiny, greasy fried eggs or, badly made quiches without the crust; followed by, Monday, a roasted squash with risotto that was fine, but I guess the important thing is that I had the guts to try them, because that is how you learn, and it was these cookies that helped me remember.

Peanut Butter Cookies in Chocolate
Adapted from Joy the Baker
makes about 30 medium-sized cookies

For the Cookies:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Coating:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped)
3/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Using a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and peanut butter on medium speed until well combined. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the egg and beat on medium speed for a minute.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and beat on low until just combined. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Grease with butter or cooking spray.

Take out dough and drop by Tablespoon onto baking sheet, setting them about two inches apart. Use the tines of a fork to press them flat in a criss-cross.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until the cookies are a deep golden brown along the edges. Cool completely.

Make the coating: Melt the chocolate pieces in the microwave, or over a double boiler. Dip cooled cookies into chocolate and sprinkle with chopped nuts; then set them on a wire rack on top of a sheet of waxed paper.

Let stand for 1 hour to harden, or pop them in the fridge for a few minutes. These cookies last up to 3 days in an airtight container, or 2 weeks in a container in the fridge

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Mary

    these look wonderful! i have been going through a “blah” phase in the kitchen as well; these are just the encouragement i need to get back into the kitchen and baking. thanks for sharing and reminding me that mistakes are a part of the process of becoming a better cook.

  2. Whitney

    My problem is cooking plenty of stuff but having no light to take the pictures at the end of the day. Now I am remembering why all my early blog photos last year sucked. (stupid almost winter).

    I was drawn in by the cookies too. Looks delicious.

  3. Antonietta

    Haha. I just wrote a very similar post, last night everything I tried to cook failed miserably! But there’s always the next day to try again.
    Your cookies look great!

  4. Maria

    Yes. Not everything will be magnificent. (But those cookies? Oh my. They obviously are.)

    Something similar happened to me on Sunday night. I had an odd craving for miso soup. So, into a pan went barley miso and wakame and scallions and I heated it up and poured it in a mug. And maybe because of its very non-recipe nature, I wanted to think it was good. But no: too salty, too many onions, not enough seaweed. Just meh. Down the drain.

    But that’s okay, because there will be many delicious victories to balance things out.

  5. Celeste

    I think that everyone goes through a “blah phase”. Just a short while ago I did not feel like cooking & felt uninspired dispite numerous cookbooks.
    Then while walking our neighborhood, enjoying the Fall changes I catch the scent of cinnamon wafting from our kitchen store and I am back in business. I guess I just needed a break from cooking…if that is possible.

  6. giao {kiss my spatula}

    there isn’t enough time in the day to even begin to explain how many kitchen blunders and disasters i’ve been through. so i hear ya, lady! but hey, if it doesn’t kill you (or burn down the kitchen), it will make you stronger! love the julia quote and i’m a big sucker for pb + chocolate combos!

  7. VickiP

    One of my teachers said that writing is a process. You cannot master being a writer because you can always improve on your skill and become a stronger writer. I’ve found that philosophy can be applied to other areas in life, including cooking. One of the few places I don’t worry in life is in the kitchen because I just shrug off my cooking mistakes and have honestly only made two really bad mistakes that made dinner inedible (one meal was too hot but we ate it anyway. The dinner that turned out too salty I did break down and throw a frozen pizza in the oven). btw, I learned last Friday you can use olive oil if you are out of veggie oil to make store bought brownies.

  8. Jacqui

    i love that you find strength in cookies.

  9. The Duo Dishes

    We’ve all been there…a few faux pas and flops in the kitchen. Trust. It happens. It’s all experimentation though, so when you get it right, it’s totally right. Mmmm cookies.

  10. Shannalee

    Mary, Thank you for that word of encouragement. I have decided, for the record, that any time I ever meet anyone who gets discouraged in the kitchen, I am going to be their biggest cheerleader because it STINKS so much when people use good cooking as a pedestal to look down from. Thanks for coming along side and saying blah happens to us all. I appreciate it!

    Whitney, It is PITCH BLACK when I drive home now and even though I knew it was coming, it still sent a powerful wave of sadness over me tonight. I think things start to turn around in February. Three months.

    Antonietta, Thank you for telling me that! Seriously. Thank you! It is so nice to know I’m not alone.

    Maria, I like the way you said there will be victories to balance things out. Yes! There’s a give-and-take with learning something, and you are so right to point that out. Sorry about your miso soup, but maybe part of its redemption is the encouragement it allowed you to give me. Thank you!

    Celeste, That is so true! Cooking can be a very creative process, and most creative things go through stints where the inspiration seems lacking. Love that a fall walk got you inspired – how lovely!

    Giao, Oh, I could just hug you. It’s hard to imagine you ever having a failed recipe! But I love how much better it makes me feel. Thank you!

    VickiP, That is SUCH a good analogy because I would definitely have said that about writing, so why not cooking? PS that’s awesome about the brownies – nice improvisation!

    Jacqui, Right? It is so me.

    DD, Oh, it happens, all right. I am hanging in there for this burst of bad ones to pass.

  11. Susan

    I think that Julia Child quote speaks to more than just cooking. And in addition to cooking, you are a wonderful photographer, those photos look delicious!

  12. Gemma

    You already know that I’ve been stuck in a huge blah phase for what feels like forever so you are definitely not alone. Peanut butter cookies seem to have been the thing to bake this week!

  13. katie

    Yikes, I’m glad you found new inspiration to keep on trying. I’m thinking maybe problem #2. You’ve gotten so good, that the mediocre stuff isn’t as fabulous anymore — because those few mishaps sounded pretty fantastic to me.

  14. Niki

    I have found that when I try a new dessert recipe, it damn near always comes out good. When I try a food recipe, it damn near always comes out bleh. So I stopped making recipes line by line. I substitute ingredients for ones I know I’ll like. I’ll add spices or switch meats… Then, I am trying out a new recipe all of my own that is inspired by someone else’s. Not that it always turns out, but hey, I tried and if it was something I was really hoping would be good, I’ll look at what I made. I’ll look at the ingredients I used. And I’ll change something. If it tasted bland, maybe I’ll add some cinnamon or cayenne or loads of garlic while cooking. Maybe I’ll add another veggie to compliment the others. Or an entirely dif veggie w/ more flavor.
    I say it’s likely not you. It’s the recipe. But never give up. And sometimes when you are feeling a bit disappointed in the new stuff, just go back to an old fail-safe recipe to remind yourself, you can cook!!!

    And I made flourless PB&J sandwich cookies back in May. Love, love, love anything that reminds me of PB&J sandwiches!!!! PB & chocolate sandwich cookies are next. Maybe even PB & dulce de leche sandwich cookies!!!! Endless yummy sandwich cookie possibilities!!! :)

  15. Peggy

    I definitely feel ya on the “ok” meals! But it only take one extraordinary thing (in your case the cookies) to bring you out of a bad rut! Cooking SHOULD be experimental… even the best chef’s in the world have bad days… so why can’t us novice chef’s have a few too? =)

  16. jessiev

    yummity yum yum yum!! i will be making these, hopefully soon!!

    you know my trick with pumpkin? toss chunks in olive oil, roast for a very long time until they are brown on the edges. then, they are perfect for including in baking, etc. bc all the moisture is gone. it makes a perfect pumpkin/coconut milk/curry soup…

    think of all your successes that you’ve shared with us – how can you be a bad cook? 😉

  17. Sarah Kate Branine

    Can I just say that I love your blog?! I need to add you to my reader list! I know you don’t know me–but I know you know my husband Steve, from college, and I just wanted to introduce myself……….{as much as you can do that through blog-land;-)}

    Wish I was half as good at cooking as you are! Sure enjoy your photographs and posts though…………makes me want to be brave and try some new recipes………

    I’m sure my husband would be delighted! 😉

  18. kickpleat

    Yeah, it’s one of those weeks alright! I had to throw up a squash and pasta dish that was absolutely inedible. Ugh. I can see these cookies as being a great remedy.

  19. Jessica

    Oh my gosh peanut butter sandwich cookies look amazing. Seriously. Holy cow.

  20. Shannalee

    Susan, It really does speak to more than just cookies! I have been finding that to be true all week.

    Gemma, I know! I laughed when I saw your PB cookies this week – we are so alike, ha!

    Katie, You are very kind.

    Niki, Right? Baking is so much more predictable for me, and desserts are so much easier to get right (although, to be fair, I have screwed up a few of those, too). PS – those PB & J cookies sound great!

    Peggy, If it’s true that great chefs have a few bad days, then I guess we normal people should get more than a few bad days, right? This is what I will tell myself, and thank you!

    JessieV, You are sweet – thanks for the encouragement. And I’ll have to try that pumpkin recipe. Oh my gosh, I could really go for some pumpkin soup right about now, in fact.

    Sarah, I love that you commented here – you are SO sweet. Like I e-mailed you, I definitely keep up with your blog but I’ve never introduced myself like you did, and I really appreciate it so much! Glad to meet you! :)

    Kickpleat, THANK YOU for saying that. Seriously.

    Jessica, Ha! These were so good and, reassuring.

  21. Hannah

    Shanna! I needed this post. I’ve had a series of failures in the kitchen lately, and it’s been getting me down. That Julia Child quote is so, so true. Thanks for your beautiful words and lovely recipe.

  22. Shannalee

    Hannah, It is so hard to imagine you having anything near a kitchen failure, but it is very encouraging to read. Thanks, friend.

  23. Caitlin

    I keep forging on with the cooking – I can bake, no problem, but pairing flavors in cooking is still very difficult for me. My stubbornness finally has a purpose! And you reminded me – I really really really want to make these cookies.

  24. Shannalee

    Caitlin – yes! that is exactly it! cooking is a much slower skill, it seems, but I am relentless in my failures, so maybe there will be breakthrough. And make these! So good!

  25. Jennilyn

    It’s good to know I’m not the only one who has off-days (or weeks, in my case) in the kitchen. Thanks for the encouragement—and for the cookies. I can’t wait to try them!

  26. Shannalee

    Jennilyn, Off weeks in my case, too. Oh, boy! Thank YOU for the encouragement in reminding me it happens.

  27. Kylie of Thin Crust Deep Dish

    I wrote a really similar post just last week, so I clearly understand just where you’re coming from. So many things are about perseverance, not talent. I think we tend to remember that about everyone but ourselves. Way to keep cooking, despite some lackluster attempts.

  28. Shannalee

    Kylie, I went and read your post – I so agree that if I can make it, anyone can! And you say it so well that a lot of life is about perseverance, not talent. Yes.

  29. Blair

    I bought some grind-it-yourself PB from the grocery last week that I ended up not liking very much. This was the perfect recipe to make that PB fantastic! I used WW flour and tossed in 1/2 c. or so of semi-sweet chocolate chips (I wasn’t patient enough for the dipping step). AMAZING! And if the cookies weren’t enough my kitchen smells delicious too! Thanks so much!

  30. Shannalee

    Blair, Grind-it-yourself peanut butter? I’ve never heard of that! So glad this recipe helped use it for you, though – and great idea to add chocolate chips!

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