Food & Drink

Make these cookies from one of the most talked-about cookbooks this season

Homemade Nutter Butter Cookies from “BraveTart.”
Homemade Nutter Butter Cookies from “BraveTart.” Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Sure, you can tear open a bag and leave some packaged cookies for Santa. But if you really want to impress the big man, bake some of the cleverly recast grocery store classics from “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts.”

“BraveTart,” written by Serious Eats pastry wizard Stella Parks, who has a blog by the same name, is the most talked-about baking book in years. Critics have swooned over the beauty and intense flavors of her sweets, her empowering approach to explaining both the science of baking and mastering techniques, and the astounding breadth of research behind the many stories that make it so hard to put down.



Of course, it’s the recipes that make this book one to consider as a holiday gift for the bakers in your life. By relying more on your taste memories of iconic cookies and cakes – the joy they inspire – than the fact of them being corporate creations made with shelf-stable ingredients, Parks reinvents them to be considerably more delicious.

Bravetart cover
“BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Serious Eats pastry wizard Stella Parks. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.



While the cookies have garnered the most attention, she also covers classic cakes and breakfast treats (think homemade Pop-Tarts and McDonald’s-style baked apple turnover) as well as candies and ice cream. High achieving do-it-yourselfers can even learn to make their own sprinkles.

Parks examines the history behind some of the most popular mass-market treats to hit supermarket shelves, often revealing the clever marketing ploys that made them insanely popular. She debunks the myth of Ruth Wakefield creating the first chocolate chip cookies in 1938 – Nestlé featured the legendary Toll House recipe on billions of bags of chips – with the glee of an inveterate sleuth.

Stella Parks
“BraveTart” author and Serious Eats pastry wizard Stella Parks. Sarah Jane Sanders Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.



She likewise invests three full pages (and 25 footnote references) on the fascinating twist and turns of how Oreo dethroned Hydrox as America’s most beloved creme-filled sandwich cookie, concluding with recipes for the chocolate wafers and vanilla filling. Her secret to making the cookies inky black? Top quality Dutch cocoa and baking soda. And that certain something that makes it taste just right? A whisper of coconut extract.

With “BraveTart,” you can master your own Nutter Butter and Pecan Sandies, and you won’t need a Girl Scout to indulge in superior Thin Mints and Trefoils.

This book makes me wish I could turn back time and make even-better Fig Newtons for my dad, who loved to dunk them in coffee. As with many of the recipes, Park includes several variations, allowing you to tweak the filling with such enticing combinations as apricot-strawberry, blueberry-lime and “Pig” Newtons crammed with crumbled bacon. Leave a few of those out for Santa and your stocking is sure to be filled with the good stuff.

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer from Raleigh. She can be reached at 3lucases@gmail.com or via Twitter at @jwlucasnc.

Bravetart’s Homemade Nutter Butter Cookies

Made from equal parts butter and peanut butter, these shortbread wafers are ultra-crunchy and salty-sweet – perfect for sandwiching with whipped peanut butter creme. They’re best made with commercial peanut butter, which makes the dough and filling easy to handle.

For the dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, creamy and soft about 68 degrees

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)

2 large egg whites

For the peanut butter creme:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, creamy and soft about 68 degrees

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Prepare the dough: Sift flour (if using a cup measure, spoon into the cup and level with a knife before sifting).

NutterButterCookies
Homemade Nutter Butter Cookies from “BraveTart.” Stella Parks Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and adjust oven rack to middle position.

Combine butter, peanut butter, sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low to moisten, then increase to medium and cream until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Beat the egg whites with a fork until foamy and thin, then add to the butter and sugar in four additions, letting each incorporate before adding the next. Scrape the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula, then resume mixing on low.

Sprinkle in the flour, and mix to form a soft dough.

Knead dough against sides of the bowl to form a smooth ball. Divide in half and flatten into two discs.

On a flour-dusted work surface, roll the dough until 1/2-inch thick. Sprinkle with flour, flip, sprinkle again, and roll just shy of 1/8 inch.

Cut into peanuts with a 3-inch bikini cutter or simple 2 1/4-inch rounds. Gently lift with an offset spatula and arrange cutouts on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently score the cutouts in a criss-cross pattern. Gather scraps, re-roll and cut as before. Bake wafers until firm and dry, about 13-15 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet.

Make the creme: Combine butter, peanut butter, honey, vanilla and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to moisten, then sprinkle in the powdered sugar a little at a time. Once incorporated, increase to medium and beat until the creme is soft and light, about 5 minutes.

Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip.

Assemble the cookies: Pipe two teaspoons creme onto half of the cookies, filling each lobe of the peanut shape. Sandwich with remaining wafers.

Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until the filling is set, about 15 minutes. Store up to one week at room temperature or a month in the fridge. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 30 3-inch peanut-shaped or 35 2 1/4-inch round sandwich cookies

Recipe and photographs from “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Stella Parks. Copyright 2017 by Stella Parks. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company Inc. All rights reserved.

Caramel-Vanilla Peanut Brittle

Forget molasses, this golden brittle gets its color (and complex flavor) from caramelized sugar. It’s so easy to make you don’t even need a thermometer – just let the syrup simmer until it develops a tawny hue, indicating that all the water has been driven out. Note: Honey, molasses and maple syrup cannot be used in this recipe.

1 vanilla bean

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 cup sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter or refined coconut oil

1 rounded cup (5 ounces) dry-roasted or honey-roasted peanuts (salted if you like)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)

CaramelVanillaPeanutBrittle
Caramel Vanilla Peanut Brittle from “BraveTart.” Stella Parks Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a paring knife and scrape the seeds from each half; reserve the pod for another project.

Combine the water, corn syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla seeds in a 3-quart stainless steel saucier set over medium-low heat and gently stir with a fork until the clear syrup is bubbling hard around the edges, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, clip on a digital thermometer if you like, and cook, without stirring, until the syrup is golden, about 10 minutes (or approximately 340 degrees).

Meanwhile, lightly grease an aluminum baking sheet. Measure baking soda and salt into a ramekin or small dish.

When the candy is ready, turn off the heat, remove the thermometer, and stir in the baking soda and salt with a heat-resistant spatula. Stir in the peanuts too, then scrape onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into a roughly 12-by-8-inch layer. Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour (prior to that the brittle will stick mercilessly to your teeth).

Chop or break the brittle into 2-inch pieces; there’s something cathartic about whacking it with a kitchen mallet. In an airtight container, peanut brittle will keep for about a month at room temperature, or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Yield: About 24 2-inch (3/4-ounce) pieces

Recipe and photographs from “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Stella Parks. Copyright 2017 by Stella Parks. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company Inc. All rights reserved.

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