Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Through Thick and Thin - "Magic in the Middles" Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies - A Review

Magic in the Middles 2
Do you like your cookies thick?

Magic in the Middles 1

Magic in the Middles 3

Thick or thin? Crumbly or curvy? Sturdy or soft? When Desserts Magazine contacted me to kitchen test Magic in the Middles, a recipe from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion - The Essential Cookie Cookbook, I thought it would be a straightforward review addressing the standard questions: Does the recipe work? Do you like the finished product? Would you bake these cookies again? Little did I know that through some of my own fine tuning on the fly, I would be happily asking myself these points twice - for two different cookies. The answers were incongruous: no, yes, and yes. Here's why:

Magic in the Middles is one of King Arthur Flour's old-time favorite cookie recipes. A chocolate and peanut butter creation which recalls an iconic candy classic and translates it into a baked good, the recipe is time consuming with multiple steps, which can be frustrating for the novice baker. Essentially two recipes (one for the chocolate dough, and one for the peanut butter filling tucked into that dough), you will need plenty of counter space, mixing bowls and stamina to perform the careful measurements and assembly-line production. These caveats are not reasons not to bake these crowd-pleasing treats - as long as you keep in mind that a little water, which isn't noted in the recipe, will go a long way toward moving along your batches of cookies from the oven to a serving platter.

The chocolate dough, though all ingredients were well incorporated, was remarkably thick and dry, too thick and dry to be properly shaped into the small cups meant to contain the peanut butter centers. After four attempts resulting in misshapen broken dough that ill concealed the peanut butter, I employed my old trick of desperation used when pie crust is too crumbly to work: don't be afraid to add incremental extra water, no matter what the recipe says. A fat-based dough will get tough if it is over handled, but it is usually over handled because it is too dry. I added two tablespoons of water, working it in with a wooden spoon.

It made a great difference. The dough was softer and pliable, like modeling clay, and considerably easier to shape, although surprisingly, my experimentation was not quite over. After assembling and arranging half the batch on a cookie sheet, I noticed the raw cookies heavily cracked along the edges after depressing them with the bottom of a drinking glass. Not knowing if this was to be expected, I added an additional two tablespoons of water to the remaining dough. This time, the dough was exceptionally soft and pliable, like pizza dough. Unable to form well-defined cups, I flattened the dough in one palm with the heal of the other to form a three-inch disc, gathering up the peanut butter filling by closing my fingers around it. It created a perfect seal. I worked through the assembly of the remaining cookies with ease and speed.

As expected, the slight moisture modifications produced two very different baked results, the first ones were substantial with dense peanut butter centers; the second ones, soft and delicate with thin veins of peanut butter. Both versions had their advocates and disappeared very fast. And, yes, I would bake them again. Both ways to please everyone. So, now I ask you. Have a look at the photos. Which would you prefer, thick or thin?

Magic in the Middles - From The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion - The Essential Cookie Cookbook - Copyright © 2004 - All Rights Reserved - Reprinted by permission

Reminiscent of a chocolate peanut butter cup candy (or a buckeye, if you’re into homemade candies), this recipe is one that’s been making the rounds for years. We guarantee these will disappear in a snap, whatever the audience—from hungry kids after a soccer game to your coworkers gathered around the office coffeepot.

Yield: 26 cookies ● Baking temperature: 375°F ● Baking time: 7 to 9 minutes

1 1/2 cups (61/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (11/2 ounces) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (31/2 ounces) granulated sugar (and extra for dipping)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/4 cup (2⅜ ounces) smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg

3/4 cup (7⅛ ounces) smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup (3 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

● Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

● To make the dough: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the sugars, butter, and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg, beating to combine, then stir in the dry ingredients, blending well.

● To make the filling: In a small bowl, stir together the peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. With floured hands, roll the filling into 26 one-inch balls.

● To shape the cookies: Break off about 1 tablespoon of the dough, make an indentation in the center with your finger, and press one of the peanut butter balls into the indentation. Bring the dough up and over the filling, pressing it closed; roll the cookie in the palms of your hand to smooth it out. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

● Dip the top of each cookie in granulated sugar and place on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Grease the bottom of a drinking glass and use it to flatten each cookie to about 1/2 inch thick.

● Bake the cookies for 7 to 9 minutes, until they’re set. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

Nutrition information per serving (1 cookie, 38 g): 171 cal, 9 g fat, 4 g protein, 7 g complex carbohydrates,13 g sugar, 2 g dietary fiber, 18 mg cholesterol, 98 mg sodium, 132 mg potassium, 37 RE vitamin A, 1 mg iron, 9 mg calcium, 62 mg phosphorus, 6 mg caffeine.

Magic in the Middles I

Magic in the Middles II

Magic in the Middles III

This post is for Susan of Food Blogga, hosting her Eat Christmas Cookies - Season 2 event. You can check out the recipes here as Susan receives them. Expect another extravagant round-up.



  1. Hmmm. I think I'd like both. Chocolate and peanut butter in any formation? What's not to like?? In any case, I love the symmetry of your mouth-wateringly good pictures.

  2. I felt like I was reading a v v appetising and beautifully written dissertation. I love the Sturdy photo.

  3. I'm salivating all over my keyboard. They look amazing! Never particularly botherered about cookies but these? Oh me, oh my.

    Have to say, I haven't even read what you've written yet. Off to do that now that my gushing is over.

  4. My vote goes for 'soft'. I love how creamy the peanut butter feels. Like a Ghirardelli peanut square. Only this is round :)

  5. lovely pics, my son loves any cookies. will make these for him.

  6. I love my cookies the 'well-seasoned cook' way hehe ... they look so perfect and gorgeous :D

  7. Frankly, who cares which one? They BOTH look phenomenal! And really, in any package, isn't peanut butter and chocolate the ultimate combination?

    Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  8. That's a resounding vote for thin, curvy, soft for me.

    But no amount of peanut butter stuffed into anything sweet will make me a happy girl. Savoury? In a satay sauce for exapmle? Perfection. But sweet? Hmmm...not at all a reflection, however, of the affection I have for these exquisite shots!

    The review is exactly why recipes need to be tested, and scrupulously, before print!

  9. I'll take three of each-thick, thin, curvey and any way you make them. Though I am not a die hard peanut butter or chocolate fan, the combination of them both and your gorgeous photos has changed my mind.

  10. This has to taste heavenly! The picture with the peanut butter oozing looks terrific!

  11. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Eek! I already had made up my mind to do chocolate shortbread cookies dipped in mint chocolate for Christmas goodie baskets and now you post this lovely recipe...

    I vote for the soft and thin. The thought of 'ribbons of pb' is more enticing. But I am intrigued and may do both at some point to do further research on the matter. :)

  12. Sra is so right. You know though, that for a long time, I have been a fan of your prose.

    I am not a cookie or chocolate lover but gosh, you make me want to have one of these :)

  13. I am a savory girl, but I never can resist chocolate and peanut butter. Gorgeous, just gorgeous. And you are right about adding water. This has saved many a pastry recipe for me.

  14. Four attempts? You're a trooper, girl! Thanks for sending along your Christmas goodies.

  15. Can't go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate! This is a great addition to Susan's cookie roundup!

  16. oh my word, these look delicious. chocolate and peanut butter is always a winning combination in my book :) it's like my favorite reese cup, in cookie form!

  17. I'm not really a cookie eater but with chocolate and peanut butter, I wouldn't mind if they were thick or thin. :)
    I saw these in Desserts.

  18. I'll definitely try this out, Susan! I am tempted by the filling and I think combined with the chocolate biscuits will be superb!! Will let you know when I've posted it.


  19. Looks amazing.. I thought I saw this on KA's blog a while back. Very nice and your cookies look perfect.

  20. Laurie - Thanks. It was fun to shoot photos in duplicate.

    Sra - Thanks, dear girl. Dissertation? You flatter me. I haven't pursued a doctorate. Just as well. I'd never be out of school. : )

    Thanks, Wendy! I'm rather partial to cakes myself, but these cookies were great fun experimenting with. Call me Poindexter. ; )

    Suganya - The soft ones bend with such beautiful luxury.

    Sharmi - Thanks, sweets. Your son will be thrilled. No kid on the planet doesn't love peanut butter and chocolate.

    Thanks, Wiffy! So, can I offer either to you? ; D

    OK, Ricki. We won't quibble. I'll get the tea kettle going. Thanks for your holiday wishes.

    Lucy - Thanks, dear friend. I'm rather fond of savory peanut anything, myself, but I did find that I scarfed down more of these hunky morsels than I expected to. All for the testing, of course. ; }

    Welcome, Kim! Hard to choose, but you don't have to. Thanks so much for your kind comments. Good to see you!

    Harini - Thanks! Oozing is definitely the most appealing.

    Ruhama - Hope you've had a good holiday. Thanks. Chocolate shortbread dipped in minted chocolate has sure turned my head, but I am mad for shortbread. So good to see you.

    Hi, Cynthia! Thanks so much. I know you aren't big on desserts, but it's very flattering that you'd be tempted.

    Lisa - Thank you, thank you! I'm partial to savory, too, but these treats are a classic favorite for a reason. Even with sweet peanut butter, there's a bit of the original flavor that shines through.

    Susan - Baking on demand. Yeah, I can do it. Glad to contribute to your event.

    Hi, Karen! Welcome! Thanks. Everyone loves the combination of flavors and textures.

    Welcome, Megan! Thank you. They are very much like Reese's Cups, no matter which recipe you persue. Good to see you.

    Aparna - Thanks. Nice to see you. Chocolate and peanut butter seem to be the combo that can convert nearly everyone.

    Hi, Arfi! Would love to see how yours turn out and what you think of them.

    Thank you, Jude. The cookies were perfect either way, just a matter of personal preference.

  21. Wow wow wow.. the cookies look so perfect and tempting. yummm.. You are phenominal in photgraphy too.. amazing blog.

    here for the first time and sure to be back often.


  22. I so love this biscuit and have made it now and then. A real treat for my kids too now that I am producing them with gluten-free flours. Just posted it. YUM!!

  23. Nithya - Sorry for the very delayed reply, but thank you very much.

    Arfi - Thanks so much. It is very gratifying to hear that another cook/baker had a good turn with a recipe which I have published. I very happy you enjoy them. I'll come over and see your recipe.