peanut butter pretzel brownie thumbprint cookies

Everyone has their weaknesses. Challenges, faults, defects, regrets, secrets. We’ve all got at least a handful or more at any given time. Anyone who doesn’t probably can’t (and shouldn’t) be trusted. So operating under the hope that we can all learn to live and let live judgement-free, I feel inclined to share a weakness of my own. Cookies. Specifically, the baking of cookies.  It wasn’t until I was working on this delightful recipe and finding myself unreasonably stressed in a way that doesn’t normally occur when I’m in the kitchen that I remembered this small but disturbing fact. Cookies tend to overwhelm me. I made my first noble attempt at them when I was 13 or so, before I considered myself a baker of any kind, thinking I surely couldn’t fail at such a beloved, simple, time-tested American favorite. To my immense adolescent disappointment, however, I tasted failure in the form of tooth-chipping tasteless chocolate chip cookies.

Where did I go wrong?? I agonized for a brief moment but then decided (as any self-respecting American teenager would) that it was the cookies’ fault, not mine. If they were going to be such a difficult, stressful thing to work with, then I simply wouldn’t work with them. So I swore off cookies for many, many years.

After carefully and cautiously dabbling with a batch here and there over recent years, I felt my tattered confidence slowly return. That is, until it all came tumbling down around me this weekend to reveal every last insecurity of a teenage cookie-baking-failure that had never really gone away. The butter wasn’t getting properly creamed with the sugar. My pretzel crumb supply came up a little short. The cookies weren’t holding their shape. I used too much brownie mix to fill them. The cookies weren’t pretty and I wanted pretty cookies. Shortly after I had this last revelation, I had another one that told me to listen to how ridiculous I was being. Luckily, it was the latter that stuck with me.

I learned to accept my flawed and glob-like cookies for what they were: beautiful… in the way that ugly or imperfect things can often be. Anyway, they tasted good and that was all that mattered. Plus there were exactly four that were just photogenic enough to provide material for this blog post. So maybe I should not have divulged the secret of the near-disaster and the 21 other ugly cookies. But had I not, this post would have been just another “Look at how beautiful and easy it is to bake a batch of cookies” sort of post.. and who isn’t just a little tired of those?

Peanut Butter, Pretzel and Brownie Thumbprint Cookies
Recipe from a very talented teenage baker, Top with Cinnamon
Makes 24 smallish cookies

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp peanut butter
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp + 1 tsp white or turbinado sugar
1/2 large egg (lightly beat an egg and divide in half; save the other half for the brownie filling)
2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

about 1/2 cup of crushed pretzels
a pinch of fleur de sel
white or turbinado sugar

Brownie Filling
1 oz bittersweet baking chocolate
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup white or turbinado sugar
1/2 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp flour

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a baking tray with baking paper (not necessary if using a cookie sheet).

Start making your brownie filling by melting the chocolate and the 2 tbsp of butter together in a small saucepan on the stove, in a metal bowl resting on a pot of simmering water, or in a small bowl in the microwave. Stir in the 1/4 cup of sugar and set aside.

Now make the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, peanut butter and sugars. Mix in the egg, milk, and vanilla extract until fully combined. Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt until dough is smooth.

Put the crushed pretzels with the fleur de sel in a shallow bowl. Put a handful of white or turbinado sugar in a separate shallow bowl.

Take rounded teaspoons of cookie dough and roll into balls. Roll each ball firmly in the crushed pretzel mixture, then in the sugar. Place on the cookie tray. Repeat until you’ve used all the cookie dough.

Using the end of the handle of a wooden spoon / the end of a sharpie, make a deep indentation in each ball of cookie dough. Bake for 5 minutes.

As the cookies bake, beat the 1/2 egg, vanilla and flour into the chocolate mixture you made earlier.

After the 5 minutes, take the cookies out of the oven, use the wooden spoon handle / sharpie to re-indent the cookies and then fill the indentations with brownie batter.

Return the cookies to the oven for 4-5 minutes, when the brownie batter should be set on top but still slightly soft. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool.

If you have leftover brownie batter, consider making a  single serving brownie! (I used all my batter but in hindsight should not have been so overzealous). Put a muffin liner in a small cake/tartlet tin or ramekin, and fill with brownie batter. Top with some leftover pretzel crumbs and bake for 7-10 minutes in the oven.

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