For Your Inner Child: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Cookies

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

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I don't care what anyone says, or how old I get: I will be making PB&Js until the day I die. Few combinations are more satisfying, or more indisputably American. Peanut butter and jelly is both highly specific in its definition and infinitely customizable in execution. It is everything any of us want or need it to be, whether that's a bare-basics sandwich assembled from supermarket staples or a fancy-pants pot de crème.

Because they were an inevitable part of my back-to-school meal plan, I always start craving PB&J when summer draws to a close. And, while there's no shame in indulging that nostalgia with an actual sandwich (I'm eating one now), it's mighty fine as a cookie, too. Usually, that means a thumbprint-style peanut butter cookie with a spoonful of jam, but I wanted something a touch more literal. A sandwich.

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Peanut butter is not actually the greatest basis for a cutout cookie—it doesn't cream up very well, and it makes for a sticky dough—but when used as part of a blend, it adds a nutty back note to a simple butter dough. It also adds a lot of fat, which can make cookies tender rather than crisp. To offset that, I bind the dough with egg whites rather than whole eggs, to cut back on the tenderizing effects of the yolks.

As I discovered in my Cookie Science explorations, egg whites can curdle the emulsion of butter and sugar that's created by creaming, making a dough that's unpleasantly dense. But if you beat them until they're thin and foamy, then work in stages, they can be added without causing any trouble at all.

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If you're working in a fairly cool kitchen, the soft dough can be rolled right away. If your kitchen is warmer than 72°F, or if you're not super comfortable handling soft doughs, wrap the dough in plastic and give it 30 minutes in the fridge. It can stay there for a full week, so you can whip up the dough on a weekday and save the fun of baking and assembling the cookies for a lazy Sunday, if you prefer.

When you're ready to roll, don't be shy about dusting the countertop with flour; you can always grab a pastry brush to dust off the excess. Because the cookies will be sandwiched around two types of filling, it's important to roll the dough very thin, or else you'll wind up with a monster cookie that's difficult to eat.

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You can cut the dough into any shape you like, but it can be tricky to spread two sorts of filling into a star shape, or anything asymmetrical. After you've cut the dough, use an offset spatula to help preserve the shape of the cookies as they're transferred to a parchment-lined sheet pan. (It's easy to smush them around the edges when trying to do it with your fingers.)

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Without any yolks in the dough, and with half as much butter as normal, the cookies won't brown very much until they're over-baked and tough, so pull them when they've just started to brown around the edges.

Let them cool directly on the sheet pan, then flip half upside down and cover with a generous smear of your favorite peanut butter. Since the cookie itself is quite crunchy, I prefer creamy peanut butter in this case, but the heart wants what it wants; if you need to double down on crunch, I won't stop you.

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Top with a small spoonful of whatever jams or jellies you keep on hand. If you can your own from summer fruit, more power to you, but for a nostalgic, lowbrow after-school snack, I've gotta be honest: Smucker's gets the job done.

Whether you're Team Strawberry or Team Grape, take care not to overfill the cookies, and be gentle when sandwiching to prevent prematurely squishing the filling from the sides. Transfer the finished cookies to a serving plate or airtight container, and enjoy within 24 hours. As with a real peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the "bread" will get soggy if you assemble too far in advance.

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If you're not ready to dig in, the wafers can be stored in a zip-top bag for up to three weeks at room temperature, allowing you to fill the cookies à la minute. They're also really great served like Dunkaroos, dipped straight into a tub of peanut butter, then into a jar of jelly, at midnight. Not that I've ever done that. Just, you know, hypothetically.