It started years and years ago, when a visit to the Barnes and Noble in Erie, Pennsylvania, was a rare and wonderful getaway. My friend Sharon introduced me to the concept that, in the Starbucks snack bar connected to the book store, one could gather up a fat stack of glossy magazines from the well-stocked shelves, order up coffee and a treat, and sit and flip page after page without being accosted. And then, words and images and coffee treats digested, one could take those carefully handled magazines and put them back on the shelves.
And it was okay. In fact, the store management encouraged reading and browsing while snacking.
Those were days of diapers and tight budgets, of precious quiet personal time, and of limited opportunities for real vacations. A visit to the Starbucks cafe at B and N, an hour of paging through glossies that had no direct relation to mommyhood, a steaming cup of Italian roast coffee–that was a refreshing respite in itself. It didn’t think it could get much better.
But then, I ordered the Starbucks Reese’s cup cookie, and I heard the angels sing.
The Reese’s cup cookie was big and flat and filled with chunks of peanut butter cup and chocolate chips. It had the perfect combination of crunch and chew, and I would savor it, breaking off small pieces, chewing them slowly, clearing my palate with a hot swig of rich, dark brew. I would slide the magazine across the little round table, making sure no crumb or drip sullied its pristine pages, and I would read about that year’s fashions or the best way to teach pronouns to middle-schoolers or how to make a tasty dinner from stale bread and leftover ham.
The cookie was big enough to last, if I was careful, for the life of the venti coffee. When both were gone, it was time to put the magazines on their shelves and head back into it.
The taste of Italian roast and Reese’s cookie began, to me, to mean treasured respite. But visits to the book store, an hour’s drive, were too few and too far between. I decided I needed to recreate that lovely, warm, restful experience in my own kitchen.
It wasn’t hard to master the coffee. I acquired my first coffee grinder, and I could buy Italian roasted beans at my local supermarket. Soon, I was sleepily brewing a wonderful pot of morning coffee, floating on its steam to a happy place before the day began to buffet me.
But the cookie. Ah. That was a different story.
I thought perhaps I could adapt my traditional peanut butter cookie recipe, the kind that’s crisscrossed with fork tines. I mixed up a batch and stirred in chocolate chips and a handful of peanut butter cups, chopped; this was an activity that required stealth and the willingness to smack small grubby hands that reached insistently for the chopped chocolate treats. I arranged one-inch balls carefully on the cookie sheets, and put them into a pre-heated oven, waiting for them to flatten out and become the chewy-crunchy discs I loved so much.
They never flattened. They remained candy-studded peanut butter golf balls. Although the boyos ate them willingly, I was not happy. And I was determined to get closer to the mark.
Thus began my quest. At least twice a year, I would try a new recipe for peanut butter cookies. I rummaged through library cookbooks in five different hometowns, finding, along the way, some wonderful dishes that we have woven into family cuisine. But I did not find a peanut cookie recipe that approximated the Starbucks treat.
I discovered the Reese’s cookies were only available in Barnes and Nobles Starbucks,–at least where I lived–, and I swerved the car when passing such places. I interrogated hapless baristas who had nothing to do with the baking of cookies; they looked nervous as I pelted them with cookie questions. I was a woman on a mission, but my goal seemed elusive.
I bought baking books. Their recipes did not include the one I sought. I scoured the Internet fruitlessly.
I tried chocolate chip cookie variations–“Omit the half cup of shortening and add 2/3 cup of peanut butter…”
I chopped peanut butter cups and stirred them into dozens of different doughs, sharing results with family and friends and colleagues. None of them objected to the cookies I slid in front of them.
But none of the cookies was quite the cookie I needed.
Years and years went by. I savored Barnes and Noble visits, learning, in every town we settled, the fastest route to the closest store whose cafe offered those sweet treats.
I began to despair, though, of ever finding a recipe to come close to my cookie ideal.
And then, at Christmas time, I reached for my mother’s recipe book, a book that contains, in her own handwriting, essential holiday recipes–the shortbread cookie recipe, the directions for making chocolate fudge delight. And I noticed that recipe number two was for a cookie called ‘Peanut Butter Crinkles.’
Did I remember my mother making peanut butter crinkles? The criss-cross tine cookies, yes, but there was no memory of this other. We had cookies we called molasses crinkles; they were a favorite, and they flattened into the same kind of chewy crunch I sought.
I had a chocolate crinkle recipe, too; they yielded the same result. Could it be…??
I went ahead with my Christmas baking, stirring up the fudge, rolling out the shortbread, shaping dollops of clove-scented chocolate dough into Italian chocolate cookies.
It was all good; we ate and shared, and then when the holidays treats were gone, I pulled out the little recipe book, chopped up a package of Reese’s peanut butter trees found in my Christmas stocking, and mixed them into the peanut butter crinkle dough. I added, because I had them, a handle of white chocolate chips and a scoop of mini semi-sweet morsels. I shaped the candy-studded dough into 1-1/2 inch balls, and I rolled the balls in sugar. Then I put them on lightly greased cookie sheets, flattened them gently with the sugared bottom of a juice glass, and slid them into the oven.
They spread out beautifully, and the edges cracked and got crunchy. After ten minutes or so, I took the first tray from the oven, wielded my spatula, and spread the first twelve hot cookies out to cool. And finally, after an agonizing wait, I tried them.
And they were, as Goldilocks said so long ago, JUST RIGHT.
Last night, Jim took the last of the Reese’s cookies from the cookie jar. But I know how to make more.
I felt triumphant for two days after those cookies came out of the oven–triumphant and sated with my dream cookies. And then, a little reaction began to set in.
For there’s a cost, I’m discovering, to achieving a long-sought goal. There’s a vacuum. The quest is a thing in itself, powered by passion and possibility and the delight of the search.
And when the mission is completed, that power is gone. Now I have to say to myself, the quest for the Reese’s cookie recipe was a thirty-five year chapter in my life. And that chapter is now complete.
It’s a little unsettling; it’s a little…final.
But still. I have my recipe! And I found it, of all places, in a book that’s been sitting patiently on my cookbook shelf, a little book that’s traveled with me over hundreds of miles and through five different kitchens. There’s a message there to ponder, kind of a Wizard of Oz wisdom-byte, about the things I need maybe being in my backyard all along.
There are other cooking quests to get serious about. I have my new pasta maker; watch out, ravioli. And this is the year I’ll finally learn to make a buttery delectable biscuit.
I’ll still treat myself to a Reese’s cookie when I visit my favorite Barnes and Noble store.
And every so often–but not too often–I’ll make myself a batch of Reese’s cookies. In the quiet of the morning, I’ll French press myself some smoky brew, pull over the magazine that arrived in yesterday’s mail, and serve myself a cookie on a dessert plate. I’ll savor it, making it last until I’ve poured the last steamy froth from my coffee pot, turned the last page of that magazine. I’ll savor the triumph, too, of finally achieving my goal–silly and frivolous though that goal might seem.
And then…well, then, I’ll face the future, bravely embarked on a mighty new mission.
And fueled by a hefty dose of Reese’s candy-laden peanut butter crinkles.