My earliest memory of peanut butter cookies isn’t the taste so much as the satisfying sensation of squashing a glistening tan ball down under the tines of a fork in the criss cross pattern.
Peanut butter cookies have never been my go-to (chocolate chip forever), but I’ve also never met a pb cookie I didn’t like. Give me sandy or moist, super dense and rich and peanut buttery or just faintly, subtly nutty, crunchy or cakey–I like them all. But among the 12 peanut butter cookies we tried in search of the best recipe, there were some clear stand outs!
- 34 total tasters
- All 12 recipes were baked the day of and judged at room temperature
- All tasters ranked each cookie on a scale from 0-10 for flavor, texture, and overall as a whole
- All cookies were baked in standard aluminum baking sheets lined with parchment
- Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour
- Unsalted Land O Lakes butter
- Skippy peanut butter (both creamy and chunky, per the recipe)
- Smucker’s natural peanut butter (only Bon Appetit)
- Planter’s peanuts
- Spice Island vanilla extract
- Bob’s Red Mill baking powder and soda
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated sugar and dark brown sugar
Best Peanut Butter Cookie Results
It’s unusual to have the standouts in flavor and texture fall into different categories, but Jessie Sheehan’s cookie edged out Ovenly for best overall texture and was the runaway winner for best overall cookie while Shauna Sever’s flourless cookie took top marks for flavor (with Jessie close behind).
As always, all cookie recipes were tested by me, enthusiastic, non-professional home baker, and results reflect my best but likely flawed efforts.
Factors that affected the rankings
In this particular bake off, I didn’t find many correlations between ingredients and overall rankings–it was more about proportions of ingredients.
Peanut butter (natural vs. processed): Unfortunately, our sample size of recipes using natural peanut butter was too small to shed any insight on how it affects a recipe vs. processed peanut butter (i.e traditional Skippy, Jif, Peter Pan, etc.). Only Bon Appetit’s recipe called for natural peanut butter and it includes a bunch of other factors (like browning butter, including ground peanuts, additional egg yolks) that make it virtually impossible to compare the direct effect of natural peanut butter.
However, it’s widely noted that processed peanut butter is better for baking. This is due to several reasons, one of which is that natural peanut butter is less emulsified and has a higher proportion of oil, so they can cause more spreading. When in doubt, make sure you use the peanut butter type specified in the recipe. If it’s not specified, it’s generally safer to use processed peanut butter.
Fat: The grand majority of recipes were made with butter (Brown Eyed Baker used shortening and Jessie Sheehan used a combination of vegetable oil and butter. In this bake off, I think fat made less of a difference than usual since peanut butter is so fatty and was able to mask some of the flavor/texture differences. For what it’s worth, shortening led to a slightly chewier cookie than comparable butter cookies. And though I was skeptical of the oil/butter combination, it helped contribute to an insanely fudgy-centered yet crumbly cookie that won over virtually everyone’s tastebuds.
Sweetener: In cases like the chocolate chip cookie bake off, brown sugar made a dramatic difference both taste-wise and moisture-wise. In this bake off, most recipes used a mix of brown and white sugar or exclusively brown sugar (only Bravetart used all white sugar). Brown sugar tends to add a little more moisture and molasses flavor, which compliments peanut butter cookies well. In this bake off however, I don’t think it was a major factor since, again, peanut butter is such a strong flavor. However, I do think that honey caused America’s Test Kitchen to drop unfairly in the rankings due to the unique, divisive flavor that departed from a traditional peanut butter cookie.
Peanut butter to flour ratio: When tracking the ratio of peanut butter to flour in each recipe, there was a slight correlation of recipes with a higher pb to flour ratio receiving higher ranks. But there were also a lot of exceptions. For example, the two flourless cookie recipes took second and fifth place with Bon Appetit (267% peanut butter to flour) and Bravetart (125%) filling in for third and fourth. Meanwhile, America’s Test Kitchen (33%) and New York Times (14%) came in last (though again, both recipes had non-traditional flavors that unfairly bogged down their scores). But Jessie’s oil/butter-based recipe took top honors with just a 40% ratio, and Chelsea’s Messy Apron (37%) came in above Alice Medrich (94%) and Sally’s Baking Addiction (80%). So you can kind of make an argument that more peanut butter tends to yield a more crowd-pleasing cookie, but there are many other factors at play…
Eggs: …such as eggs! Jessie Sheehan and Bon Appetit both use 2 egg yolks in addition to whole eggs, while both flourless cookies use 2 whole eggs. Generally, the higher ranked cookies received fewer critiques around being too dry, and this was probably due to having a higher proportion of peanut butter, butter (or other fat) AND egg in the recipe. This is also true generally among baked goods–if you’re looking for more moisture, extra egg yolks help give a more desirable texture.
Ground peanuts: I expected more of a notable difference in the recipes that used peanuts ground into a flour (Bravetart and Righteous Kitchen), but in the end, these cookies didn’t have a noticeably different texture from the other recipes I tried. So is it worth buying whole peanuts just for a recipe? I suppose, if you really love the specific recipe they’re used in (I would buy peanuts again to make Bravetart’s cookie). Or if you like the texture of pulverized peanuts in your cookie (like Bon Appetit). Otherwise, I don’t think they’re necessary to make an excellent peanut butter cookie.
New York Times: a large, flat, super chewy chewy cookie with salty umami notes, heavy caramel/toffee flavors and a subtle nuttiness
Several people nominated this cookie for inclusion in the bake off, and I ultimately decided to include it for its use of miso. (Reportedly, the test kitchen ran out of peanut butter while testing cookies and found miso as a worthy substitute/addition as a happy accident.) This cookie baked up large, very flat, and very chewy with an intense umami flavor (only a few identified it as miso) that almost bordered on notes of caramel. I loved the addictingly chewy texture and the pops of crunch from the sparkling sugar encasing each cookie, though I wished for a slightly less intense miso flavor and more peanut butter (with just 1/4 cup of peanut butter, there wasn’t a super strong peanut flavor). However, if you like salty sweet desserts and don’t love too much peanut butter, this is YOUR JAM.
“Taffiest of all, also the sweetest,” said one taster. “More like a candy or gingersnap. Super thin, too much sugar and not enough peanut butter,” said another. Several tasters compared this to a gingersnap or molasses cookie. “Feels like I’m eating caramel-wrapped fudge dipped in sugar,” said one taster, alluding to wider complaints around it being too sweet and sugary. A few did pick up on the miso and enjoyed the complex, deeper flavor, but virtually everyone was missing the peanut flavor. The consensus? As one taster put it: “This recipe can’t decide if it’s a cookie or a caramel. It would be good if it wasn’t trying to be a peanut butter cookie.”
America’s Test Kitchen: a soft and chewy, honey-laced cookie spiked with chunks of peanuts
ATK has several peanut butter cookie recipes, but I chose this one both for its chewiness claim and its use of honey. As always, this recipe was meticulously tested. The recipe developers talk about finding the perfect balance of peanut butter to flour to keep the cookies chewy rather than crumbly and using just a modest amount of butter (as fat tenderizes baked goods). Ground peanuts are added for extra peanutty flavor and slightly crunch, along with honey and 100% dark brown sugar, which also helps contribute to the chewiness.
I actually wasn’t a huge fan of these when I first tried them (the honey notes were jarring and non-traditional compared to the rest), but this grew on me the longer it sat. This cookie actually ages extremely well (it just gets chewier as it sits). While I personally don’t love chunks of nuts in cookies, this texture of these cookies are so pillowy-chewy that it’s easy to overlook.
However, tasters marked these down for being less traditional and for having a rather bland flavor. Interestingly, many commented that it seemed like a storebought or commercial cookie (perhaps because it looked too perfect?). Virtually everyone agreed it needed more peanut flavor. “Enjoyable cousin of the peanut butter cookie maybe…has more of a sweet molasses or toffee taste,” said one. “Really nice background honey flavor on this, needs a bit more peanut butter flavor. Dense and chewy but not dry.” Ultimately, I think this cookie was a victim of being compared to 11 other more traditional cookies. On their own, I think these cookies would be total crowd-pleasers, especially if you love soft and chewy cookies!
Brown Eyed Baker: a classically crumbly-style peanut butter cookie that retains a bit of chew with very light peanut butter flavor
I had almost finalized my list of peanut butter cookies when I realized they were all butter-based. So Brown Eyed Baker got tossed into the mix due to its use of shortening as the fat, which reportedly keeps the cookie from spreading as much and helps keep the cookie chewy rather than crumbly. As a slightly crumbly-style, drier peanut butter cookie, this fit my idea of a more quintessential peanut butter cookie, but the flavor was lacking. When eaten side by side with similar-style cookies (like Righteous Kitchen and Alice Medrich), these did have a notably chewier center. I wished for a deeper peanut butter flavor and probably wouldn’t go out of my way to make these again.
Some tasters liked the “surprisingly soft and sweet” vibe, comparing it to “store bought in a good way–soft chewy texture, clear peanut butter flavor.” One called it “the ONLY crisscross that was good! This is the iconic PB cookie, very nostalgic. firmer cookie with some softness, doesn’t explode into powder. Very traditional.” Others found this cookie “a little dry,” “not chewy enough,” and “average.” “PB flavor is on mute,” said one taster, and I have to agree. If you like a traditional dry/sandy cookie, this isn’t a bad option (clearly it was divisive). But I think there’s room to improve if you’re looking for more peanut butter flavor.
Sally’s Baking Addiction: an airy, crunchy-edged, slightly crumbly peanut butter cookie
Sally’s cookie is similar to several recipes out there with one major difference–she doubles the peanut butter (so there’s an 80% peanut butter to flour ratio). This cookie falls into the same kind of traditional, dry/crumbly peanut butter category as Brown Eyed Baker, Alice Medrich and Righteous Kitchen. However, this one stood out for a slightly airier, looser texture (as if the butter had been better whipped, even though I don’t think there was a significant difference). For all the peanut butter in this recipe, the peanut butter flavor was stronger but still not as prominent as I would have liked.
Tasters praised this cookie for its mix of crunchy edges and soft yet sandy texture. Some liked the peanut butter flavor “the subtle peanut flavor would make it easy to eat a few,” “perfect amount of peanut butter flavor.” However, others found the texture too powdery and delicate, and wished for a stronger peanut butter flavor. I liked that this cookie balanced a few textures rather than being straight up dry and crumbly, but I think overall tasters generally preferred a less crumbly cookie.
Alice Medrich: a dry and sandy cookie absolutely packed with peanut butter and studded with chunks of peanuts
With one of the highest ratios of peanut butter to flour at 94%, Alice’s cookie pairs 2.5 cups of chunky peanut butter against all of your usual contenders. Her recipe is very similar to Sally’s Baking Addiction, though it adds a touch more flour, sugar, and an extra half cup of peanut butter. This results in a very rich and peanut buttery, but also dry cookie. Although I liked the flavor, I wished for a slightly chewier center (the texture was rather monotonous) and a slightly moister texture overall.
Many tasters liked the peanut chunks in this cookie as well as the crunchy edges and shortbready texture. However, the most common critiques were around the texture being too dry, sandy or a little chalky, and too mild a flavor. Some didn’t like the chunks of peanut (you could easily remedy this by using smooth peanut butter instead). Although I did like the flavor of this cookie, I will probably use others as my go-to for a more multi-textured cookie.
Righteous Kitchen: a traditional peanut butter cookie using ground peanuts
Lana messaged me her recipe on Instagram and it caught my eye since she had won a blue ribbon at a local fair with it. Similar to Bravetart, her recipe incorporates freshly ground peanut flour. Her recipe is somewhat similar to both Sally’s and Alice Medrich’s, but she uses just one egg and a lesser amount of peanut butter, adding in the dry-roasted peanut flour.
The extra dry ingredients and reduced moisture results in thick and crumbly cookies that dissolve into a cloud of peanut butter in your mouth. Whereas Alice has a little more texture from the chunky peanut butter, this cookie has a very smooth texture and mouthfeel from the finely ground peanuts. While it’s still a drier-style cookie, there’s more moisture than Alice’s cookie. It’s quite comparable to Sally’s cookie but feels a little denser and luxuriously richer while Sally’s is a little more airy.
Tasters widely drew textural comparisons to shortbread: “texture like a sandies cookie,” “like a shortbread but with peanut butter.” Those who like the dry/crumbly style loved the “melt in your mouth effect,” lightness and slight grittiness of this cookie (not to mention the textbook-perfect aesthetic). Others didn’t love the “sandy quality” and crumbliness. Ultimately, it really comes down to preference of which type of cookie you prefer. For me, I liked the crumbly texture, but I prefer a cookie that still has a moist, slightly chewy center and slightly more peanut butter flavor. Even though this cookie did have fairly good peanut butter flavor, the texture was a little distracting.
Chelsea’s Messy Apron: sugar cookie-esque with light peanut butter flavor and a moist, soft, underbaked texture
This cookie was the closest “benchmark” cookie (i.e. a popular formula similar to many others on the internet) but with a few key tweaks. There’s a smidge more flour (2 2/3 cups vs. the more common 2.5 cups) and the addition of almond extract, which Chelsea says takes the flavor up a notch. Another factor I didn’t account for when examining the recipe is the short baking time–8-10 minutes just barely set the edges, and I ended up baking them for another 3-5 minutes to prevent the tops from looking too wet. For those who like underbaked sugar cookies, these are perfection–a chewy, fudgy texture is so satisfying to sink your teeth into.
The division between gooey vs. crunchy cookie lovers were evident in the tasting comments. “Tastes like cookie dough,” “too doughy,” “perfect texture.” Many agreed this gave off more of a snickerdoodle or sugar cookie vibe and was lacking more peanut butter flavor. I’m curious whether the almond extract actually detracted from the peanut butter flavor in an undetectable way, or if tasters just wanted more peanut butter in the recipe period. Next time, I would try baking these cookies for longer to reduce the distraction of the underbaked texture and perhaps increasing the amount of peanut butter.
Shauna Sever: a delicate, peanut butter-forward flourless cookie that tastes like the structured center of a Reeses peanut butter cup
I was really debating between testing Dorie Greenspan’s cookie or this one and in the end, I went with Shauna to how another flourless cookie compared against the famed Ovenly recipe. I’m glad I did because the peanut butter flavor on this cookie is unparalled. If anything, this cookie is almost TOO peanut buttery, and I didn’t realize that was possible. It’s kind of like eating a slightly more structured, more potent center of a Reese’s peanut butter cup. The basic ratio of peanut butter to egg to sugar is not far off from Ovenly, but it adds extra butter and just a bit of cornstarch and leavener to bind everything together, leading to VERY delicate but absolutely flavorful cookies. They are an absolute masterpiece for peanut butter lovers.
“Best flavor so far,” agreed many tasters. Multiple tasters compared this cookie to eating straight peanut butter–“was concerned it’d be dry when I touched it but tasted like a heavy scoop of peanut butter licked off the spoon.” However, the lack of structural integrity proved its downfall and ultimately led to a much lower ranking than flavor-alone comments would lead you to expect. “Would be perfect if it wasn’t so crumbly,” basically sums up taster opinions as well as my own. I would love to play around with this recipe to see if I could get a thicker, firmer texture with the same peanut butter flavor. Both this cookie and Ovenly are great options for gluten-free friends!
Bravetart: a perfectly crackled cookie that nails the perfect peanut butter balance with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and slightly chewy interior
With a 125% peanut butter to flour ratio, Stella packs this cookie with maximum peanut butter flavor–and adds freshly ground peanut flour to boot. Pleasingly crackled on top, the perfect aesthetic of these cookies allude to how tender and and crumbly this cookie is. Unlike more “traditional” crumbly-style peanut butter cookies, this somehow managed to retain a moist, slightly chewy, slightly airy interior with crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth edges and moderate peanut butter flavor. This was one of my favorites that I kept coming back to.
“Exactly what I think of when I think peanut butter cookie,” said one taster. Tasters loved the balanced peanut flavor, thicker texture, and contrast of crunchy edges and chewy center. The most common taster complaint was the “dry texture” and it was a bit lighter whereas some prefer a thicker/dense cookie. Overall, this was a fantastic classic cookie that’s quite straightforward as Bravetart recipes go!
Bon Appetit: a huge, salty, toasty, crunchy cookie with a tender center and robust peanut butter flavor
With a high ratio of egg, browned butter, chopped and double toasted peanuts, this was another intriguing “BA’s Best” recipe. A full batch uses a whopping 4 cups of natural peanut butter (we’re talking a 267% peanut butter to flour ratio), so it’s not exactly a cheap recipe to make. They’re also quite a bit of effort to make–the recipe calls for browning butter, toasting and chopping peanuts, resting and then chilling the dough, and then finally baking the cookies with a skillet full of water to provide steam.
However, if you’re looking for a crunchy, enormous cookie chock-full of toasty peanutty flavor studded with nuts, the effort is worth it. The sprinkling of salt and sugar on top also provides a gorgeous contrast, though it might be aggressively salty for some. Although I tend to like my peanut butter cookies on the softer side, I appreciated the crunchy edges on these as well as the aggressive, addictively nutty flavor.
Though I didn’t detect the brown butter flavor, tasters picked up on a lot of flavors! “Praline-like,” “mapley flavor,” “buttery and warm molasses,” “notes of miso,” and “nice authentic roasted peanut taste.” For some, this texture was a little too dry and the flavor a little too smoky/savory (one noted the flavor was “a bit more caramel than my idea of a quintessential peanut butter cookie”). However, most liked the crunchy edges and chewy interior as well as the complex, caramelized flavor.
Ovenly: a thick, chewy, puffy flourless peanut butter cookie with an incredibly rich peanut butter punch
This cookie is super popular (a version is featured on Smitten Kitchen, and similar versions have gone viral on Tik Tok). Beauty lies in the simplicity of this cookie, which at its core, is just peanut butter, brown sugar and egg (plus vanilla and salt). Thick, dense and supple, these cookies are also intensely peanut buttery. With an incredibly satisfying toothsome, fudgy, almost cookie dough-like bite, these cookies are also topped with flaky salt that accentuates the rather aggressively salty interior. It’s also almost foolproof to make!
Tasters loved the contrast of the crispy edges and smooth, slightly chewy interiors of these “pudgy” cookies. Some loved the salty highlights of this cookie (“like salty peanut butter fudge”) and intense peanut butter flavor “this tastes like it has a whole jar of pb and apparently that’s what I’m here for.” Others thought it tasted “almost savory” and maybe “a little too salty.” While this cookie has many virtues, it probably wouldn’t be my “everyday” peanut butter cookie because it’s just so dang rich. But it’s definitely worth trying if you love intensely peanut butter-y cookies.
Jessie Sheehan: a huge, delicate, tender cookie with a fudgy center and melt-in-your-mouth crumbly edges with a sweet, lightly peanut-y flavor
Jessie Sheehan developed this wonderfully wacky cookie that uses both butter AND vegetable oil based on this Epicurious recipe and, like Bon Appetit, finishes each cookie with a sprinkling of both sugar and salt. Jessie modifies the recipe to use melted butter, bread flour and milk chocolate chips (though I omitted the latter for consistency). Could you make these with regular flour and achieve the same results? Try it and let me know!
As soon as I (and most other tasters) bit into this cookie, we knew it was a winner. Like Bon Appetit and NYT, if you bake these are directed, these cookies are LARGE and beautifully cracked on top. But the texture is the real key: it’s a perfect trifecta of a fudgy center, tender and chewy mid-ring and crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth edge texture. The peanut butter flavor is also nicely balanced with sweetness rather than being aggressively nutty. The only downside is that these are on the delicate side, so they might be difficult to transport (because you WILL want to share these with everyone you know. I’d like to retry these and make them slightly smaller).
Tasters loved the soft and tender, slightly chewy texture and praised the “salty, soft, balanced” flavor. Some critics found this cookie too sweet and more sugar cookie-like, wishing for more peanut butter flavor. (Note: if being overly sweet is a concern, you can always skip the final roll in sugar.) A few said it almost had “too much going on” with all of the textures, the intense pops of sweet and saltiness, the sandy edges. But the majority of tasters loved these huge, sugary, doughy-centered cookies!
PS. I know many of you are reticent to use egg yolks (this recipe uses two) but this recipe is 100% worth and and leftover whites are great for frying up in omelettes, fried rice, or these cookies!
Best crowd-pleasing cookie: Jessie Sheehan
Best peanut butter flavor: Shauna Sever, Ovenly, Bravetart
Best classic cookie: Bravetart
Best crumbly-style cookies: Sally’s Baking Addiction, Righteous Kitchen, Brown Eyed Baker, Alice Medrich
Best soft and doughy-style cookies: Chelsea’s Messy Apron, Ovenly
Best chewy cookies: America’s Test Kitchen, Bravetart, Jessie Sheehan
Best off-the-beaten-track cookie: New York Times
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