Tuesday, March 2, 2010

For the love of almond butter

My older daughter, age five, must have been a fairy in a former life. Get her out in the sun and wind, and she looks as though she'll take flight. These are crocuses she spied at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden last week–you’ve never seen a kid so excited about anything. It was one of those days when you can smell the earth thawing; literally watch the ice on the Japanese garden pond thinning before your eyes, to reveal a world of bright carp swimming underneath. Then, we discovered something sprouting up out of the drab ground after all these cold months, and the day was officially magical. As you might guess, our favorite book together was The Secret Garden, which took months for me to read to her, a little bit each night. We both sort of cried at the end, when Colin runs across the wild, walled garden to his prodigal dad.

The girl eats like a little sprite, too. She picks and pecks at seeds and nuts and twigs, and it’s a very good thing for almond butter, otherwise I suspect she would grow no bigger than your average fairy. She brings almond butter and jelly in her lunchbox every single day, so we go through a lot of it, and almond butter, especially the organic kind, is wickedly expensive. 
Why not peanut butter? It’s cheaper, and she likes it just fine. We both love the decisive crack of peanut hulls, love sitting at the back of a sailboat and sending them off like tiny canoes. Such fun is not possible with almonds. I adore boiled, salty peanuts too, though I haven’t had them in years. For all these reasons, we should be loyalists, but peanut butter has never really stuck around here, at least not in the way you want it to. It’s my fault that it has never gotten a fair shot in this house, and the root of the matter is this: I can’t take peanuts seriously. It could be that, in their shells, they resemble mummified toes. That’s cause enough. But the real reason, I think, is Jimmy Carter.

My dear friend Cary used to live right across the driveway from me in Virginia, when we were kids–instead of hundreds of miles away, as she does now. One of the things we still puzzle over is the rainy day discovery, in a basement crawl space where only her cat went, of a heap of curious t-shirts. Each bore the image of a humanoid peanut with cartoonish Jimmy Carter features (campaign t-shirts, apparently). We collapsed into fits of laughter whenever one of us brought the shirts out, which became often, since we adopted them as a uniform of sorts for the basement. To this day, I still can’t look at a peanut without mentally superimposing a chiclet grill onto it. Maybe because of that, peanuts even taste silly to me.

I also nearly got electrocuted while wearing one of those t-shirts, and that’s likely where my relationship with peanut butter began to get tricky. It’s funny how, when you’re five, you think something like sticking a metal pole into an empty light socket is a great idea. The sparks that rained down from the ceiling were cool, but getting blasted to the ground was not. I should have qualified for a Darwin award that day, but somehow I got to grow up and discover almond butter and all manner of other delights, like the first flowers of spring, and wine, and falling in love and having babies, and baking with my daughters. That brings me to these almond butter and jam thumbprint cookies, made for–and with–my sweet, picky five-year-old…who I hope has better sense than I did at her age. 
 Almond Butter and Jam Thumbprint Cookies
Note:these are not decadent cookies. Yes, there's butter, but the sugar content is pretty low and there's lots of healthy almond butter inside.

  • 1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.), softened at room temperature
  • 1 cup unsalted, roasted almond butter, stirred 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup strawberry jam (or any flavor you like)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, beat sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 5-10 minutes. Add almond butter and blend for a few more minutes, scraping down sides a couple of times. Beat in egg and vanilla. Mix together flour and salt and mix into almond butter mixture until just blended. Line trays with parchment or Silpat liners. Shape dough into roughly 1-inch balls by pressing and rolling in your hands (dough may be a bit crumbly). Place on tray with a bit of space in between, then press a deep well into each cookie with your finger. You may need to shore up any cracks that appear in the sides when you press down. 

Get two spoons ready (I like using pointy grapefruit spoons). Scoop out a little jam with one, then use the other to fill the well in each cookie. Don't overfill. Place tray(s) in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, checking occasionally. Cookies should be beginning to brown slightly and sinking down a bit, but they won't spread much. They crack. It's OK. Allow to cool for 20 min. or so before eating. Store in an airtight container; they're best within a couple of days.


  1. omg -hilarious. I tried to sell them at St. Agnes for $.50 until my mom found out. I wish I still had one... those cookies look amazing, Harrison would LOVE them. and me too. I thought almonds were a lot healthier than peanuts, thats why I use it...tomorrow is his first day of staying for lunch so it will definitely be almond butter and jelly sandwich.

  2. i love this story! (and cant wait to make the cookies)

  3. adding this to my cookie collection. Great photos and lovely story.

  4. Lovely Claiborne. This was a nice way to start my morning. And thankfully there is another kid, other than my five year old, consuming almond butter sandwiches on a daily basis.

  5. Clabs, you won't believe this but I was cleaning out my attic in Oyster Bay recently , 30 years of stuff, and I found the one and only Jimmy Carter peanut tee shirt leftover from the campaign! It washed up nicely and I am keeping it forever!I have some good stories about selling them in D.C. I miss those days with you next door! xo Kiwi