Making these classic cookies is a tradition in many households, and they are sure to bring fond memories to those who see them — let alone to those who taste them!
With a soft, chewy peanut butter cookie center and a crackly top — not to mention the candy! — these homemade treats are the perfect way to spread a little holiday cheer.
Here, you can find out how the original recipe was created… and how it somehow did not win Pillsbury’s famous national Bake-Off.
The surprising history of peanut butter blossom cookies
The original recipe for peanut blossom cookies was created back in 1957 by an Ohio woman named Freda F Smith, who entered it in the Pillsbury Grand National Bake Off.
She came up with the idea for the cookies when baking treats for her grandchildren, and decided to submit the recipe to the Bake-Off. When she submitted her contest entry, she originally called them “Black-Eyed Susans,” referring to the daisy-like flower with a dark center that these cookies resemble.
Believe it or not, her famous recipe, shockingly, did not win the coveted grand prize — that honor went to the woman who came up with potato-wedge-shaped Accordion Treats cookies.
Instead, Mrs Smith was a runner-up — one of many “Senior Winners” (alongside “Junior Winners” and “Bride Winners”).
It was what happened after the contest that was surprising: everyone loved the peanut blossoms, and they became famous far and wide.
The peanut butter blossom cookie recipe wins in the long run
Aside from the absolutely yummy combo of peanut butter and chocolate that Americans generally obsess about, the cookie was also the perfect marketing opportunity for Hershey’s, manufacturer of the iconic chocolate Hershey’s Kisses candy.
In short order, both Pillsbury and Hershey’s both began to print her recipe on their labels, in cookbooks, and in newspaper/magazine ads. Later, Borden jumped on the train, too, promoting their version of the recipe made with sweetened condensed milk.
Here’s a quick look at just how big a part of American culture these cookies have been over the last few decades:
The accordion cookies — while a tasty novelty — were not only more complicated to make, but were also a more grown-up kind of treat. That prize-winning recipe simply could not compete in the real world with a cookie as attractive to kids as the PB blossoms.
How were peanut butter blossoms created?
Like so many of the best outcomes, the now-classic peanut blossoms creation was mostly a happy accident.
As her daughter, Jo Anne Lytle, told it back in the late 90s, Freda Smith was making some peanut butter cookies for her grandchildren, and thought they looked too plain. After looking through the cupboards for something a little extra, Lytle said, “She found some Hershey’s Kisses… she just stuck them on there.”
That spur-of-the-moment choice was the stuff that legendary cookies. While she didn’t win the $25,000 grand prize back in the day (alas!), she did earn a different sort of reward.
In 1999 — the cooking contest’s 50th anniversary — Freda Smith was (posthumously) one of the first ten people inducted into Pillsbury’s Bake-Off Hall of Fame.
How to make peanut butter blossoms cookies step-by-step
The recipe we used is from Better Homes & Gardens magazine in 1972, and was slightly simplified for a more modern occasional baker. It calls for butter (or margarine) instead of shortening, which is a common modern preference — both for the flavor it adds, and because it’s something fresh that many people usually have available.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind what Pillsbury says on their website: “The combo of shortening with the peanut butter ensures that the cookies stay chewy.” (Want to know more about how fat affects cookie composition? Our favorite food scientist, Jessica Gavin, explains how butter and shortening work differently.)
Step 1: Cream sugars, softened butter or margarine, and peanut butter.
Step 2: Beat in eggs, milk and vanilla until well combined.
Step 3: Sift together flour, soda and salt; gradually mix into egg mixture.
Step 4: Chill the dough.
It’s important to make sure the dough is well chilled before rolling the cookie dough balls — at least 3 hours, but ideally overnight. The dough will be sticky and hard to work with otherwise, plus the refrigerated dough will hold its shape better during baking.
Step 5: Shape chilled dough into balls.
Step 6: Roll cookie dough balls in reserved granulated sugar.
Step 7: Place cookie dough balls on ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Step 8: Bake in 375 F oven for 10 to 12 minutes — until the edges start to brown.
One other matter of personal preference is when to add the chocolate kisses.
The original 1950s recipe suggests baking each sheet for 10 minutes, taking them out to put on the candy kiss, and then returning the cookies to the oven for another two to five minutes.
Interestingly, Pillsbury’s modern-day recipe suggests giving each one a big kiss after they’re finished baking.
Following our 1970s reference recipe, we put kisses on top right after we took the cookies out of the oven. It’s never done us wrong!
Step 9: Cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a baking rack to cool completely.
Step 10: Serve and enjoy!