Sunday, December 20, 2015

Maryellen's Peanut Blossoms

A delicious cookie with a slightly depressing origin story. Prepare to be surprised!

After watching a couple different televised holiday baking challenges this year, I think it's pretty safe to say that just about any cookie can be a holiday cookie depending on your family's traditions. A flavor profile might not be appropriate for a summer or spring baking challenge, but just about anything can be a holiday cookie.

A staple of many holiday cookie platters is the peanut blossom, sometimes better known as "the ones with the Hersey Kisses in them". What a lot of people don't realize is that these were a creation that became popular in the 1950's (a decade full of delicious sweet treats, as well as all those horrifying gelatin concoctions), and actually weren't developed by the Hershey company! So how exactly did these wind up on the back of bags of Hershey Kisses?

Sorry Maryellen, it looks like this is the only snow you'll be seeing this Christmas season!

Like many great recipes, peanut blossoms were invented by accident. Freda Smith - a home cook from Ohio - was trying to make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, but realized halfway through making them that she didn't have any chocolate chips in her house. Thinking on her feet, she grabbed a bag of Hershey kisses instead, and stuck a Kiss on top of each ball of dough. Much like the original tollhouse cookies, the Hershey Kiss didn't just disintegrate in the oven, and instead held its shape, creating a vaguely flower shaped cookie.

In 1957, this recipe was entered by Mrs. Smith in the ninth annual Pillsbury Bake Off. They didn't appear to make much of a lasting impression on the judges, meaning Smith lost out on the grand prize of $25,000.00. What did she lose to? Accordion treats. Have you ever even heard of those before?

Hershey evidently thought these were a better sounding treat than the judges, and promptly put the recipe on the back of all their bags of Hershey Kisses. Did Mrs. Smith get any credit, or ever see a cent of Hershey's profits?

Nope. Although her daughter says she was given a GE stove, a mixer, and $100 to spend, in addition to the trip out for the Bake-off, she went largely unrecognized for her contribution to holiday baking for years. In 1999, thirty three years after her death in 1963, Smith and the peanut blossoms - which were originally called black eyed susans - were finally inducted into the Pillsbury Bake-off Hall of Fame, so I guess there's something of a happy ending to this story. I just think it's kind of dastardly of Hershey to basically steal someone's recipe and not give her any credit at all!

I know this is kind of a dark story for a Christmas themed post, but after finding out about their history, I really wanted to share it with everyone so other people know who really deserves the credit for creating these popular treats. One of my favorite parts of sharing history with others is advocating for the underdog, or the lesser known figures who've been kind of forgotten by most people. Freda Smith deserves all sorts of credit for inventing one of our favorite holiday cookies, and it's too bad she went so long without proper recognition.

Despite having eaten these for years, I've never actually made them before, and I really wasn't sure what the dough was going to turn out like. It seems super, super wet at first, but by the time you add all the dry ingredients in, it's grainy and kind of difficult to form into perfect balls.

There are other recipes out there, but I did use the one on the back of my Hershey Kiss bag. The only difference is that I used Peter Pan peanut butter, which would have been available to Maryellen in 1954 rather than the Reese's brand the recipe recommends.

You start by creaming together 1/2 of a cup of shortening and 3/4 of a cup of peanut butter together in a bowl. 1/3 of a cup each of sugar and light brown sugar get added and creamed in, and then one egg, one teaspoon of vanilla and two tablespoons of milk get added. Finally, 1 1/2 cup of flour, one teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 of a teaspoon of salt get added in gradually, bringing this very wet dough into a thick, crumbly consistency.

You hand roll one inch wide balls of dough and roll these in white sugar to give them a sparkly coating. They don't expand much in the stove, but you should still try to keep an inch or an inch and a half between the balls just to be safe.

These bake in a 375 degree oven for eight to ten minutes. I overbaked my first batch a bit, so I started just leaving them in for eight minutes.

While you wait for your cookies to bake, start unwrapping your Kisses! 

You don't want to wait until the cookies are cool to stick the Kiss on top. They won't push down correctly, the cookie will crumble more than its meant to, and the heat helps melt the chocolate and fuse the Kisses to the cookies, which means you won't have decapitated peanut butter blossoms when you're ready to serve them.

The cookies are meant to be a little cracked and crumbly, so don't panic if it looks like they're splitting apart when you press the Kiss on. They can be a little fragile at first, so if you want to wait for them to cool down a little before you move them, that's definitely not a bad thing. I also went a little off recipe here, in that I alternated milk and dark chocolate Kisses instead of sticking with the traditional all milk chocolate.

The best time to eat these cookies is when they're cool enough to put them in your mouth without incinerating the roof of it, but when the Kiss is still melted. It's pretty much one of the nicest cookie tasting experiences you can have.

Of course, eating them when they're cool and the Kiss has solidified again is also pretty fabulous.

Aside from the sketchy nature of Hershey acquiring the recipe, I really only have one complaint with these cookies: once the Kiss hardens, it's really kind of tricky to eat these in more than one bite! I like to take my time eating cookies, as it kind of tricks your brain into thinking you've eaten more than you actually have, and thus doesn't inspire it to eat another seven to be satisfied. Between the cookie being a little crumbly and the Kiss being a little harder to sink your teeth into, you start worrying about the structural integrity of your cookie almost as soon as you chomp down!

Otherwise, these are pretty much the perfect blend of peanut butter and chocolate. I'm not really sure when these specifically got designated as a holiday cookie, but this is pretty much the only time of year I see them, and it was fun to try my hand at making them. Although these aren't a treat my immediate family usually breaks out, I found out it's a favorite of nearly all my coworkers, including one who does her best to stick to a Paleo diet! It was a lot of fun to get their feedback on these and a couple other holiday cookies I made this year, some of which I'm going to be sharing with you guys later this week!

There's another great thing about these cookies...

They're really easy to make in miniature! If you're ever looking for an easy, edible treat for a doll party or photoshoot, all you have to do is roll out small balls of dough and stick chocolate chips on top. Instant doll sized peanut blossom! The only caveat here is that the dough tends to break even easier with these tiny cookies, so you might have to make a couple before you get a good group of photogenic ones. Otherwise, they take the same time to bake and the chips are basically the perfect scale to be AG sized Hershey Kisses!

There's another benefit to making these little blossoms: you get the perfect bite sized taste of this delicious cookie. No worrying about your cookie crumbling out from under your Kiss when you take a bite! My Paleo coworker says I should patent these and start selling them, but I guess now that I've shared them with you, it won't be too long before Hershey decides to sweep them out from under me.

Oh well. They're still fun to photograph!

We got enough photographs! Can I eat these now?


  1. Love your mini blossoms! And I'm glad your readers will know the history of this popular cookie. Nice job Freda!

    1. She really knew her stuff! I've been missing these now that they're all gone.