Food: The Truth About Peanut Butter Cookies' Classic Crosshatch Pattern

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Unlike oatmeal raisin cookies and chocolate chip cookies which can often be mistaken for one another upon first glance, peanut butter cookies are easy to tell apart. Whether they're homemade or store-bought, the tops are always stamped with the signature crosshatch pattern, made from the tines of a fork. Nearly every peanut butter cookie recipe today calls for adding the same finishing touch, however, it wasn't always that way.

peanut butter cookies stacked on plate © Alena_Kos/Shutterstock peanut butter cookies stacked on plate

According to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, peanut butter cookies were invented by George Washington Carver, who published the three original versions of the recipe in a 1916 research bulletin. Carver's peanut butter cookie dough could be either rolled and cut or formed into balls, but none of his suggestions included the iconic fork pattern. That didn't come until 1932, the university reports, when the Schenectady Gazette published their own peanut butter cookie recipe. "Shape into balls and after placing them on the cookie sheet, press each one down with a fork, first one way and then the other, so they look like squares on waffles," the instructions read. A year later, Pillsbury picked up the tip and added it to the 1933 edition of its cookbook "Pillsbury's Balanced Recipes," popularizing the practice among American bakers.

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pressing fork into peanut butter cookie dough © Lord Beard/Shutterstock pressing fork into peanut butter cookie dough

Neither the Schenectady Gazette nor the Pillsbury recipes explained why the fork marks were necessary when making peanut butter cookies, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee points out, but that didn't stop people from blindly following the step. This led the New York Times to seek answers from readers in 1979 and publish the findings in an article called "The Fork and the Cookie." Proposed answers included speculation that the peanut butter in the cookie dough prevents it from spreading like other types of cookies would, while others suggested that the fork marks allow the surface to crisp up better.

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The Times ended up settling on a much simpler explanation: the pattern differentiates them from chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. However, Betty Crocker argues otherwise. The baking company shared that the reason has to do with the consistency of the dough. Because peanut butter cookie dough is dense, using a fork helps flatten it into the ideal shape and thickness, allowing it to bake through evenly. Whether you trust this explanation or the one offered by the New York Times, it seems like it's worth adding the crosshatching either way. It looks nice, and it'll make for a tastier cookie.

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