These mystical treats—cookies you don’t bake, candies that need no precision, an iconic dessert that a kid could stir together in five minutes—are chef Scott Peacock’s very favorite from childhood. “I feel myself blushing just thinking about that,” he told me.
Scott’s early lock on the rich, fudgy cookies was in his mother’s kitchen before he was six years old. Later, a family friend he called Aunt Nuna became legendary for her command and consistency—her cookies were always perfectly glossy and just-pliable. Then his sister Janet became the master of the half-batch, making just enough that they could eat them all while still warm.
He first shared his version under the name Boiled Peanut Butter Cookies in The Gift of Southern Cooking, the book he co-authored with the legendary Edna Lewis in 2003. But he suspects that the original recipe used by his mother, Aunt Nuna, and Janet was developed by a big-brand test kitchen, the kind tasked with developing compelling reasons for home cooks to buy quick-cooking oats or evaporated milk. This broad visibility would explain the millions1 of slightly different variations of the recipe bumping around online. I did my own digging, too, and other than a lot of charming regional names like preacher cookies and poodgies, I didn’t find a clearer origin myself (if you have intel, please tell us!).
Despite their ubiquity and forgiving nature, there is an art to making boiled cookies just as you want them. This is where Scott’s practice and passion will especially come in handy.2
The process is simple: Stir together quick-cooking oats, peanut butter, and vanilla. Boil milk, butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt for 90 seconds. Then stir everything together and boil a minute more. Eat at least one cookie before it fully cools. That’s it.
But boil the cookies too long or abandon them in the pot and they’ll stick resolutely to the bottom (though you can scrape this up and sprinkle the bits on ice cream). Boil them too little and they may never set (though Scott still spooned these off his mother’s cookie sheets the next day—“we didn’t like them any less,” he says).
Here are Scott Peacock’s tips for making your own just-right boiled cookies:
Choose a heavy-bottomed, not-too-wide pot to keep the moisture from evaporating too quickly, which makes drier cookies that are harder to scoop.
Fancy cocoas and unsweetened peanut butters work just fine but more inexpensive, widely available brands might taste even better, especially if you grew up eating variations of these cookies.
No need to evenly mix the peanut butter into the oats—that’s tricky, and “a hot pot will fix a lot of that,” Scott says.
Scott’s to-the-minute instructions are great guidelines, but you may also want to watch for the syrupy chocolate to boil with big bubbles before adding your peanut buttery oats.
When your final “batter” is still fluid but holds a loose shape while you stir, it’s ready to start scooping. Don’t wait till it pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Scoop fast! And keep the pot on the turned-off burner—the residual warmth will keep the cookies warm and scoopable longer.
You should be able to start by pouring the cookies off of one spoon, but by the end the batter will be stiffer and you’ll likely need a second spoon to help nudge the cookies into place. “And that’s great too, because then you get to lick those spoons,” says Scott.
Like all of the most iconic recipes, the best part is in the shared experience—so if you have any memories or tips, please tell us. And if you don’t, it only takes about five minutes to start.
2 For an even more direct way to learn from Scott, check out the very personal Biscuit Experience he had until recently been offering from a historic mansion in his hometown of Marion, Alabama (and hopefully will be able to again soon).
Boiled Peanut Butter Cookies From Scott Peacock
Serves about 32 cookies
• 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
• 3 cups quick-cooking oats
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup milk (any fat content works)
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
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