Big Little Recipes

Crisp, Chewy Almond Butter Cookies in 3 Ingredients

September 29, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re treating ourselves to a cookie or three.


The default definition of flour is “finely milled wheat,” yet over the years, the word has stretched its arms to embrace not just other grains, but other ingredients altogether. These days, you can find flour from rye, spelt, teff, millet, buckwheat, tapioca, rice, chickpeas, coconuts, even coffee.

And just about every nut under the sun. Nuts.com—go figure—has a whole section of nut flours. Think: almond, peanut, hazelnut, cashew, macadamia, pistachio. These are gluten-free, sure, but they’re also flavorful to the nines: nutty, bittersweet, and delightfully buttery.

Which brings me to nut butters. Take, for instance, almond butter: At its most basic, this has the same ingredient list as almond flour—almonds. The only difference is, flour gets processed until a crumbly meal forms, while butter takes things a step further to a creamy, spreadable paste.

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Top Comment:
“You mentioned the favorite peanut butter, but would you say which is your favorite brand of almond butter? I haven’t found one I particularly love yet. I’m looking forward to trying these cookies! Speaking of simple recipes, growing up my Dad made a simple 3 ingredient spread- -peanut butter, butter, and maple syrup. He called it Goop.😊 We put it on toast, pancakes, and freshly baked biscuits (the best)! Or just ate it out of the bowl. 😉 ”
— Lois S.
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So it makes sense, then, that if a nut flour can act like, well, flour, that a nut butter can too. In The Cooks’ Illustrated Baking Book, the editors note that peanut butter “contains approximately 20 percent carbohydrates and 25 percent protein, components that absorb moisture and harden into a stable network in the heat of the oven.” Similarly, as biochemist and cookbook author Shirley O. Corriher explains in BakeWise: “The ground nut meal in the peanut butter provides the ‘flour’ and flavor.”

Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: SOPHIE STRANGIO. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

The recipe she’s talking about is E-Z Delicious Peanut Butter Cookies, inspired by Susan G. Purdy’s Impossible Peanut Butter Cookies in The Family Baker. Impossible because, they only need three ingredients: peanut butter, sugar, and an egg. As in, no flour-flour, no butter-butter, no baking soda, no baking powder. You might recognize a similarly minimalist approach from the Geniuses behind Ovenly Bakery.

In Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York's Most Creative Bakery, Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga write, “While the all-natural stuff works just fine for this cookie, Skippy is our peanut butter brand of choice for this recipe as we’ve found the dough retains its shape best with it.” But if you ask me, the all-natural stuff works better than just fine—it works wonders.

The obvious difference between unsweetened and sweetened peanut butter is sugar, which wears many hats in baking, from adding sweetness, to absorbing water, to ensuring crispness. The other difference: Unsweetened peanut butter is usually not homogenized (case in point, that oily layer on the top of a freshly opened jar), while sweetened peanut butter is as silky-smooth as frosting. And while I wouldn’t recommend swapping willy-nilly (some recipes hinge on the sweetened sort), in this case, it’s whatever you like best.

For flourless cookies, I prefer unsweetened nut butter for a couple reasons. It yields a less sweet, more nuanced dessert. And it opens up a universe of unsweetened nut and seed butters. Like sunflower, sesame, cashew, hazelnut, and, in this week’s Big Little Recipe, almond.

Roasty, toasty, with a thick-sweater coziness, almond butter was born to be cookie-ed. Creamy or crunchy is totally your pick—the former yields something decidedly marzipan-esque, while the latter has nubby granola texture. Same with sugar—soft-spoken granulated lets the almond butter sing a little more loudy, while light or dark brown add sultrier caramel-toffee notes. I prefer the former, my husband prefers the latter. Once you have your own favorite, let me know in the comments so I can tell my husband he’s wrong.

In BakeWise, Shirley adds English toffee bits. In Ovenly, Erin and Agatha call in vanilla extract, plus a crunch of flaky salt on top. Honorary Big Little Ingredient that it is, salt is a must in my book—it talks down the sugar and amps up the almond butter, which is to say, it makes everything taste better. If you don’t have flaky salt on hand, stir in a pinch of kosher salt to the dough instead. Or skip it altogether.

When it comes to mix-ins and extracts, you could add either of the above, or go rogue with chopped chocolate or almond extract or whatever happens to be in your pantry right now. But, at least for the first batch, resist the urge. These crispy-edged, fudgy-centered, Netflix-ready cookies are pretty much perfect, exactly as they are.

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    Lois Stentz
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

26 Comments

jillymacdowell October 5, 2020
Can someone science-y explain how this makes a cookie? What stage is the nut in that it is not nut, not butter, but cookie? It blows my mind.

I've made recipes like this to varying degrees of success. To the "brown puddle" folks, I suspect it's because almond butters vary wildly, and many of them are not simply almonds (or almonds & salt). I saw one that had 8 or 10 ingredients!
 
pmporter October 2, 2020
I made these dozens or more times at a facility where I could not use wheat flour or cane sugar -- used grated palm sugar instead. What I found is that, amazingly and for reasons I don't understand, a half teaspoon of baking soda quickly stiffens the dough and makes it fool-proof in the oven. This was a favorite for the kids and always demanded from the staff.
 
Carla L. October 3, 2020
Thanks for your hint,pmporter. I ended up adding half a cup of Almond meal to my leftover mixture and I finally managed to make biscuits out of this. Before that,I had just ended up with a brown puddle! I think I will try this again,but tweak the recipe! 👍
 
Carla L. October 1, 2020
What a good idea! I thought so,until I ended up with a brown puddle on the baking tray! I did follow the recipe to the letter,but I am so disappointed with the result! Can anybody advice what might have gone wrong?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. October 1, 2020
Hi Carla! I'm sorry to hear that. I've made these cookies (and various riffs on them) many times, and never dealt with them spreading too much or not setting up. While I'm unsure what might have caused this, I'll keep looking, and let you know if I come across anything.
 
Paula September 30, 2020
These sound interesting. I'm diabetic so these, being flourless might be a better option than Nb other cookies.
 
Lois S. September 29, 2020
You mentioned the favorite peanut butter, but would you say which is your favorite brand of almond butter? I haven’t found one I particularly love yet. I’m looking forward to trying these cookies!
Speaking of simple recipes, growing up my Dad made a simple 3 ingredient spread- -peanut butter, butter, and maple syrup. He called it Goop.😊 We put it on toast, pancakes, and freshly baked biscuits (the best)! Or just ate it out of the bowl. 😉
 
Hannah September 30, 2020
My mom did something like that, too-but with yogurt, not butter! She would use honey more often than maple syrup, though. It was great as a fruit salad dressing or as a sweet bagel schmear.
 
Bonnie September 29, 2020
Your “Big Little Recipes” make me SO happy. They always turn out beautifully and are proof positive you don’t need a lot of ingredients to make a great dish. Any chance there is a “Big Little Recipes”cookbook on the way?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 30, 2020
Thanks for the kind words, Bonnie! And we actually are working on a cookbook! Slated for fall 2021 :)
 
Bonnie September 30, 2020
Yay! Look forward to purchasing as soon as it’s released. :-)
 
Rachael S. September 29, 2020
Any chance swapping the sugar for pure maple syrup would result in a similarly textured cookie?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 29, 2020
Not sure about that one! The flavor combo sounds delicious, but I imagine you would have to adjust the quantity, and that it would affect the texture of the dough and the finished result.
 
Carolyn September 29, 2020
Is there an vegan substitute for eggs?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 29, 2020
Hi! I haven't tried a vegan egg substitute in this particular recipe. Because there are only three ingredients, the egg is crucial to how the cookies set up. But a vegan alternative that's reliable in baking could work. If you give it a go, please report back!
 
Rachael S. September 29, 2020
I’m unable to have refined sugar and it can be tricky to get the texture of baked goods correct without it. Thanks!
 
NuMystic September 29, 2020
Aquafaba whipped to soft peaks should work without changing the number of ingredients!
 
Hannah September 29, 2020
I hope this helps:
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/egg-substitutes

I highly recommend the aquafaba or baking soda & vinegar substitutes. They will help with the rising process in baking. Aquafaba may result in a more brownie-like texture.
 
Rani B. September 29, 2020
Can this be made with peanut butter? My son needs to eat peanuts every day for his allergy treatment and this sounds like a yummy way for him to do it!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 29, 2020
Hi Rani—yes!
 
HalfPint September 29, 2020
The Ovenly cookbook has a peanut butter version of this and it is delicious. Smitten Kitchen did a slight adaptation: https://smittenkitchen.com/2015/10/salted-peanut-butter-cookies/

Apparently, you can also use natural peanut butter, not just Skippy.
 
AlwaysLookin September 29, 2020
Here's a just as easy recipe with Peanut Butter, 4 Ingredients. 2 Eggs,2 cups/1 pound Light Brown sugar, 1 160z jar Peanut Butter (Jif or Skippy), 1/2 tsp Vanilla, course salt. Mix Eggs & Brn Sugar, add vanilla, then PB. Spoon out approx 2 oz scoops, or any size, doesn't matter, add salt. Freeze for a minimum of 30-60 minutes; cook at 350F, 20-22 min large, 16-18 small. I cook a couple when I make them, then I put the rest in the Freezer and cook as desired, usually a couple 5 days a week, they are the BEST! Or go here - https://www.oven.ly/recipes/salted-peanut-butter. Good luck to your Son!!!
 
AlwaysLookin September 29, 2020
I've tried, it doesn't turn out as good, not sure why, but I've made this recipe weekly for 6 months, tried the Natural a couple of times, and it just didn't hold up in the oven for some reason.
 
AlwaysLookin September 29, 2020
That link is the same recipe, as that's where I originally found it. I love this line from her about these cookies - And yet if the recipe dictated that I had to render lard, then roast and blend my own peanuts while standing on my head and singing in tune to make them, I’d probably consider it. They’re that good.
 
KSR September 29, 2020
Rani- I've made flourless pb cookies for years - they're my favorite:
1 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
 
Rani B. September 29, 2020
Thank you so much for the recipe and for the kind wishes for my son.