Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies (aka Magic Middles)

February 20, 2018
29 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine.
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Makes about 28 cookies
Author Notes

Ask the internet about magic middles and you’ll be told they are a Keebler product, all the rage in the ’90s, but since discontinued. In 2012, Serious Eats’ Stella Parks brought them back to life when she whipped up her own version—a sugar cookie with a chocolate belly—calling long-lost magic middles America's Most Wanted Cookie (you know, in a good way).

For what it’s worth, this was the most-wanted cookie in my family when my brother and I were growing up. The only catch is that “magic middles,” to us, means a totally different thing.

Instead of a vanilla-outside and chocolate-inside, our version has a chocolate-outside and peanut butter–inside. My mom says she scored the recipe from another mom at a school bake sale a few years pre-millenium, but…did she?

When I started digging into this almost two years ago for an article, the closest lookalike I could find was in King Arthur’s The Cookie Companion, which was published not in the ’80s or ’90s, but in 2004 (hat tip to King Arthur’s Baker’s Hotline for the detective work). Which means that either my mom and I are confusing timing, or the recipe we got preceded the book—but then, where did it come from?

When I wrote about my conundrum last year, our community hopped right in with clues:

“I looked in Google Books and found a recipe from a 1991 Beta Sigma Chi cookbook for “Magic Peanut Butter Middles,’” Jenne wrote. “Looks like Keebler Magic Middles were introduced in 1989, so my guess is that it started as a copycat recipe—there was also a version called ‘Peanut Butter Filled’ that looks pretty much exactly like these.”

“The recipe appeared in my newspaper coupons, with coupons for Pillsbury flour, Skippy peanut butter and Mazola margarine,” J.K. added. “There is no salt in the recipe. The earliest expiration on the coupons is January 19, 1991.”

According to Steffany: “My mom came across the recipe and asked me to bake these one Christmas, it would have been right around 1989 or 1990. She loved them so much I've made them for her every Christmas since, almost 30 years now.”

“I've been making these since about that time as well—the recipe was printed in a lot of community/church fundraising cookbooks,” Brenda replied. “I still have one or two! No attribution there other than the woman who shared it.”

Add all this up and you’ve got this: an influx of not-Keebler magic middles sometime in the early ’90s, and a bunch of families who can’t stop craving them to this day.

Of course, I couldn’t help but put my own spin on my mom’s index card–documented, cocoa powder–stained recipe. I swapped out the sweetened peanut butter with unsweetened (this means you can sub in any nutty/seedy cousin, from cashew to sesame); bumped up the salt; decreased the flour for a fudgier vibe; and increased the cookie-smush so they turn out extra-slim.

You should know that these are a project, and a messy one at that. But messy in a satisfying way, a way that reminds you that you baked something good. You should also know they freeze perfectly—if there’s a better late-night snack, I need not know it. —Emma Laperruque

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: Food52's Holiday Cookie Chronicles —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Peanut butter filling:
  • 3/4 cup (200g) unsweetened, salted peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup (85g) powdered sugar
  • Chocolate cookies:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 1/4 pound, or 113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (68g) unsweetened, salted peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 cup (100g) light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (43g) cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour, plus 5 tablespoons (40g)
  • 1 pinch flaky salt, for sprinkling
  1. Stir the jar of peanut butter to incorporate any separated oils. Stick in the freezer for about 15 minutes, or until it’s very firm—imagine the texture of standard, sweetened peanut butter.
  2. Make the filling. Combine the peanut butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Start on low, then gradually increase the speed to medium-high, until completely smooth. Form the peanut butter mixture into 28 little balls (figure 1 heaping teaspoon each). Stick in the fridge while you make the cookie dough.
  3. Combine the butter, peanut butter, and sugars in the bowl of the standing mixer (no need to clean it out). Cream until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and vanilla. Continue creaming until fluffy, scraping as needed. Add the salt and baking soda. Mix to distribute. Add the cocoa powder. Mix until just incorporated. Add the flour. Mix until completely incorporated.
  4. Form the cookies. Fill a small bowl with white sugar. Use a cookie scoop to scoop 1 tablespoon of chocolate dough. Flatten into a thin patty in your palm. Place 1 peanut butter ball in the center and wrap the chocolate dough around it. Roll around in your palm a few times to smooth out. Roll the ball in the sugar. Place on a plate. Repeat with the remaining chocolate dough and peanut butter filling.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Fill a cookie sheet with the balls, spaced a few inches apart—figure 9 to 12 per tray. Smush the balls each with a water glass—they don’t spread much, so you want them fairly thin, 1/8 to 1/4 inch (3 to 6 mm). Sprinkle with flaky salt and press in slightly so it adheres. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through—they’ll puff up but they shouldn’t crack. Cool slightly, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough balls.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • M.L.
  • ellemmbee
  • Taylor Stanton
    Taylor Stanton
  • Sandy Stynling
    Sandy Stynling
  • Diana Burroughs
    Diana Burroughs
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

45 Reviews

Mwm1220 May 16, 2020
I almost didn’t make these because of the reviews but I’m so glad I did. Not sure where the others were coming from but these made exactly as described so I felt compelled to leave a review. All I had was standard peanut butter but it was all delicious nevertheless. They felt fancy and decadent but still homey and comforting. Will make these again and again
Anita April 27, 2020
These are a dream when swapping the peanut butter for tahini (peanut allergy here) and using GF flour (celiac person as well!) I've found that freezing the tahini (formerly peanut butter) before filling the cookies mades it a bit easier. What a delightful treat!!

Espressomom April 24, 2020
This was a great recipe. It made 28, just as posted and prepared. My peanut butter was fairly soft, even after chilling, so the middles were not quite as round as I would have wanted. They rolled neatly into the outside dough, and even though a small bit peeked out in some, it was not unsightly. I feel that they might have been neater if the peanut butter was a firmer brand, but no one cared. I didn’t use flaky salt. I thought sparkle sugar would be more appealing. These were amazing and so tasty!
Christina January 4, 2020
Loved this recipe! Made a double batch and they were perfect. Definitely think they are more labor intensive but not a huge deal if you know ahead of time. I actually had a few leftover balls of peanut butter when I ran out of cookie dough. And mine definitely spread a lot even when I pressed them flat with a glass so some were wonky shaped.
moody B. December 23, 2019
Wow. These look awesome. Baking them for me was a different story. They taste good. But they cracked even when I just flattened the dough before baking. As in the peanut butter filling was showing before I even put the cookies in the oven. I did not put flaky salt on top. I will probably try again after the holiday madness, but a little disappointed so far.
M.L. December 12, 2019
How many cookies does this recipe yield?
Emma L. December 18, 2019
About 28!
ellemmbee December 6, 2019
Thinking. About this recipe and noticed the butter amount seems off. 1 stick in the U.S. is 1/2 c., 1/4 lb. or 113 g. NOT 1/2 lb. please advise. I’m going with the grams unless I hear otherwise. Thanks!
Emma L. December 6, 2019
Thanks for the catch, that should be 1/4 pound! Just updated.
edie May 1, 2019
i made these cookies tonight and had alot of difficulty with the dough it was sticking to my hands when i tried to flatten and stuff the peanut butter inside. i put cocoa powder on my hands and that seemed to solve the problem. the only issue is it was extremely messy. the peanut butter stayed inside and they are amazing. any other ideas how to get the dough off my hands as i flatten and stuff? also they didnt get puffy when i put them in the oven and neither did they crack they came out beautiful.
Emma L. May 2, 2019
Hi Edie! It's definitely a bit of a messy recipe, but chilling the cocoa dough before working with it can help reduce stickiness.
Mo December 14, 2018
Love this recipe! So rich and peanut buttery! The only change I would suggest is adding more cocoa. Couldn’t taste the chocolate whatsoever. I used unsalted pb and left off the salt flakes. Everything else worked out perfectly.
Monique November 25, 2018
No. Something’s not right The chocolate dough kept cracking as I was trying to encase the filling. There was no way to keep the oozy peanut butter inside.
Emma L. November 25, 2018
Hmmm! The recipe is accurate written as is, so two theories on what might be going wrong: The chocolate cookie dough is too cold, or there was too much flour added (volume measurements can vary slightly). Ways to troubleshoot: You can try letting the dough sit out to soften, or add a tablespoon or so of water to the dough to loosen it up. Hope this helps!
Taylor S. August 10, 2018
DANG these are goooood. I used crappy supermarket peanut butter (full of sugar and oil) for the filling and dough and cut back on the powdered sugar slightly. This recipe was super easy to follow, tastes amazing, bakes beautifully, and is totally addictive. Gifted these cookies to a few different people and got rave reviews.
Emma L. August 12, 2018
So happy to hear that, Taylor—thanks!
Sinamen78 May 19, 2018
Good taste but more work and trouble than worth it. More chocolate cookie dough than peanut butter balls ( and I weighed each one out) , once rolled together, peanut butter broke thru lots of them, edges ragged not neatly round like picture. I did the like the flaky salt addition on top.
jane G. April 13, 2018
Oh God ...don't do this to me ...i'm trying to low carb... not i'm gonna have peanut cookie dreams...
Sandy S. March 9, 2018
Can you please elaborate on the type of cocoa powder that you would recommend for this recipe? Thanks.
Emma L. March 11, 2018
Great Q! I used natural cocoa powder—so, not Dutch-process. Because this recipe only uses baking soda—no baking powder—it benefits from the acidity of natural cocoa.
Jen D. May 3, 2019
Sweetened or unsweetened cocoa powder?
Emma L. May 6, 2019
Hi! Unsweetened.
MoDo March 4, 2018
Another vote for weighted measurements... got myself a digital scale a while back and just about the best kitchen "tool" ever. The cookies are great but wow, a lot of work & still trying to figure out how to keep the filling in the middle.
Emma L. March 4, 2018
Hi MoDo—the dough-wrapping step is key to the peanut butter staying hidden. Make sure the dough completely surrounds the peanut butter and that there are no cracks peeking through. If a cookie is being fickle, you can snag a little extra dough to do some patchwork.
Nancy S. March 1, 2018
These cookies are out-of-this-world good! Thank you Emma Laperruque for your work on this recipe. Instead of using a glass to smoosh the balls before baking, I used Nordicware 3-inch cookie stamps. I wish I could post a photo here—they look incredible. The filling still stayed put in a thin layer. Big hit.
Emma L. March 1, 2018
Such a fun idea! Thanks, Nancy!
Diana B. February 26, 2018
Thank you for correcting the recipe.
Marcie February 25, 2018
And here's a vote for keeping the old fashioned cups and tbsp from somebody who tried a scale with precise weight. I didn't like the nuisance of add a bit, subtract a bit until it's spot on accurate. Give me a cup measure and I'll whack off the excess with a stroke of the knife. Done!
Pamela_in_Tokyo February 25, 2018
Peanut butter cookies are my favorite and wrapping peanut butter in chocolate sounds even better! Thanks for researching this interesting recipe!!

I can not get natural peanut butter here in Japan so I will have to use plain ol’ Skippy which is all I can get. I guess I could reduce the amount of powdered sugar in the filling. I want to reduce the amount of sugar in the cookie part too. Would reducing it by about 1/4 be okay, I wonder??

I vote for weighted measurements too!! This is the web, it’s international, isn’t America about the only country in the world still using cups?? Grams and ounces are so much more accurate. Please, please, grams/ounces too.
Knightcraft February 25, 2018
My guess is that most households in the United States dont have kitchen scales. Aren't measuring cups available in Japan? Seriously, not being a jerk.
penelope February 25, 2018
If you go to the King Arthur Flour site to see their version of this cookie, you can click the option to convert volume measurements to weights in grams:
Pamela_in_Tokyo February 26, 2018
Hi. Yes, Japan has cups but flour, sugar etc are weighed on a scale, like in the UK, Europe, Australia, China, etc. CUPS are used for liquids in Japan. In America, professional bakers as well as bread makers, use scales. Also, America is just about the last country not using GRAMS.
Just saying.
The scoop and scrape method is not accurate. Not even close.
Emma L. February 26, 2018
Hi Pamela_in_Tokyo, Skippy works, too! If you want to reduce the sugar, here's my recommendation: Drop to 1/2 cup powdered, then each sugar in the cookie dough to 1/3 cup (so, 1/3 cup white, 1/3 cup light brown). Note, I haven't tested this myself, but I'm hopeful. Thanks, also, for your note about weight vs. volume.
Pamela_in_Tokyo February 26, 2018
Emma: Thanks for the ideas on reducing sugar. Just about every Japanese female friend I have who has had American sweets say they are TOO SWEET for their taste. I always try to reduce the amount of sugar when I bake here.

I saw an interesting measuring experiment in the States once. Some women who said they were not so good at baking were asked to measure out some flour and sugar for scones. They were asked to use two methods. The scoop and scrape cup method and a scale. None of them had ever used a scale and it had to be explained to them. What was interesting was that in the scoop and scrape method they simply scooped too much flour practically packing it in. And that was one reason why their baked goods were not so great perhaps. Using a scale, they, of course, weighed out the exact correct measurement. I have a feeling that some people are better at the scoop and scrape method than others. Whereas the scale is always more accurate.
Sharon February 27, 2018
If you can get salted peanuts (or even unsalted), why not just grind your own peanut butter? Seems like you could skip all the steps relating to oil separation then also.
Karen B. February 25, 2018
this sounds AMAZING!!