The great thing about icebox cookies like these is that they're ready to go whenever you want. The ultimate quick treat, if you will. You can bake just two or three before the kids get off the bus, but it's no problem to make a few more if they arrive with friends in tow. And hey, if you want a midnight snack of your own, I won't tell anyone. In fact, these particular PB&J cookies do best if frozen overnight so that the jelly layers really have time to gel up. Even so, the jelly never totally freezes because of its high sugar content. When you cut them, turn the bar on its side so you're cutting against the grain, so to speak. This helps keep the layers separate instead of compacting them together and squishing the jam out the sides. (Take a look at the slide show above for a step-by-step visual guide for assembling and slicing the cookies.) The inspiration for this recipe came from one of Martha Stewart's holiday cookies, a cornmeal shortbread layered with thickened fruit preserves. I took one look and couldn't get the vision of peanut butter cookies sandwiched with jam out of my head. Double-decker PB&J sandwich, anyone? Ultimately these cookies are exactly what I wanted. The peanut butter layers are crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle while the jelly adds just a touch of fruit flavor. They are truly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in cookie form.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Icebox Cookies Makes about 30 cookies Inspired by Martha Stewart's Striped Icebox Cookies 3/4 cup white granulated sugar 3/4 cup brown sugar 3/4 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky as you prefer 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 2 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup fruit jam, a reduced-sugar variety works best By hand or in a mixer on medium-speed, mix the two sugars together. Work in the peanut butter and butter until they form a smooth batter. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour all at once and mix just until you see no more dry flour. Turn out the cookie dough on a piece of wax paper and shape it into a rectangle. Cover with another piece of wax paper and roll out the cookie dough to form a 1/4" thick rectangle. It's ok if the edges are slightly rounded, but try to keep that rectangle shape as best you can. Peel off the top sheet of wax paper. Using a pizza cutter or a bench scraper, cut the dough into four long strips down the length of the rectangle. Cover again with wax paper, transfer the dough to a cookie sheet, and freeze for 30 minutes. Remove the dough from the freezer and spread 1/3 cup of the jelly on one of the strips of dough. Place a second strip on top with the jelly sandwiched between. Continue layering until you've formed a long rectangle with four layers of peanut butter cookie dough and three layers of jelly. Trim the edges. Wrap this first in wax paper and then in plastic. Freeze for at least two hours or preferably overnight. (Or for as long as three months.) When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375°F. Take the cookie dough out of the freezer and unwrap it on a cutting board. Turn the block on its side so the layers are perpendicular to the cutting surface. This helps keep the layers separate instead of compacting them. Use a serrated knife to slice cookies 1/4"-1/2" thick. It helps to transfer the cookies from the cutting board to the cookie sheet with a thin spatula, a bench scraper, or even the flat edge of your knife. If the layers slide apart a little, just nudge them back into shape on the cookie sheet. Arrange them on a cookie sheet two inches apart. Wrap the remaining dough back up and return it to the freezer. Bake 15-18 minutes until the edges of the cookies just start to turn brown (if you only froze your cookies for a few hours, check them after 12 minutes). Let the cookies cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer them to a cooling rack with a spatula. Cookies are best freshly baked, but can be stored in an airtight container for several days. The cookie dough will keep frozen for up to three months.
Related: Bake and Pack: 10 Best Cookies for Summer Picnics (Images: Emma Christensen)