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World's Easiest Peanut Butter Cookies: Only 3 Ingredients!

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Not a particularly skilled baker, Mary loves making cookies and has increased her gluten-free cookie repertoire to treat a GF friend.

These GF cookies contain only three ingredients!

These GF cookies contain only three ingredients!

My Grandmother's Recipe

Here it is: My contender for the world's easiest cookie recipe.

It's fun to make these on June 12, National Peanut Butter Cookie Day. But really, I'll take any excuse to make—and share—this terrific recipe from my grandmother, who passed away just shy of her 96th birthday. If easy peanut butter cookies are your heart's desire, look no further.

As a child I watched her make many amazing desserts, mostly nut-filled Eastern European specialties like roszke (crescent-shaped cookies) and potica (sweet, yeasted bread with layers of chopped-walnut paste), along with main dishes like halupki (stuffed cabbage).

My dad and brother carry on those labor-intensive, time-consuming traditions today. But for me, the one recipe that's always stuck—mainly because it's so simple that it's nearly impossible to forget—is for these classic all-American treats.

There wasn't much awareness, when I was a kid, of gluten sensitivity. So my grandmother didn't have that particular reason for making her peanut butter cookies flourless. I think she just wanted something richly delicious and lightning fast! I'm not sure of the year she taught me this recipe, but it must have been in mid 1970s.

See if these aren't the best (and easiest!) peanut butter cookies you've ever made.

Three Ingredients

  • 1 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg

Four Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a bowl, combine all ingredients well. Chill in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.
  3. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a greased or nonstick cookie sheet. Press down each little ball of dough with a fork, then press again to make a criss-cross pattern.
  4. Bake 8 to 12 minutes, depending on whether you like softer or crispier cookies. (Peek underneath with a spatula to make sure the bottoms aren't over-browning.)

Tips and Variations

  • How to avoid crumbling: Let the cookies cool completely before you transfer these off the cookie sheet. The same thing that makes these peanut butter cookies simple—lack of flour enabling just three ingredients—is, admittedly, a slight drawback in the cooling phase, as more time is needed than with a recipe that isn't flourless.
  • For extra decadence: add chocolate chips, semisweet chocolate chunks or M&Ms. Or press a Hershey's kiss into each ball of dough and skip the fork-pressing. An easy cookie for Christmas would be this recipe plus the red and green M&Ms available throughout the holiday season. (Your gluten free Christmas cookie recipes list just grew by one!)
  • For extra nutrition: Add a second chopped nut, such as almonds or walnuts, for added crunch and healthy fats. (Here's a list of healthiest nuts to choose from.) And while we're talking nutrition, the chocolate you just added for decadence—if it's 70% or higher in cacao—will add a nice dose of iron to your sweet treats!
  • Type of peanut butter: You don't want to get too fancy with these. If your heart is set on natural peanut butter, be sure to use a no-stir kind. The type that separates is too liquidy for this recipe. Even Cook's Illustrated backs me up on the preference for conventional PB for cookie baking, though they say natural can work if you stir it enough before mixing into your dough. If you like making peanut butter at home, I'm betting the cookie flavor with this uber-fresh ingredient would be awesome, but the texture might be tricky.
  • Type of sugar: Go for regular granulated sugar. I tried it once with organic demerara sugar, and for some reason, the recipe didn't work. With plain old sugar and PB, you're golden! One tweak worth trying is half white sugar and half brown sugar, for a subtle increase in flavor complexity -- but this is a matter of personal preference. Extra sweet sweet tooth? Go ahead and dredge the cookie dough balls in sugar before baking, per Dorie Greenspan.
  • Cookie baking temperature: While 350 works just fine, if time is not a concern, I take a little more of it and bake these at 325 so that the bottoms don't brown too much. That's just a personal preference. If you want to give 325 a try, plan on an extra 4-6 minutes of oven time.
Healthy peanuts are a favorite snack for my family - in and out of cookies!

Healthy peanuts are a favorite snack for my family - in and out of cookies!

Health Benefits

Yes, my easy peanut butter cookies are full of fat. (Naming them Keto Peanut Butter Cookies would not be inaccurate.) And they're not a great choice for the sugar-averse. But they're packed with protein, which gives them a distinct advantage over other cookies I make or buy. Not only are my kids rather meat-averse, but two of the three have attentional issues, so I'll grab any chance to sneak protein into them—especially at snacktime, which is right before they do homework, when I'm looking for something a bit filling that will help them focus and sustain their energy.

In fact, two of the five foods chosen by Cooking Light magazine in its "5 Foods That Should Have a Place in your Diet" piece are featured in this recipe: peanut butter and eggs. Yea!

Peanut Butter

What makes peanut butter so healthy? It's a good source of vitamin E, niacin, manganese, vitamin B6 and magnesium. it also provides copper, which helps us maintain our blood vessels, bones and immune system and might even reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. It contains oleic acid: a healthier kind of fat that, when it replaces less ideal fats, can help us maintain good cholesterol. Oleic acid is even believed to reduce insulin resistance, a phenomenon that raises blood pressure and can lead to diabetes. Resveratrol, among the numerous antioxidants in peanut butter, has been shown to have anti-cancer properties and may decrease the risk of heart ailments, obesity and cognitive decline. In a nutshell (pun intended!), PB is caloric enough to make portion control important, but in moderation and as part of a healthy, balanced diet, it can assist in many key aspects of our well-being.

Still can't get past the fat content? See this doctor's explanation to ease your mind.

Add Seeds for More Nutrition

For even more of a nutrition boost, try mixing a modest amount of your favorite seeds (pepitas, hulled and roasted sunflower seeds, etc.) into the cookie dough. For finicky young eaters, I would suggest doing this gradually, starting with a ridiculously small amount of seeds, like a tablespoon for the whole batch of dough, adding more over time, as tolerated. Experiment with the healthiest seeds that taste ok in cookies (here's a list to choose from).

How to Make These Peanut Butter Cookies Vegan

To convert these to vegan peanut butter cookies, you'll need to substitute something for the egg, as a binder. I looked into various alternatives commonly used as egg substitutes for cookies, and most of them seem a bit unappetizing. (Mixing water and oil, for instance, is a popular solution, but peanut butter cookies are already full of healthy fat, so adding more seems dubious.)

I haven't yet tried this, but banana could be a flavor-friendly way of making my peanut butter cookies vegan. Simply substitute one-half of a mashed banana for the one egg. Of course, the banana will add some fruity flavor, but that should be pleasantly overpowered by the peanut flavor. Even if not, peanut butter and banana is a tasty combination! Because it makes cookies softer, banana can be a poor match for chewy cookie recipes—but mine is a crunchy-style cookie, so theoretically it could handle a bit of softening. If the resulting treats are too soft, keeping them in the fridge should help.

Update: Just Egg is an egg substitute, available at grocery stores, that reportedly works well for baking. Worth a try!

Allergy Alert

Obviously there's one group for whom these cookies are neither healthy nor safe: kids and adults with peanut allergies. This allergy can be very dangerous, even life-threatening. The fact that child peanut allergies in the U.S. doubled between 1997 and 2008 shows the danger of accidentally inflicting harm is no longer remote.

Before sending these easy peanut butter cookies (or any treats, really) into the classroom or lunchroom, check with your child's teacher.

On the other hand, this recipe is fantastic for kids with wheat allergies, celiac disease, or some other need for a gluten-free diet! The first time I used it for a friend who follows a GF diet, it was so nice to be able to answer affirmatively when she queried, before tasting, "Are these peanut butter cookies flourless?" I've got just a few sweets recipes that are reliably tasty and meet her dietary needs, and this is certainly one of them.

Almond flour peanut butter cookies are a delicious option, for something close to the original recipe in taste and texture. Just substitute almond butter for the peanut butter (providing you won't be serving the cookies to tree-nut-allergic folks). Sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) also works, and because there's no leavening agent in this recipe to react with the chlorogenic acid naturally occurring in sunflower seeds, your sunbutter cookies won't turn an unappetizing shade of green when you use this recipe.

Packing PB?

Out of concern over peanut allergy, some schools have outlawed peanut products in sack lunches. (The practice is controversial in some areas and, of course, but is absolutely defensible, especially in the early grades.)

At others, like ours, lunches can contain peanut products, but families are asked to label them clearly as such. We use a contains nuts label from Zazzle as a warning when we pack PB&J sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, granola bars or energy bars containing peanut, trail mix with peanuts, or any other food that contains this dangerous allergen.

The Nordic Ware Commercial Baker's Half Sheet isn't just for commercial bakers! Especially when used with parchment paper sheets, as is my home-baking habit, it cleans up in a flash and can be used for way more than cookies.

The Nordic Ware Commercial Baker's Half Sheet isn't just for commercial bakers! Especially when used with parchment paper sheets, as is my home-baking habit, it cleans up in a flash and can be used for way more than cookies.

My easy peanut butter cookies have improved a lot of the past couple years, and there's just one reason for that: these Nordic Ware sheet pans. (For home cooks, the "Commercial Baker's Half Sheet" is the size to get, easily fitting a dozen or more cookies, depending on how big you like to make them. Don't be fooled by the "half" part, as its dimensions are a spacious 13 by 18 inches, whereas the 26-inch "full" sheet is too large to fit in many home ovens.)

They heat up in a beautifully uniform manner, so I don't end up with near-burnt cookie bottoms and semi-raw tops, as sometimes happened in the bad old days. Homemade granola is a slam-dunk on these pans too -- quite difficult to burn, even if you get distracted, as I sometimes have, and forget to take it out on time!

Sheetpan dinners were my original motivation for choosing these pans back in 2020. (Tip: if you open up a vacuum-sealed pack of supermarket gnocchi onto this pan, toss in olive oil, and roast, you will never, ever go back to the boiling method. Or try peanut-buttery sheetpan dinners -- more relevant to this article -- like tossing chicken in peanut sauce, marinating or not, and roasting at 400-450).

But I quickly began reaching for them when cookie baking as well. You'll see from my photo above that the sheets are no longer blemish free, but they still perform so wonderfully that I really don't care.

Value was my primary consideration (these treasures are under $15, or under $10 each for a 2-pack, which I recommend for baking a couple dozen cookies at once -- or for making a double sheet-pan meal for sizeable families like mine), but it turns out The New York Times, Forbes, Food & Wine and Southern Living—all of which presumably have a much bigger testing budget than mineagree that these Nordic Ware cookie sheets are among the highest-quality on the market. Importantly, for sheet pan dinners, these pans can handle up to 450-degree heat without warping.

Magazine test kitchens have given this model a thumbs-up:

"In batch after batch of cookies, [the Nordic Ware half sheet] yielded bottoms that were evenly browned and insides that were well-baked without requiring excessive tweaking with recipe times," said Food & Wine.

The New York Times raves about its consistency, durability and affordability: "After years of heavy use at home and in our test kitchen, we’ve found it still lies flat and bakes cookies to an even golden brown. Some aluminum sheet pans may perform on a par with it, but the Nordic Ware consistently costs the least for a pan of its quality. It’s a durable workhorse of a pan that can handle a wide variety of tasks."

And I, average home cook and baker, say "Besides my beaten-up Le Creuset dutch oven, this sheet pan is my kitchen MVP! I use it every week for cookies, sheet pan dinners, and --don't tell anyone -- evenly heating up the occasional frozen junk food like fries or onion rings. It never fails."

I'm curious about the Prism version of this pan. The cost is about twice that of my beloved standard version, but I need to see if the pattern on the upgraded version really browns cookies even more perfectly through improved air flow--and if the use of parchment paper negates this benefit. Because standard parchment paper maximum temperature is 425 degrees (always confirm by checking the package), which is well within range of most cookie recipes, I line baking sheets with parchment for easy cleanup. The same laziness that endears me to my grandmother's peanut cookies three ingredients formula draws me to pre-cut parchment paper sheets. I reuse them whenever possible, as I've found that even when you make your peanut butter cookies flourless, they are non-sticky enough to reuse parchment for several batches.

Celebrate Silly Food Holidays!

We've talked about physical health; now how about mental health benefits? Especially in this seemingly endless pandemic era, we need both silliness and snacks! Luckily, the calendar is loaded with semi-official excuses to try my peanut butter cookie recipe, given the number of relevant goofy (but fun) food holidays:

January 24 is National Peanut Butter Day.

Depending on your beverage of choice for cookie pairing, enjoy these cookies on National Milk Day (January 11), National Hot Chocolate Day (January 31), or if you're feeling decadent and there's no need to drive anywhere, National Irish Coffee Day (January 25).

The whole month of March has been decreed (by somebody!) National Peanut Month, with March 1 designated National Peanut Butter Lover's Day.

I'm not sure what the difference is between National Pack Your Lunch Day (March 1) and National Brown Bag It Day (May 25), but these cookies are great for both.

Because my recipe isn't low-cal, it's a nice pick for one of the best food holidays: International No Diet Day, which apparently is celebrated on May 6.

This recipe is so easy, it's a perfect choice for June 13, "Kitchen Klutzes of America Day" (count me in!). The skill level required is perfect for children, so give it a spin in February: National Bake for Family Fun Month.

Add some chocolate (mmmm) to this recipe and celebrate National Bittersweet Chocolate Day (January 10), National Dark Chocolate Day (February 1), National Chocolate Chip Day (May 15) or National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (August 4). Mix in some extra chopped nuts in April for National Pecan Month, or M&Ms in June for National Candy Month.

Put a small scoop of ice cream between two peanut butter cookies for a homemade ice cream sandwich, to celebrate the nation's ice cream day (June 27) or month (July).

October is National Cookie Month—enough said.

In November the "Peanut Butter Lovers" graduate to a whole month, not just a day.

And December 4 is National Cookie Day. Knock yourself out!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Mary