It is hard to explain the place food shopping has in the hearts of most New Yorkers. It is both a loathsome, frustrating experience and a wholly satisfying one due to the incredible offerings at some of the more inventive markets. And so it was with great anticipation that my neighborhood welcomed the opening of our first Trader Joe’s. What followed for me was yet another love-hate relationship with a food emporium (as opposed to The Food Emporium which is 100% hate).
When I was a child nothing thrilled me more than a trip to a suburban grocery store. An overnight visit to my grandmother’s in Great Neck meant accompanying her on her weekly stock-up at Waldbaum’s. What a treat—roaming undisturbed in the wide aisles, the Brach’s Pick-A-Mix kiosk (where she forced me into a life of crime by encouraging me to swipe those Neopolitan coconut caramels and shove them into my mouth before check-out), loading up on No-Cal raspberry soda—it was a little piece of heaven. But then I spent a summer in LA and Ralph’s made Waldbaum’s seem like a corner bodega. It was huge, sunny (of course) filled to the rafters with every product I’d seen on television but somehow never found on the shelves of our edited urban market, and to my mother’s delight, it sold wine!
What a contrast to the endless meanderings to specialty food stores city shopping meant at the time: she had to hit the regular market, the fish store, the butcher, the liquor store, etc. all while steering a stroller through aisles that barely accommodated a shopping cart. Plus she had to beat the clock to make sure she got home before the supermarket delivery guy showed up. How stressful.
Shopping in the city can be treacherous business. With narrow aisles, nerves frayed by crowds and the general hostility of the average New Yorker the supermarket becomes a take-no-prisoners arena. And I’m as guilty as the next shopper. Lucky for me I’m only buying for one and can get away with just a hand-basket, weaving my way through the masses contemplating strawberry vs. raspberry jam or sampling olives when they think no one is looking. But Lord help the shopper who gets in my way. “Sorry!” I lie as I (oops) knock my basket into their back just for a little move-it-along encouragement.
I happen to live in an area that has always made a big deal about food—Whole Foods, Gourmet Garage, The Food Emporium, Zabars, Citarella and Fairway are all in walking distance from my apartment. For selection and prices Fairway (which started out more produce focused but is now a full grocery store complete with an amazing cheese selection, bakery, coffee, organic and house brands) is where I spend most of my food budget. However, you literally take your life into your own hands when you enter and I have the black and blue marks on my calves to prove it. Sure some of the bruises come from distracted old ladies accidentally crashing into me but I’ve also borne my share of premeditated attacks. Like the time a man dressed as a Dickensian child catcher waited for me by the exit and kicked me in the shin just as I walked out the door. It’s true. Because of the reasons detailed above the store is always crowded, always hostile, and the help is always surly. But as in most love-hate relationships, I continually go back for more.
And so, when the neighborhood got wind that Trader Joe’s was opening in the middle of the two-mile corridor bookended by two Whole Foods, expectations were high. “Oh, I can’t wait for the pot stickers!” said my friend Marsha. Amy was excited about the peanut butter filled pretzels while Anne raved about the lunch options for kids. Having been to one of their stores in the ‘burbs, I was just looking forward to the great prices on baking products, nuts, chocolate etc.
I made my virgin voyage to the 72nd Street Trader Joe’s last Tuesday and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The space is horrendous—it is entirely subterranean going two stories underground and lit only by the glare of the florescent fixtures that are as flattering as the bad-mood lighting of the DMV. Everything looks picked over and messy, as if raccoons had been let loose in the store. The customers have no idea where they are going, so there is this sense of vagueness coupled with anxiety which seems to force the shoppers, and their carts, to stop suddenly in an aisle, look up helplessly for a non-existent sign while a four wagon pile-up forms behind them. I was desperate to find an exit sign. Gasping on the sidewalk for breath I vowed never to return.
That was until I made my opinion public; I was chastised by every friend who had sucked it up, stayed the course and come home with pistachio chocolate bark and the “perfect baguette.” And when my friend Chris reported they carried mini peanut butter cups, just a bit bigger than a chocolate chip, my baking imagination took hold and I re-visited the store on Friday night at the relatively peaceful hour of 9pm. (Oh, I’m sorry, were you busy painting the town red while I was grocery shopping on a Friday night?) Despite the lack of signage I found what I was looking for and yes, it was much less chaotic. Although the lighting still cast a yellow shadow over everything and everyone giving the whole place a kind of Night of the Living Dead vibe.
But really, how could I decide anything until I’d baked with one of their offerings? After a quick consult with my peanut butter and chocolate loving sister, I settled on a cocoa cookie using my box of Trader Joe’s Mini Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups in place of a conventional chip. They are soft and slightly cakey with surprises of oozy, salty peanut butter and gooey milk chocolate—perfect for the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan in your life. I should add that I handled myself very politely at the store and did not inflict any physical harm on the other customers. So these cookies have me feeling the Trader Joe’s love. For now.
Welcome to the Neighborhood Trader Joe's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
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Adapted from Nestle's Very Best Baking
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa (not Dutch processed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 12 oz box Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Mini Peanut Butter Cups (if not available you can substitute two cups of peanut butter chips or chocolate & peanut butter swirled chips or Reeses pieces)
Preheat oven to 325 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper
In a medium bowl whisk, flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt to combineIn bowl of electric mixer cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and add eggs one at a time beating to combine. Add vanilla and beat briefly to combine.On low speed gradually add flour until fully incorporated.Remove bowl from mixer and stir in peanut butter cups until distributed evenly.Drop by rounded teaspoons or use small (2 teaspoon) ice cream scoop onto cookie sheets.Bake for 9-11 minutes until the middle of the cookies puff and look set.
Cool on sheets for two minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
NOTE: These cookies can be fragile. Follow cooling instructions or you'll wind up with a mess of broken cookies.
Yield 6 1/2 dozen cookies