Miso Is All You Need To Take Peanut Butter Cookies Up A Notch

Chewy, crunchy, and gorgeously nutty, peanut butter cookies are an irresistible sweet treat any time of day. And while a simple and stripped-back recipe certainly fulfills any cravings, sometimes it's nice to step things up a notch. Adding cocoa is a surefire way to elevate the sweet snack, such as in these peanut butter dark chocolate thumbprint cookies. But to really take your bake to the next level, try miso.

A salty, nutty, and slightly yeasty-tasting paste made from soybeans fermented with salt and the barley koji fungus, it may initially seem unusual to introduce something that tastes so intensely savory as miso into a sweet snack; after all, it's probably most commonly associated with soothing soups or umami-rich marinades. But you only have to think of how well dishes such as maple bacon or salted caramel work to see how naturally sweet and salty flavors go together. Add rich nuttiness into the mix, too, and miso suddenly seems like a much more logical addition to sweet-salty peanut butter cookies.

What's really clever about miso as an ingredient, though, is not just the way it complements other flavors when cooking sweeter dishes; it actually helps to enhance them, too. And it's so easy to incorporate the Japanese paste when baking to create outrageously delicious cookies as well as other desserts.

Umami-rich miso enhances the flavor of peanut butter cookies

Adding salt to desserts is a common way to balance out the sweet notes as well as enhance them; miso does this and much more. Beyond mere salinity, it adds a subtle savory dimension for extra depth of flavor, as well as bringing an appetizing fudgy quality thanks to its nut butter-like texture and rich taste. And when used in peanut butter cookies, it helps to boost the nuttiness, too, making the natural flavors in the recipe really sing.

One of the first key tips to remember is to use white or light (shiro) miso rather than red, as it has a lighter and slightly sweeter taste having been fermented for a shorter time. This means it won't dominate or overwhelm the other ingredients in the recipe.

And a little of the powerfully flavorful ingredient goes a long way, so don't be tempted to just dollop some in and hope for the best. Using a smaller amount means you won't be able to identify the miso as an individual taste as such, but you will definitely appreciate the depth and complexity it brings to the cookies. The ideal amount will depend on your specific recipe, but try two or three tablespoons to start with; you can always increase the proportion in future batches if you desire, perhaps switching out half the usual sweetened crunchy peanut butter for miso.

More ways to use savory miso to enhance sweet dishes

Cookies are not the only sweet treat that can be elevated with a touch of white miso. The fermented paste is surprisingly versatile when it comes to desserts — and even drinks since you can also use umami miso in spicy cocktails. And there are so many simple yet delicious ways to incorporate the ingredient when baking a range of everyday favorites.

Banana bread is a classic that's always ripe (forgive the pun) for experimentation; sour cream is the ingredient Martha Stewart uses to level up banana bread, for example. But incorporating just ¼ cup of miso into your recipe adds a whole new dimension to the dish; just add it when you cream the butter and sugar. Or try whisking a little of the paste into a mixture of melted butter, sugar, star anise, and crème fraîche, and tossing halved bananas in the sticky mixture before broiling for a fragrant and flavorful dessert.

Miso also works exceptionally well with chocolate, so try adding a small amount to a batch of brownies or a chocolate tart. Or perhaps the simplest of all is a miso caramel sauce; just add a little of the salty-savory paste to your regular recipe, and you can pour it over everything from ice cream or pancakes to creamy cheesecakes.