Peanut Butter. For the most part, I’m rather indifferent and don’t eat much except perhaps for an unreasonable fondness for those damn Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (and really, who doesn’t love those things?) I think I outgrew it after elementary school and numerous smooshed sandwiches in my lunch sack but there are some folks who just go nuts over it (pun absolutely intended.) Maybe once a year I’ll have a strange one-off craving for a PB&J sandwich and maybe a cookie or two but overall, I’m a take it or leave it kind of gal. Which is why I was surprised to find myself with 4 jars, most half empty, in my pantry. Seriously … what? This is what happens when you do recipe consulting; you’re left with a lot of stuff. Despite my indifference, there’s something about fall, the leaves changing from green to vibrant yellows and reds, football weekends and kids trotting off to school that induces my longing for peanut butter. This is peanut butter weather, plain and simple.
After moving those multiple jars around in my pantry for months, I decided to do something. Project Peanut Butter was about to take off. Did it ever! I decided to make a bar cookie recipe I’ve been gazing at for some time on the Martha Stewart Cookie app. Every time I open the file on my iPad, my zipping finger frequently pauses on one photo in particular … the PB&J bar. Now was the time to act upon it. Not only would this recipe clear out some of my peanut butter stash, I also had a jam stockpile that needed to be dealt with in the back pantry. Win-win!
The recipe was huge – a 9”x13” pan resulting in about 24 bars – and while good, I thought they could be better. A little more salt, a touch more vanilla, maybe mix up the sugar choices and most certainly a downsize was in order. I also didn’t care for the sprinkling of chopped peanuts on top as a rain shower of nut bits were left in the pan after cutting. What is the point of that?? Surely this could be improved upon.
Something to keep in mind: while I’m in complete agreement that “natural style” and freshly ground peanut butters are extremely delicious and really the best for eating, they stink when it comes to baking. In something like this recipe, the oil tends to separate during mixing and baking and makes a heavy, greasy cookie. Best bet is to get a jar of Skippy or Jif and live with it.
Now then, some of you may recall my prior post regarding the Unprocessed October challenge and perhaps are a bit puzzled as to how this fits in, using processed peanut butter and all. Well, it doesn’t. Somewhat a violation in fact but after careful consideration, I weighed the challenge parameters with the need to clean out my pantry and the pantry won. I refuse to be clocked on the head with another can of falling beans from my overstuffed cabinets. Safety wins every time. I also took comfort in the fact that the jam was homemade, by me, and though it contained a boatload of refined white sugar, I’d already declared that fair game. Also, I only ate 1 or even a ½ bar from each batch (professional research!) and gave the rest away. So there. See how that justification works?
After my tweaking, I declared these bars absolutely delicious. I may have frozen one or two for a Challenge-free November as well. Maybe. Cleaning out the pantry was a total success since I made this recipe 3 times = 3 jars of jam and all 4 partial jars of peanut butter gone! I’m now down to one reasonable jar of natural style peanut butter and haven’t been beaned by beans in a week. Win-Win-Win!
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: IT’S ALL RECESS AND TETHERBALL. Peanut butter and jelly is pure comfort food right out of childhood and these bars take you right there on the express train. It’s high time you rustled around in your mom’s garage and found that Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox and poured yourself a thermos of cold milk. I brought these delights into my temp office gig – three times! – and folks gobbled them up. There was a lot of debate over which flavor of jelly is best, which is what a tasty baked good should do – inspire a happy, spirited debate. What? You’ve never had heated discussions over your cookies? Well, you are missing out my friend. Keep that lunchbox nearby in case you need to whack someone to prove your point.
PB&J Bars – loosely adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe
Makes 16 2”x2” bars
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick/4 ounces)
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup sugar
¼ light brown sugar, tightly packed
1 large egg
1 ¼ cups smooth peanut butter (not “natural” style)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cup jam, any flavor
½ cup salted peanuts (2 ½ ounces), roughly chopped
- Heat oven to 350°F.
- Line a 9”x9” baking pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper, cut to fit, creating a sling. Lightly spray with cooking spray.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a handmixer), cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium until light & fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the egg, vanilla and peanut butter and mix until combined, about 2 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing until well combined.
- Transfer two-thirds of the dough to the prepared pan, pressing and spreading evenly.
- Evenly spread the jam over the dough in the pan.
- To the remaining 1/3 dough in the mixer, add the chopped peanuts and a good pinch of salt. Mix to combine
- Crumble the remaining dough on top of the jam.
- Bake until golden brown, about 35-40 minutes.
- Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Remove from the pan by grabbing the parchment sling and lifting gently. Transfer to a cutting board.
- Cut the cookie slab into sixteen 2”x2” pieces. Kept tightly wrapped, the bars will keep for 4-5 days. Or freeze, individually wrapped, for longer storage.