Sunday, March 20, 2011
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
I don't think I've had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in eight or nine years. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the combination, because I certainly do. I'm actually more of a peanut butter and banana sandwich fan. I perfected this sandwich in my youth: two slices of wheat bread, a whole sliced banana, and a few swipes of peanut butter. The most important part of the sandwich construction was making sure that the peanut butter and banana were properly layered. I would meticulously spread the peanut butter on the bread slice, then add banana slices in one even layer on top. On the other slice of bread, I'd start with banana slices and spread the peanut butter on top. This way, each bite insured that you had the perfect integration and distribution of peanut butter and banana.
But as much as I love those peanut butter and banana sandwiches (and, let's face it, anything with peanut butter in it at all), I don't even buy peanut butter. Our dorm room must be the first that doesn't even have a jar of peanut butter in it. This must be violating some sort of college student code.
Still, I'm drawn to any sort of treat that satisfies my childhood nostalgia: homemade Girl Scout cookies, old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs, homemade mac and cheese, and, perhaps most of all, peanut butter and jelly bars.
I first came across a recipe for peanut butter and jelly bars in Ina Garten's cookbook Barefoot Contessa At Home. This book is one of my favorites from of her collection of cookbooks. I remember being instantly drawn to these cookies, but I never had the chance to make them.
Recently, I began seeing these bar cookies pop up around different blogs that I read, and I took that as a sign that I should make them. This past week, I volunteered to bake for my hall. Every Wednesday, we have "Midweek Munchies" (usually referred to as just "Midweek"), where someone on our floor chooses a sweet to bake. This week was my turn, and baking these bars was the perfect reprieve from all the final work I had to do before spring break.
As far as recipes go, this one was remarkably easy. I'm a notoriously slow cook and baker, and these took only about 30 minutes for me to prepare (in a dorm-room kitchen, mind you). Like my beloved peanut butter and banana sandwiches, these bars are cleverly layered. The bottom of the cookie is similar to a peanut butter cookie base. A layer of jam is then spread over the base before being dolloped with the remainder of the peanut butter cookie mixture. Finally, a scattering of chopped peanuts adds some texture to the finished cookies.
I was actually incredibly surprised by how good these bars were. The peanuts added a bit of saltiness that was the perfect complement to the sweet jam. Everyone on my hall quickly devoured these, no doubt a testament to both their deliciousness and the childhood memories they inspire.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
From Ina Garten
While I was making these cookies, I couldn't help but think about all the different variations I could come up with based on this recipe. Instead of jam in the middle, my roommates and I were dreaming of Nutella for an addictive chocolate and peanut butter combination. We also thought that instead of peanuts, a different nut like almonds or cashews (my roommate loves cashews) would be great in the nut dough. If I give any of these a try, I'll definitely let you know how they turn out. I used strawberry jam in these bars, but you can use your favorite flavor (such as raspberry or fig). Due to dorm kitchen limitations, we baked these in two 8 by 8-inch pans. Use either that or a 9 by 13-inch pan.
Yield: about 36 squares, depending on the size you cut them
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 (18-ounce) jar creamy peanut butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) strawberry jam
2/3 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line either a 9 by 13-inch baking pan or two 8 by 8-inch baking pans with parchment paper and then grease and flour the pan.
Either in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all the ingredients are combined.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix until just combined.
Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared pan and, using your hands or a knife, spread into an even layer. Next, spread the jam out over the peanut butter layer and smooth into an even layer. With the remaining 1/3 of the dough, drop small globs of the peanut butter dough over the jam. Try to distribute the dough as evenly as possible, but don't worry if all the jam isn't covered - the dough will spread in the heat of the oven. Sprinkle the dough with the chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes. The top will be golden brown and the jam will be hot and bubbly.
Cool the bars in the pan and cut into squares. Serve either warm or at room temperature. The peanut butter and jelly bars will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days.