Sure, there are preferences. Like creamy versus crunchy or freshly ground versus the processed stuff. But really, are there many of us out there who don't like a generous spoonful of peanut butter every once in awhile? In this house, it's one of those guilty pleasures that we indulge in from time to time, but only when no one is looking or if there is even a jar of it around here in the first place.
Heck, we all grew up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And who doesn't like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup? (Alright, if you are out there, don't let me know about it). A peanut butter sandwich on toast? Heaven! Made even better with a few slices of crispy bacon or a smattering of banana slices. I know, I know - we are not talking about healthy food here. But everything in moderation, right?
So the other night we attended a party in the 'hood. A BIG party in the 'hood. We have a slew of really great neighbors and some of them put on a fantastic "Craw-B-Q" in their adjoining back yards every year. Lots of crawfish, kids, beer, live bands and local color. Folks bring lawn chairs, blankets and pretty much everything but their kitchen sinks. It starts early and ends late. It's not held in our back yard, but it may as well be since it is directly adjacent. It's a great opportunity to just hang with our friends and neighbors.
But I am incapable of attending ANYTHING without bringing something. It must be in my DNA (Mom?) or something. One year I brought cupcakes. They were great, but a little too "frou-frou", I thought. It needed to be something more "down and dirty" (to use one of Henry's endless cliches).
We used to make amazing peanut butter and chocolate bars when I worked at Star Provisions. I thought about making them for this occasion, but worried that the chocolate might not hold up as it was a warm night. Then I thumbed through Martha Stewart's "Cookies" and found a recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars. That sounded right.
I made them. I would make them again. They were the perfect blend of nutty, sweet, crunchy and salty. I jazzed them up a bit with the addition of strawberry-rhubarb jam, but regular old strawberry would do just fine. We wandered over to the party at about 6pm and I set them out on the dessert table. Twenty minutes later, they were gone!
PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY BARS (adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 18-oz. jar creamy peanut butter (I used Jiff)
2 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 15-oz. jar of strawberry jam
1 1/2 cups salted peanuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Line a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with heavy duty foil, letting foil overhang sides. Spray with cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit and spray again.
In electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add peanut butter and beat until combined. Add eggs and vanilla extract and blend briefly until mixture is smooth. Add flour and baking powder and mix until just combined.
Transfer two-thirds of the mixture to the prepared pan and press in evenly. Top evenly with jam then crumble remaining peanut butter mixture over top. Sprinkle with the chopped, salted peanuts.
Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
Using foil overhang as handles, lift bars out of pan and place on a cutting board. Remove foil and parchment and cut into squares. Bars can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. If they last that long.
Yield: 24 bars
So we already know that I am a RIDICULOUS PERSON who feels compelled
to make everything look good. That means cutting off the imperfect edges so I can cut perfect squares.
I would say that's a pretty good excuse. In other words, "Cook's treat."
I will admit that I personally happen to LIKE the processed version of peanut butter. Probably because of the salt content. And sugar. I hate to tell you this, but it works best here. Freshly ground peanut butter just doesn't make it in this recpe. Sorry!