Unfussy Fare

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

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Close your eyes and imagine a deep velvety peanut butter cookie with a sprinkling of crunchy peanuts on top. Now picture a generous stripe of raspberry jam shot through the middle. It’s moist, rich, salty, and sweet. A cold swig of milk leaves your palate refreshed and ready for more. You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate this.

There was a time in my life when peanut butter and jelly conjured images of sticky fingers and gluey mouthfuls. I considered it kid food, in a league with goldfish crackers, mac and cheese from a box, and chicken fingers. Kid food wasn’t anything I’d really want to eat, unless there was a natural disaster or something. Regardless, I eventually rediscovered peanut butter and jelly and fell in love.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances. I was probably raiding my son’s snacks while passing the time at the playground (which is an excellent candidate for one of Dante’s circles of hell, if you ask me). Anyway, I found that the PB&J sandwich actually holds some interest. The salty and sweet do a respectable cat-and-mouse with each other. Jam is a comforting condiment. And salted peanuts have a lot going on. Put one on your tongue and savor it for a second. It tastes like earth, sky, and a balmy sea.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars bring out the best in these humble pantry staples. These bars are not for dieters, or heart patients. They should probably come with a health warning. Numbers aren’t really my thing, but one bar contains approximately 90,000 calories and 4,000 grams of fat. Or something like that. This recipe makes about 1,000 of them. You do the math.

The first time I made these, 18 ounces of jam struck me as excessive. So I used about half that amount, which was a mistake. It turns out the bars really need all that jam to contrast with the buttery richness of the rest. So the second time I used the full 18 ounces. In truth, it was a bit much. But it worked. Go ahead and embrace the fact that these bars are altogether excessive. Now is not the time to succumb to any inclinations you might have towards restraint. And one other thing I learned from experience: Don’t attempt to cut these when they are even a little bit warm, or they’ll fall apart. They take forever to cool (about 217 hours), so plan accordingly.

PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY BARS – Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe
makes one 9 x 13 pan – about 32 bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 18-ounce jar creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy, because Ina told me to.)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2  cups raspberry jam (18 ounces)
2/3 cups salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 9 x 13 by glass pan.

Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about two minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.

Spread 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough over the jam. Don’t worry if all the jam isn’t covered. The dough will spread as it bakes. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool and cut into squares. Alert your cardiologist.

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12 Responses to “Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars”

  1. grace says:

    have you heard that little ditty that tore through the internet a while back–”it’s peanut butter jelly time…”? well i heard it, and every time i see a peanut butter and jelly concoction, it pops into my head. your bars look stellar, and raspberry jam is an excellent choice–nicely done! they’d definitely be worth a 9-day cooling wait. :)

  2. Gillian says:

    How could I have missed the ditty? Regardless, it’s always peanut butter and jelly time in my book. Thanks, Grace.

  3. christina says:

    Great read! Everyone has a soft spot for the old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, though every now and again it needs to be transformed, and this certainly is. Perfect plate choice!

  4. hungry dog says:

    That’s a funny post. I agree, some (most) recipes you just can’t bother with the calories or fat…it takes all the fun out. Just make it and enjoy it! these sound and look awesome.

  5. Gillian says:

    Thanks, Christina. The “plate” is a demitasse saucer. My dessert looked a little lonely on a bigger plate. And Hungry Dog, I’m with you. I never count calories. But my pants are getting tight.

  6. sarah says:

    I have made these before and you are right, they are insanely, who-gives-a-rip-that-my-pants-now-don’t-fit good. They are the kind of thing that unleash some kind of primal selfishness, as if to give even one away will threaten one’s survival. And as with most of my favorite treats (salted caramels, chocolate bark with salted nuts, etc), they walk a potentially dangerous but breathtakingly graceful walk on the sweet-salt tightrope. Great post, Gillian. Cook and write more!

  7. Gillian says:

    Thanks, Sarah! It was you, in fact, who introduced me to the wonders of the PB&J bar. I probably would’ve overlooked that recipe were it not for your sweet-treat delivery, which left me dropping crumbs all over my porch and mumbling oh-my-god-these-are-so-delicious through my unflatteringly full mouth.

  8. sari says:

    HI Gillian,
    I LOVE reading your blog, and I am sending it off to many others who will enjoy it too. I do have to admit I have yet to actually MAKE something from it- but I will!
    I have the ‘ditty’ Peanut butter jelly time on CD and would be happy to share it with you. Now I too can’t help hearing that song in my head any time PB and J is mentioned.
    Hope to see you soon!
    Sari

  9. hungry dog says:

    Just sent a little blog love your way over at the Hungry Dog… :)

  10. gaga says:

    How fantastic! It’s even better than the childhood classic. Yum!

  11. Alyssa says:

    I make PB&J bars, though the recipe is different. They’re actually one of my absolute favorite bar cookies, even though I really don’t like PB&J sandwiches (heresy, I know). I’ve already added these to my ‘try soon’ list. They look fantastic!

  12. Gillian says:

    Gaga and Alyssa: Thanks for reading! I hope you like them. It would be hard not to, unless you’re trying to reduce your fat intake or something.

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