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.