It’s entirely fitting that I post this recipe today of all days. Today is Kevin’s birthday and if I know one thing about the man, it’s that he loves the magical combination of peanut butter and chocolate. He’ll take it in a variety of ways, showing no great preference for the complicated (a chocolate-lined peanut butter pie, which, as it happens, will be served tonight, a flickering candle set in its middle; multi-layered brownies; chocolate-enrobed peanut butter balls) over the simple (a spoonful of peanut butter adorned with bittersweet chips; a square of chocolate spread with a thin smear of peanut butter).
This recipe falls somewhere in the middle of the complicated-to-simple continuum. It’s got the stripped down qualities similar to the straight-up chips-and-peanut butter concoctions. Indeed, the ingredient list calls for little else beyond peanut butter and chocolate—a mere handful of additional ingredients. But the end-result lends the appearance of a more complicated confection—a stout little square, dense, cakey and incredibly peanut-buttery, set beneath a thick band of chocolate.
My penchant for bars (see this post for further explanation) and Kevin’s adoration of the bars’ co-starring ingredients have created a rather dangerous situation. Friends: we’ve made these bars two weeks in a row. Ahem. We’ve gone a little bit crazy for them. Given that they grew out of a peanut butter cookie recipe we’ve relied on heavily for the past year, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
The underlying recipe comes from 101 Cookbooks and you see my take on it here. In this new iteration, I’ve followed the original recipe up to the point of shaping the cookies and branding them with a trademark cross-hatch. At that point, you press the dough into a greased-and-lined pan and slide it into the oven. Now, I must admit that I do miss the cross-hatches, one of my favorite features of a peanut butter cookie. But, what these bars lack in cross-hatching, they make up for (generously) in chocolate. Which is obviously a fair trade.
For the chocolate layer, I’ll have you dispense with ganaches and double-boilers. Instead, I’ll take a cue from the Minnesota bar recipes of my youth (again, more on that here). It’s this: as the final minutes on the oven timer tick down, open up a bag of chocolate chips (preferably bittersweet). Then, when the bars emerge from the oven, browned at the edges and very hot, scatter the chips over the bars. Let them sit for a few minutes until they look good and melty, which is your signal that they’ll yield to an offset spatula with ease, spreading into the easiest chocolate topping you can imagine.
Let the chocolate set up and slice them into squares. Then, today at least, raise a square to the birthday boy.
Also: It’s spring! Which means I’ve got asparagus on the brain (to, you know, counteract all the chocolate-covered peanut butter bars). For asparagus-y and other seasonal recipes, check out the new Spring Recipe Index.
Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Bars
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Recipe at 101 Cookbooks
Yield: about 30 small bars
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup natural, smooth peanut butter
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12-ounce bag of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
Grease an 8-inch square cake pan. Line the pan with a strip of parchment paper, allowing the edges to hang over the sides of the pan. Grease the parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate larger bowl whisk together the peanut butter, maple syrup, olive oil, and vanilla. Pour the flour mixture over the peanut butter mixture and stir until barely combined – still a bit dusty looking. Let sit for five minutes, give one more quick stir, just a stroke or two.
Press the dough into the prepared pan, using your fingertips or the bottom of a measuring cup to flatten the surface and create an even layer of dough. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the bars begin to brown at the edges and are set. (Err on the side of under-baking here for a chewier almost fudge-y texture; otherwise, the bars can dry out and become a bit crumbly.)
As soon as you remove the bars from the oven, set the bars (in their pan) on a cooling rack. Scatter the chips on top of the bars and let stand for several minutes, until the chocolate chips have begun to melt. Using a small offset spatula or a butter knife, spread the melted chips into a smooth, even topping.
Let the bars cool completely in their pan until the chocolate has become firm. Using the overhanging parchment paper like a set of “handles,” lift the bars out of the pan and, using a very sharp knife, slice into bars. Store the bars in an airtight container. I like to keep them in the fridge, but if you do so, allow them to warm a bit at room temperature before serving (so the chocolate layer is not too hard).