When I started this whole blogging thing, I had no idea what to expect. All I aimed for was a place to share the things I bake/cook and shoot. Now it feels like a little more than that. Aside from the newfound goal of teaching others and encouraging others to cook and bake too, now I get these crazy ideas and do these crazy things that I probably wouldn’t have had I not started this blog.
I wake up really early during Sunday mornings feeling invigorated and excited to run into the kitchen even though Sundays are all I have for “rest”. I forget my week’s worth of exhaustion during those precious moments in the kitchen. I also now actually go out of my way to find baking ingredients and equipment that would give me the best results even though the old me would’ve called them expensive rather than refer to them as investments. I bought myself this gorgeous Chicago Metallic Madeleine pan, and a couple of cookie-decorating bottles because I’ve always wanted to learn how to do it. I even began collecting pretty vintage plates and ceramic ovenware for the sake of food photography, something I used to think was unnecessary.
There are simply some things that you have to learn to want before you realize that they are the things you should have wanted from the very beginning.
One of the best parts about all this though is that I also acquired certain new attitudes that have benefited me in the real world. Patience for instance isn’t one of my strong suits. I have no shame in admitting it, but I really believe that all the baking I’ve been doing has helped me in this department; from waiting for my yeasted dough to rise properly, to standing in front of the oven door just to make sure a delicate dessert bakes into perfection. The old me would never stand still for a minute; would take out half-risen dough just because I thought it looked doubled enough; would probably have opened the oven door hastily regardless of instructions saying otherwise. Aside from that, I have also learned how to be more efficient, resourceful, and persevering. And here I had thought I understood what those qualities meant already.
Another new habit I adopted ever since I grew to love food blogging: TV cravings.
What are TV cravings, you might ask. I only realized it was happening when I was catching up on the series Elementary last week. It was the episode before the two-hour finale, and as usual, Sherlock and Watson were trying to figure out a murder. So there they were: Watson, played by Lucy Liu, sitting at the dining table discussing the murder with Johnny Lee Miller who plays Sherlock. And all the while she was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for a whole- I don’t know- three minutes?
Right in the moment when the scene cut away from Lucy Liu making the sandwiches, the strong PB&J cravings kicked in. I ate PB&J sandwiches everyday for breakfast since that day and the cravings have not gone away, mind you. I’m already thinking about eating it tomorrow morning for breakfast! Considering I never actually liked PB&J before, this was quite unexplainable to me. I wanted to keep eating it, and I wanted to bake something that embodied it.
And these bars sure did!
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked these bars. They reminded me so much of these local peanut confections Filipinos love to snack on called the Chocnut. (If you love Chocnut, I promise you will LOVE these!) The peanut butter layer had a very full-on peanut flavour, and was very smooth since I used creamy peanut butter. Once it blended with the strawberry preserves I slathered on top, it was every bit the peanut butter and jelly combination I adored. Initially I was afraid that the peanut layer might taste a little strong, so I used nearly the whole jar of strawberry preserves just to make sure the jelly part would be well represented. And I say nearly because I managed to leave half a teaspoon to spread on half a piece of whole wheat bread. Strawberry jam is, as you might have read before, my favourite kind!
What made these bars a tad bit more special was the topping, which added interesting texture and an additional earthy taste to the bars. I enjoyed it so much I kind of wish I went all out and made a whole recipe instead of just half. I used an 8×7-inch pan with a 1.5-inch height, not changing the baking time at all. The recipe I provided below is the full original recipe, but you can halve it like I did with no problems whatsoever.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
Makes one 9x13-inch pan
For the crust
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the Peanut Butter & Jelly Filling
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups peanut butter
- 1 ¾ cups confectioner's sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups your favorite jelly or preserves
For the Crumble Topping
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
- ⅔ cup rolled oats
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
To make the crust
- 1. Spray a 9x13 baking pan (preferably glass or light-colored metal) with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper then spray the parchment too.
- 2. Add the sugar, flour and salt to the bowl of your food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg to the food processor and pulse repeatedly until the dough begins to hold together.
- 3. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and form it into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- 4. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so to take the chill off (otherwise it may be too cold and crack when you try to roll it).
- 5. On a lightly floured work piece of parchment paper, roll the dough into a 9x13 rectangle just slightly bigger than the bottom of your pan. Gently transfer the dough to the pan. It's likely to develop a few cracks/holes, but don't worry you can patch them afterward. *
- 6. Lightly press the dough into the bottom of the pan then trim off the excess and use it to patch any holes. Pop the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
- 7. Line the pan with aluminum foil then fill it 3/4-full with pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the pie weights and foil and continue baking for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is just starting to brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool.
- 8. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (165°C).
To make the filling
- 9. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the peanut butter, beating to combine. Mix in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and continue beating until the filling is smooth and fluffy.
- 10. Distribute the filling over the crust, and use a spatula to spread it in an even layer. Pop the pan in the refrigerator to chill while you make the crumble topping.
To make the topping
- 11. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or simply with a pastry cutter), combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon, and beat briefly to combine. Add the brown sugar and use your hands to rub it in until the mixture is even in color and no lumps of brown sugar remain. **
- 12. Add the oats and mix on low to combine. Add the cold butter cubes, and beat on low (or cut into the dry mixture using the pastry cutter) until the pieces of butter are no larger than peas and loose crumbs form.
- 13. Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Spread the jelly over the peanut butter layer. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the jelly layer.
- 14. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the topping browns. The bars will still be soft while warm. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before cutting the bars. You may need to refrigerate the bars a few hours to let it fully set before being able to cut it. ***
- Storage: Bars may be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
** I used a pastry cutter instead of the mixer since I didn't want to wash any more bowls. It took a little longer but it worked just the same.
*** Since the weather here is very hot, it took my bars forever to set. I decided to refrigerate my bars overnight and it did the trick. Adapted from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Thinking back, I remember this TV craving has happened to me once before, but I didn’t realize it for what it was back then since I was still in the process of understanding what all this blogging business meant. And as I continue to figure it out, I’m quite certain the TV cravings will happen again. Soon. Multiple times.