When I first became interested in cooking and baking, I had only a few cookbooks in my collection. Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, was an early favorite, and I remember bringing that book to work with me and devouring it on my breaks. I read it from cover to cover (multiple times!) trying to absorb as much of the information as I possibly could. My coworkers always thought it was hilarious that I was reading a cookbook like a novel, but I learned so much - more than anything else, I credit that book with teaching me to bake.
My library of cookbooks has expanded considerably in the years since, and I don't always make the time to read each of them as thoroughly as I once read Dorie's Baking. When a new book arrives, I'll usually quickly flip through the pages flagging the recipes I really want to try. Sometimes a little too hastily, apparently, because occasionally I'll see a recipe I really want to make on another blog, only to scroll down and discover it's from a book I already own. Ooops.
That was exactly the case with these peanut butter and jelly bars that I discovered on Michelle's blog, Brown Eyed Baker. They're from one of my favorite baking books, Baked Explorations, and I wanted to make them as soon as I saw her post. Peanut butter and jelly is such a classic nostalgic treat, it reminds me of the elementary school cafeteria. If we ever kept bread in the house it'd probably be a go-to lunch even now for me. These bars take the idea to another level. At the base is a sweet pastry dough, which is topped with a frosting-like peanut butter filling, then a layer of jelly (I used my childhood favorite, grape!) and finally a crumble topping. They're a little bit messy to eat but completely irresistible nonetheless. The recipe calls for storing them in the fridge, but I liked 'em best at room temperature so I took one out 15 minutes or so before I ate it. The book's authors jokingly suggest the bars as a lunch substitute, and on this Monday, that's sounding like a pretty good idea to me :)
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Peanut Butter Filling
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups peanut butter
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cups rolled oats
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 cups of your favorite jelly or preserves (I used grape)
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.
To make the crust: 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. 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.
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). 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, don't worry you can patch them afterward). 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.
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.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F.
To make the peanut butter filling: 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. 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: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, 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. Add the oats and mix on low to combine. Add the cold butter cubes, and beat on low until the pieces of butter are no larger than peas and loose crumbs form.
To assemble: Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Spread the jelly over the peanut butter layer. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the jelly layer (I squeezed some into bigger chunks and left some loose).
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the topping browns. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before cutting the bars. (I refrigerated mine before cutting.) Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator.