Saturday, April 5, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jelly Pie Bars

I'm still on my peanut butter kick and there is no end in sight. After hating the stuff for the first 23 years of my life, I guess I am just making up for lost time.

In preparing the menu for Emma's birthday party, I tried to think of treats that fit into our Uno Fiesta theme while appealing to both young and old palates alike. What is more nostalgic than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? These bars are a homage to that favorite lunchtime staple of childhood. In fact, while making these, I was reminded of the phase that Matthew and his friend Sophia went through about two years ago where both of them pretty much refused to eat anything other than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. At least it was a cheap meal made with materials we always have on hand. This phase was followed shortly by Matthew's hot dog phase where he consumed between 2-3 hot dogs a day for about 6 months. Thankfully, that obsession has also passed and he has not had a hot dog since August. He's now into eating raw cucumbers and tomatoes - weird, but healthy!

Anyway, THESE BARS. Amazing. A pastry crust is topped with a peanut butter buttercream, a generous slathering of your favorite preserves, and then topped with a cinnamon-spiced oatmeal streusel. Delicious! It's like a grown-up, slightly sophisticated, dessert version of the classic PB&J. I chose strawberry preserves this time. Next time, I would love to make these with my White Chocolate Peanut Butter paired with sweet orange marmalade to emulate my favorite PB&J sandwich combination.

Little Miss Emma definitely approved of these. She sampled plenty while I was cutting these into neat little bars.

Simply amazing.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
adapted just slightly from Baked: Explorations

For the Pastry Dough:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 egg

For the Peanut Butter Filling:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1¾ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Crumb Topping:
¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup traditional rolled oats
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

For Assembly:
2 cups preserves (we used strawberry!)

First, make the pastry dough. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 9x13-inch pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, using enough parchment to hang over the sides of the pans. Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and pulse until sandy (about 6-10 quick pulses). In a small bowl, whisk the egg and pour into the food processor. Pulse just until the dough begins to hold together.

Dump the dough mixture into the prepared pan. Using your fingers, press the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the pan from the freezer, line it with aluminum foil, and fill it three-quarters full with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

To make the peanut butter filling,beat the butter until it is completely smooth in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the peanut butter and beat until combined. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again. Turn the mixture out onto the cooled crust and, using an offset spatula, spread it into an even layer. Put the pan in the refrigerator to chill while you prepare the crumb topping.

To make the crumb topping, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the brown sugar and use your hands to rub it in until the mixture is uniform in color. Stir in the oats. Place the dry mix in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and beat on low speed until loose crumbs form.

Spread the preserves in an even layer over the peanut butter filling. Sprinkle on the crumb topping, covering the preserves.

Bake the bars for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, or until the top is brown.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. To cut into neat bars, pop the pan in the freezer for about an hour. Cut into bars and serve.

The bars can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

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