Ah, peanut butter and jelly. Such a wonderful classic.
Would you believe that I grew up thinking peanut butter and jelly was just OK? JUST OK?! Allow me to explain…
My father is a nutritionist by training, and so, growing up, our junk food selections were on the more limited side of things. There was never soda in the house (except for special occasions), no processed snacks, and no creamy peanut butter. That’s right. I grew up in a Jif-less house. My parents preferred the all-natural, stir-for-five-minutes-before-you-can-spread-it kind of peanut butter. I’m talking SUPER unprocessed, unsweetened peanut butter made from special organic peanuts only harvested every five years (err…or something like that). Ya know, the kind that everyone is going bonkers for these days. Those parents. Such trend setters.
Anyway. I didn’t love PB&J because of said peanut butter. To compound things, white bread was not allowed in the house. Only mom and dad’s favorite seeded, super-food wheat bread was permitted. Again, trend setters. Unfortunately, these things don’t make for great kid sandwiches. The sad thing was, I loved the home version of PB&J UNTIL I had the good stuff at a friend’s house. Good stuff = wonder bread, Jif creamy peanut butter, and strawberry jelly. The PERFECT PB&J. I was ruined. My poor parents couldn’t figure out why I suddenly had no interest in their version of the kid-approved standard….until I started begging for white bread and hydrogenated, sweetened peanut butter at the grocery store. Hah.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate my parents’ take on PB&J. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than some all-natural peanut butter spread on a piece of warm wheat toast. Hearty and satisfying. I’m actually grateful that they limited our exposure to junk food. There should probably be more of that in kids’ lives these days. Anyway. I digress.
The wonder bread version of PB&J is still the best in my book, and it was the only crazy must-have-now pregnancy craving I had in the first trimester. I was making a sandwich a day. The craving was so intense one day…it was all I could think about at work. So much so that I stopped at the store on my way home just to buy a loaf of thick, fluffy white bread and a jar of Jif peanut butter. Yup. It had to happen. And it had to happen the way I remembered it at my childhood friend’s house.
These PB&J bars pay homage to the childhood favorite (whichever version you knew). I love a good bar. And I love a good PB&J. These bars are the best of both worlds! Chewy, slightly gooey, buttery blondies full of peanut butter and jelly flavors and topped off with a peanut buttery streusel. They have an awesome chew to them (almost like a good granola bar) and yet melt in your mouth at the same time. Good stuff.
I chose to use the creamy, processed peanut butter for these bars, just because it’s my favorite. But should you feel so inclined, go ahead and sub in your health-nut peanut butter. I think it will still work juuuust fine. And Mom and Dad would approve.
PB & J Gooey Bars with Peanut Butter Streusel (makes 16 bars)
For the Bars:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅔ cup jam or jelly (I like strawberry)
For the Streusel Topping:
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
¼ cup coarsely chopped peanuts
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
Pinch of salt
For the Bars:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8-inch baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), cream together the butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add in the sugars and beat again until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add in the egg and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth.
4. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are well mixed. Spread the dough in the prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake the base for 15 minutes or until it is golden around the edges and starting to set.
5. Carefully spread the jam/jelly over the base in an even layer. Top with the streusel topping (recipe below) and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until golden and set throughout. Allow to cool completely in the pan and then remove using the parchment overhang to help lift the bars out of the pan. Slice and serve with ice cold milk!
For the Streusel Topping:
Combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, mix in the butter and peanut butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the peanuts, chocolate chips, and salt. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the bars before baking.