Growing up in Australia in the 80’s, we weren’t exposed to the North American treat of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was Vegemite sandwiches all the way in my house! In fact, I had only heard of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because I was an avid reader of “The Babysitters Club” book series which often referenced them. It was a perplexing treat to me as I had visions of people making bowls of what Americans call Jell-o (which is what jelly is in Australia) and trying to layer this wobbly dessert in between bread smeared with peanut butter. I couldn’t help think that it seemed like an odd treat that took a lot of effort. It was many years later that I discovered that “jelly” is actually jam.
My Canadian husband tells me that he grew up on peanut butter and jam (I can’t use jelly, it just sounds wrong!) sandwiches so I think that this was a pretty popular afternoon snack for North American kids. I can’t deny that the combination of salty, creamy peanut butter and sweet jam works. It works especially well in this Martha Stewart recipe of “Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars”.
After a few attempts at this recipe I want to pass on some helpful tips. Firstly, and most importantly, you don’t want the peanut butter mixture to be dry. If it is dry then it will crumble once it is cooked, so if you feel like it isn’t moist enough, add more butter. I sound like Paula Deen saying that but it works. If in doubt, add more butter (a good tip for anything in life). Secondly, using strawberry jam made the end result lacklustre. The flavour of raspberry jam just adds more depth so I highly recommend using raspberry jam over strawberry. And thirdly, the first time I made the recipe I used all of the peanut butter mixture according to the recipe but I found it was just too peanut butter-y and there wasn’t enough balance. The next time I made it I used only about 2/3rd’s of the mixture in total and I found that was plenty. Play around with it and see what you think, perhaps you prefer more peanut butter to jam ratio. Whatever you decide, enjoy! These are great with a big glass of cold milk.
Martha Stewart’s Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1.5 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2.5 cups smooth peanut butter
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups of jam of your choice (raspberry is my preferred)
1 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment, dust with flour, and tap out excess.
Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. With mixer running, add eggs and peanut butter; beat until combined, about 2 minutes. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add to the butter mixture, and beat on low-speed until combined. Add vanilla.
Transfer two-thirds of mixture to prepared pan; spread evenly with an offset spatula. Using offset spatula, spread jam on top of peanut butter mixture. Crumble remaining third of peanut butter mixture on top of jam. Sprinkle evenly with chopped peanuts.
Bake until golden, 45 to 60 minutes, rotating halfway through. Tent loosely with foil if bars are getting too dark. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Run knife around edges and refrigerate, 1 to 2 hours. Cut into about 36 bars (about 1.5 by 2 inches). Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.