Wednesday, February 4, 2009

chocolate peanut butter soggy bars

What do you do when you make something and it just doesn't turn out right? Do you serve it anyway? Do you tell anyone?

I'm not talking about undercooked chicken or a pie that fell face-down on the floor when no one was looking. I'm talking about dishes that are still perfectly edible, just not exactly what you hoped for when you read the recipe or saw an inspiring photo of it online somewhere. Disappointing, but still totally safe for mass consumption. Like my chocolate peanut butter crispy--er, soggy--bars.

After seeing several drool-worthy posts about these bars, I printed out the recipe and saved it for my friend E's Super Bowl party. It would be just the perfect thing to follow up chili dogs and a number of other gut-busting foods. And who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter? No one, that's who. I made the bars the day before and the recipe was easy enough: you make a crust of sugar- and butter-coated Rice Krispies, then top the crust with a layer of peanut butter melted with some milk chocolate, then top the peanut butter with a layer of dark chocolate. It sounded like the candy bar of my dreams.

And it was. Except for the layer of sticky, mushy cereal that formed at the bottom. I cut a square to sample--purely for taste-testing purposes, of course. It was great, like the best-ever Reeses Cup. Cereal mush doesn't add a lot of flavor or texture, especially when you scrape most of it off with your fingernail but, still, it bothered me. I was bringing the bars to a party, not just eating them by myself at home. Could I give them to people without a disclaimer? They would surely see the unappealing soggy crust and never read this blog again. Or would I have to just fess up right away, like my wonderful, kind mother-in-law who hands me a birthday present while simultaneously telling me the receipt is attached inside and that I might not like the gift anyway?

So I gave squares to Dan and our friend Julie to try. They agreed that the cereal wasn't a plus, but the chocolate-peanut butter combo more than made up for it. Then Julie suggested rolling the squares in a fresh layer of cereal, just to add more crunch. Brilliant.

So I chilled the bars overnight, then cut them into individual squares and scraped off the soggy bits. Each one got a quick dunk in plain cereal and then went into a paper muffin liner. They looked a little girly in their pastel wrappers, but whatever. My plan actually worked. I didn't say anything at the party, and neither did anyone else. The bars were snapped up by almost everyone. Except for a few people who expressed serious concerns about salmonella in the peanut butter. Which, of course, hadn't occurred to me at all. Sigh.

Chocolate peanut butter crispy bars

These bars are adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, a new cookbook by the owners of Baked, a very cute bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I must go there soon to investigate the original source of these "crispy" bars to figure out where I went wrong. And also eat more bars.

For the crispy crust:
1 3/4 cups crisped rice cereal
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
5 oz. milk chocolate chips
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 oz. dark chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. light corn syrup
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter

Make the crust: Lightly spray a paper towel with nonstick cooking spray (or vegetable oil) and use it to rub the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan. Put the cereal in a large bowl and set aside.

Pour 1/4 cup water into a small saucepan. Gently add the sugar and corn syrup (do not let any sugar or syrup get on the sides of the pan) and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Put a candy thermometer in the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage, 235 degrees F.

Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and pour the mixture over the cereal. [Note: I would do this gradually, as to not soak the cereal, like I did. Add a little; stir. Add a little more; stir. Do this until the cereal is coated but not saturated.] Working quickly, stir until the cereal is coated, then pour it into the prepared pan. Using your hands or a spoon, press the mixture into the bottom of the pan (do not press up the sides). Let the crust cool to room temperature while you make the next layer.

In a large nonreactive metal bowl, stir together the chocolate and the peanut butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for about 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the cooled crust. Put the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the top layer hardens.

Rinse out your metal bowl, then combine the dark chocolate, corn syrup, and butter.

Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the chilled milk chocolate peanut butter layer and spread into an even layer. Put the pan into the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the topping hardens. (*If transporting these bars, I do recommend using the muffin liners because the chocolate gets a little melty at room temperature.)


Colin P. Delaney said...

Gentle Readers, Lisa's bars were, in fact, wonderful -- but I suppose it's Julie that's gets the cred...

Dana B said...

Lisa I'm so glad you posted this recipe because it gives me the perfect opportunity to ask you about a candy thermometer problem I've been having.

Last week I was attempting to cook a candy mixture for marshmallows. I used the smallest pot I have but since the entire mixture was only a cup or so, it didn't come up very high in the pot. Because of this, the thermometer was not getting a good reading; It was either not far enough in or was touching the bottom of the pot.

The recipe you posted has a similar small amount of syrup mixture to boil. Do you run into this problem ever? Does my thermometer suck? Or do you perhaps use a teeny-tiny pot?

Lisa said...

Colin--Yes, I do think Julie should get the credit for saving the day here.

Hi Dana! I'm currently without a candy thermometer, so I actually didn't use it for this recipe. I find this method from EHow to be pretty foolproof:

It's not as precise, but eliminates the need for a thermometer, or wondering whether you are getting an accurate temperature. Especially when you're working with a small amount of liquid.

Dana B said...

Cool! Thanks for the tip! As an added bonus, I have learned from that link that Bethenny Frankel of Apprentice: Martha and Real Housewives of NYC fame is an eHow expert.

Daniel said...

Have to agree with Colin on this. Even before Julie saved the day, these bars were delicious. Hard to go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate.

Personally, I like my salmonella chunky-style.

Lisa said...

Dana: Really?? That totally makes me never want to use EHow again.

Dan: That's gross.

Anonymous said...

Before I even got past the first sentence of this post, I was going to tell you how I suffer from this kind of indecision with everything I make unless it's perfect but after reading on, I guess you knew that already. I brought black and white cookies to work for an inauguration day cookie smackdown (get the symbolism?). They looked like they were made by a retarded two-year-old but they tasted fine. I almost threw them out but that seemed too wasteful. Of course everyone loved them.
Oh, and on another topic, thanks for all the tips on roasting vegetables. My last photo assignment included 3 roasted vegetable recipes. Seems like a trend and a good one. It's easy and tasty. Last night I roasted radishes.

Lisa said...

Ha! I hope you're not offended. Especially because everything you make (that I've eaten, anyway) is pretty darn perfect. Even when you say it's not.

I guess that's the lesson here: most people will eat things even if they look like they were made by a two-year-old. Especially if chocolate is involved.

I love your roasted radish idea. A new thing for me to try!

Megan and Butch! said...

Lisa -- I would just like to remind you how lucky you are to have a mother in law who says (or writes) things like "retarded 2 year old".

E. Tyler Lindvall said...

I have thought a lot about these bars, especially since Lisa left all the leftovers at my place and they have now made me fat. They were delicious, although I have to admit that the rice krispies did them no favors, the soft ones were just kind of there, not adding much. I do think that without them, the bars would be entirely too rich. So, as I was eating the last of them in the middle of last night and perusing this blog, I was thinking, and this is what I was thinking -- what about adding the rice krispies to the peanut butter? Giving the bars the needed texture and possibly fixing the problem of the krispies...wait for it...losing their krisp. Just a thought. I would be more than willing to help out in this experiment, if as nothing else, a taster.

Lisa said...

Mr. Lindvall, you may have a point. I agree that the Krispies are needed to keep the bar from being too rich, maybe not as a crust. Mixing them in with the peanut butter might work but also might turn them into sludge.

This may require future testing...

E. Tyler Lindvall said...

Let the experiments begin...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Megan. I can't be PC and I never know when I've stepped over the line.

Daniel said...

Uh oh. Megan, don't encourage her.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what happened-maybe it was the thermometer issue, because I had to watch mine pretty intently when I did them. Make the smores nut bars next, but add twice the marshmallows-they're foolproof!


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