plant Magic dust
expect hope doubt
where soulless our
(with all their minds)
eyes blindly stare
life herSelf stands
— e.e. cummings
Tripping over it like that got me thinking about chance encounters, about the way they shape our days, outlooks, lives. About the abundant unwelcome ones, errant cars and anonymous dents and mis-behaving body parts. About all the others, the small serendipities, casual conversations, stories, words, friends, faces, that winkle their way into a day and twist the lens, let in light. I had a hundred examples in mind. Which is precisely where they'll stay. Spring's no time for screen-staring.
Today, I'll just perpetuate the goodness that is Cummings, and bittersweet, slightly salty, chocolate peanut butter bars.
These bars are like buckeyes, only better. By like buckeyes, I mean both are confections, pure, unencumbered by flour or distraction. That both involve chocolate and that blissful situation known as fortified peanut butter. (Fortified, here, meaning not twelve vitamins and minerals, but emboldened by butter, salt and vanilla, and ample sugar, both brown and powdered.)
By better, I mean vastly simpler, and quick enough to pose a near-danger. Simpler because this is a bar, built in a pan, in one fell bulk swoop. No scooping, no rolling, no dipping, no drying. Just dump, noodge, drizzle, impatiently waaaaaaaiiit. The chilling hour is interminable. But it does save a person from total ruin.
Better also because said format allows for ratios ever-so-slightly more majestic. A peanut butter ball can only hold so much chocolate, before the excess runs right of. Veneer's the best one can hope for. A 9x9" pan, on the other hand, understands the existential nature and moral imperative of proper peanut butter:chocolate proportions. Also, it contains wretched excess nicely.
Which may sound untoward for a season when we're to live, I think, on asparagus and air. But have you looked up lately? Excess, excess, everywhere. Besides, mud-luscious makes quite the mess. And messes demand something stronger than salad.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars, Bittersweet + Salty
adapted from Nigella Lawson, How to Be a Domestic Goddess
I've tweaked the proportions and technique, converted the original milk chocolate to bittersweet, and added salt (naturally) to ping-pong with the sugar. That said, the transformation of classic peanut butter cup to bar is pure genius, and pure Nigella. Do mind the chilling/cutting notes, below. Shattered bars (see above) are delicious as anything, but pure heartbreak if you plan to give or share.
for the base:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/4 cup salted butter, melted
1 scant cup salted, creamy peanut butter
for the topping:
11 oz. dark chocolate (72% or bittersweet), chopped
1 tablespoon salted butter
Line a 9x9" pan with parchment paper or foil, both directions, leaving "tabs" as handles on all four sides.
Melt butter in a one-cup glass measure, and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Measure peanut butter into the same cup, and add to bowl. (This saves dirtying a second measuring cup and, better, ensures the sticky peanut butter releases easily). Add remaining base ingredeints to the bowl, fit mixer with the paddle attachment, and mix on low-medium until fully combined, 30 seconds. (Alternatively, mix by hand, with wooden spoon or strong spatula.) Scrape mixture into lined pan, and pat into a roughly even layer. If you'd like a more polished look, fold the extra lining over the peanut butter, and press the back of a clean measuring cup onto the surface, to even it.
Melt chocolate and butter in the microwave, in 30-second increments, stirring well after each session, for a total of 60-75 seconds, depending on your microwave's strength. Alternatively, melt in a double-boiler.
Pour chocolate-butter mixture over the pressed peanut butter, and spread with a silicone spatula, to smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate sets, around one hour (or, wrapped, overnight). When ready to slice, remove pan from fridge, and let sit 10-15 minutes at room temperature, before cutting. Attempting to slice directly from the fridge will result in cracked bars. (I've learned the hard way. Repeatedly.) After the chill is off, use paper "ears" to remove entire bar from pan, peel paper from sides, and slice into 1 x 2" squares.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 7 hours days.