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From The Pastry Dungeon: Peanut Butter Jelly Bars

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[Photograph: Anna Markow]

I've mentioned before how challenging it can be to learn new cuisines. It's even harder when you're trying to juggle several at once. Shortly after I began working at the giant Latin American restaurant, and while I was simultaneously making creative yet comforting desserts for the tiny restaurant up the street, I was approached by the restaurant's owner to revamp the dessert menu at a sports bar he owned in the neighborhood.

On top of trying to stay on top of hundreds of desserts a week for the Latin place, making sure my tiny staff could keep up my standards for desserts at the second restaurant, and handling weekend brunch production, I was given a week to start full production of desserts for the sports bar.

The first thing I did was to bombard the sports bar's chef with questions about the restaurant and his menu. Bar staples like mountains of nachos, juicy burgers with seasoned fries and several types of sandwiches were popular. Their dessert menu, however, was little more than basic cookies, bread pudding, and ice cream scooped out of large industrial tubs.

For inspiration, I turned first to their seasonal beers on tap. There was a lot to choose from, so I took some samples back to my lab (meaning the corner of the service kitchen that served as pastry central) and started experimenting.

My assistants and I came up with a couple of tasty beer-based treats. Chocolate Guinness Whoopie Pies with salted caramel marshmallow, made so big they resembled burgers, went right on the menu, as did a sundae with vanilla ice cream, pretzels, bananas, and an IPA caramel sauce. But this particular sports bar also served a lot of families with young children during the day, so I needed a dessert or two that would appeal to the littler set.

What do kids like more than peanut butter and jelly? Ok, maybe a lot of things, but you still can't go wrong with the classic combination. Since the desserts also had to travel well for delivery orders, I decided to go with a simple bar. I added housemade jam to a simple peanut butter blondie recipe. Moist, chewy and nostalgic, these bars appeal to just about everyone.

Yes, you can make these with store bought jam or jelly, but Concord grape jelly is by far one of the most rewarding things you can make yourself. It is basically the only preserve recipe I feel like I shouldn't mess with—as much as I adore spiced warm grape juice, I think grape jelly should always be unadulterated and perfectly purpley grapey.

If you can't find Concord grapes (and I only happened upon some by chance) you can make an easy raspberry jam by cooking fresh or frozen raspberries with sugar. I use one heaping cup of berries for every cup of sugar. That's actually how I made these bars for work, since we always had raspberries in house and it's so simple.

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Peanut Butter Jelly Bars »


About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna.

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