"Next came the fun part. I squeezed four wide lines of peanut buttery goo over the batter."
Raise your hand if Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are you favorite candy. How about Snickers bars? Or Baby Ruth? Whatever sweet treat you hold closest to your heart, there is no denying that chocolate and peanut butter make a slam dunk combination.
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Why, then, is it so difficult to find a decent recipe for peanut butter brownies? Ones with a dense fudgy base and rivers of nutty swirls? Most of the recipes I've come across either mix the peanut butter directly into the batter (no swirls), or are more like a peanut butter blondie with chocolate chips. Still others involve copious amounts of cream cheese, and while I will sing the praises of peanut butter and chocolate at the top of my lungs, peanut butter and cheese is another story.
Recently, the folks at Pillsbury teamed up with the folks at Jif (no surprise, really, since they're both owned by the J.M. Smucker Company) to create Fudge Supreme Peanut Butter Swirl Brownie Mix ($2.59).
The familiar Pillsbury-blue box contained a big bag of chocolate mix and a foil packet of peanut butter, which looked like a slightly larger version of the ketchup packets at McDonald's. The instructions directed me to add 1/3 cup of vegetable oil (recommended Crisco, also owned by J.M. Smucker), 2 tablespoons of water, and one egg to the mix, and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. My batter came out lump-free, but it was also very thick and glutinous, more like the makings of fondant than brownies.
Next came the fun part. I squeezed four wide lines of peanut buttery goo over the batter. Then I made four cuts through the pan with a butter knife, creating a zig-zag pattern. Things are starting to look pretty good, I thought, licking the knife. Sliding the pan into the oven, I let my brownies bake for 28 minutes, until the edges began to pull away from the pan. I poked the middle with a toothpick just to make sure they were done, but the toothpick only went in about a quarter of the way before it hit bottom. Were my peanut butter swirl brownies really that thin?
In a word, yes. Once cooled and cut into squares, the Fudge Supreme Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies were more like Fudge Supreme Peanut Butter Swirl pancakes, each slightly less than a half-inch thick. The texture was good—the brownies were moist and heavy—and the flavor was deep and rich, if not complex.
Unfortunately, the peanut butter withered a bit in the oven. Instead of being the chocolate's equal partner, it was more of its sidekick—Robin to the chocolate's Batman, Ethel to its Lucy. Ultimately, I would not recommend the Pillsbury mix unless you are short on time and desperate for dessert. As for the perfect peanut butter swirl brownie recipe? I guess I'll have to keep on looking.