Halloween is around the corner, and as usual, I'm doing everything possible to avoid coming up with a costume. I've always had mixed emotions about October 31st. The chocolate and candy is more than enough to get me excited, but when I was younger, I always dreaded the exercise of collecting it. Yup, I might be the only person who didn't love to trick-or-treat.
Growing up, I'd always been about a head or so taller than most. Looking back on photos, it's cute and comical. But at the time, I definitely wasn't feeling it. So when it came time to go out trick-or-treating, I was always worried I'd look an impostor - one of those kids who was clearly too old to be out collecting candy. It wasn't rare for a well-intentioned stranger to remark about my height on a regular day, let alone Halloween when you're literally standing on their doorstep begging for candy and surrounded by small children. I dreaded the inevitable, "Really, only X years old?! But you are SO tall!" (thank-you captain obvious, just the reminder I need when all I'm trying to do at this age is blend in). Luckily, over time, I've gained some perspective. And more importantly, I've finally embraced that at 5'11", I'll often be one of the tallest in the room - and I'm completely okay with it. And now that I've outgrown both trick-or-treating and my insecurities about my height, I'm pretty much back to enjoying Halloween. Because it's the greatest excuse to make decadent treats.
Since there's no shortage of sugary treats at this time of year, I instead opted to make an indulgent dessert loaded with healthier, good-for-you ingredients. And let me tell you, this dessert is literally the best of both worlds! It's sweet, creamy and covered in chocolate. Only you'll know they're not as naughty as they seem.
These bars are inspired by the flavors of a Halloween staple: Reese's peanut butter cups. That perfect sweet and salty combination that only chocolate and peanut butter can provide. I went with bars instead of cups for convenience. But in the end, it turned out to be the better choice. I managed to squeeze in an extra layer of chocolate crust - so now it's like a decadent peanut butter sandwich, but with chocolate instead of bread. My childhood dreams have finally come true. These chocolate peanut butter bars are totally addictive. I've been eating breakfast extra early so that I can sneak in a bar before lunch. There, I said it.
Despite having three layers, these bars are fairly easy to assemble. They're not quite "no-bake", but with 10 minutes of oven time, I think you'll find the time and health savings totally worth it. I like to bake the first layer to remove some of the moisture and gently toast the almonds and oats. Afterwards, you'll pour in a creamy peanut butter mixture, then a final chocolate layer over top. In this recipe, I used a quick, "cheaters" chocolate recipe for the final layer. I use this version when I don't have cacao butter on hand. But if you'd prefer to get gourmet and make your own chocolate from scratch, you can refer to this recipe for homemade vegan chocolate.
The hardest part about these bars is waiting for them to chill in the fridge. But, it's a necessary step in order for all the layers to set nicely. And once you take a bite, you'll know it was totally worth it. A sprinkling of flaky sea salt takes these bars totally over the top, and really enhances the sweet and salty combination you'll have going on. If you prefer, you can skip the salt – but I highly recommend it. Now, go give these bars a whirl and give peanut butter cups a run for their money!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
- 1 cup blanched almonds
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 6 Medjool dates, pitted
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
- ½ cup rolled oats
- ½ cup puffed rice cereal
Peanut Butter Filling
- 1 cup smooth natural peanut butter (unsalted, see note 1)
- 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Dark Chocolate Topping
- 3.5 oz (100 g) bar dark chocolate, roughly chopped (about 80% cocoa, see note 2)
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Flaky sea salt (for garnish)
- Preheat: Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line 1 (8-inch) square baking pan with parchment (see note 3).
- Chocolate Crust: Add almonds to a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add cocoa powder, dates, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Process until well mixed. Transfer the mixture to the baking pan. Add rice cereal and oats, and use your fingers to mix (note 4). Then pack down firmly to create the first layer. If the dough is sticking, lightly wet your hands with water and continue. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the dough no longer looks damp. Let cool for 5 minutes.
- Peanut Butter Filling: In a medium bowl, stir together peanut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup and salt until smooth. Spread filling over crust. Use the back of the spoon to spread evenly. Refrigerate the pan while you prepare the topping.
- Dark Chocolate Topping: Gently melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Whisk in coconut oil and cocoa powder until smooth. Whisk in the maple syrup and vanilla. Pour over the peanut butter filling.
- Chill: Refrigerate until the chocolate topping is firm (about 2 hours). Sprinkle with flaky salt, then release from the pan and cut into bars. Refrigerate extra bars in an airtight container.
- Peanut butter: All natural peanut butter has a tendency to separate, so stir vigorously to mix before using. If you only have salted peanut butter, you can still use it; but add the salt to the peanut butter filling in small increments, and adjust to taste if needed.
- Chocolate: High-quality dark chocolate with about 80% cocoa doesn't usually contain dairy, but read the labels to confirm if you need it to be vegan.
- Baking pan alternative: If you have a square baking pan with a removable bottom, use it! In a pinch, you can use a 9-inch square baking pan instead (layers will be slightly thinner). If you're doubling the recipe, you can use one 13 x 9-inch rectangular baking dish instead of two smaller square pans.
- Technique tip: You could do this mixing step in a bowl if you'd like, but I usually do it right in the pan to save dishes.
- Baking by weight: For the most reliable results, we recommend measuring by weight when baking. Ingredient weights are provided in metric.