Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Three layers of indulgent goodness: crisp chocolate crust, creamy peanut butter and a layer of dark chocolate. And, because of the good-for-you ingredients (no flour or added refined sugar), only you'll know they're not as naughty as they seem! Vegan & Gluten Free. <jump to recipe>
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. A quick set in the fridge (~15-20 minutes) will firm up the peanut butter; and then you're ready to pour the 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
MAKES 16 BARS (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)
Chocolate crust (base layer):
- 1 cup blanched almonds
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 6 dates (pitted)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1/2 cup puffed rice cereal
Creamy peanut butter (middle layer):
- 1 cup natural peanut butter (unsalted)*
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon salt
Melted chocolate (top layer):
- 3.5 oz / 100 g bar of high-quality dark chocolate (85-90% cocoa)**
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Optional garnish: Flaky sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8" x 8" baking pan with parchment paper.
- For the base layer, use a food processor to grind the blanched almonds until they are the texture of fine sand. Then, add in the cocoa powder, salt, pitted dates, maple syrup, and melted coconut oil. Process until well combined. Pour the mixture into the baking pan, then add the rice puff cereal and oats. Stir ingredients in the baking pan and once combined, use your hands to press the ingredients down firmly to create the first layer. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Allow it to cool for 10 minutes while you prepare the next layer.
- For the peanut butter layer, use a medium sized bowl to combine peanut butter, melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and salt. Stir until well combined. Pour peanut butter on top of the base layer. Use the back of the spoon to spread evenly. Place the baking pan in the fridge. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, until the peanut butter has begun to firm up.
- Chop up the dark chocolate bar and place it in a double broiler (or a heatproof bowl over simmering water). As the chocolate begins to melt, add the coconut oil and cocoa powder. Whisk until well combined, then add the maple syrup and vanilla. Pour chocolate evenly over the peanut butter layer.
- Return to the fridge to set (~2 hours). Sprinkle with flaky sea salt (if desired), and slice to serve. Store extras in the refrigerator.
-*This recipe uses 100% all natural peanut butter (no salt / sugar added). If you're using peanut butter with salt or sugar, you'd need to adjust accordingly. Since each manufacturer would vary, for the most reliable results, start with 100% peanut butter (no additives).
-**Vegans, make sure you're selecting a chocolate bar that's free from dairy. High quality dark chocolate with this high of a cocoa content shouldn't have dairy in it, but read the labels to confirm.