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, 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
MAKES 16 BARS (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)
Chocolate crust (base layer):
1 cup blanched almonds
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
6 Medjool dates, pitted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
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 the texture of sand. Add cocoa powder, pitted dates, maple syrup, and melted coconut oil. Process until well combined. Pour mixture into the lined baking pan. Pour puffed rice cereal and oats into the pan as well, then use your hands to incorporate. Once combined, press down firmly to create the first layer. If the dough is sticking, simply wet your hands with a bit of water and continue. Bake for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add peanut butter, melted coconut oil, maple syrup and salt in a medium sized bowl. Stir until well combined and smooth. Pour peanut butter on top of the base layer. Use the back of the spoon to spread evenly. Place in the fridge while you prepare the melted chocolate.
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 coconut oil and cocoa powder. Whisk until well combined, then add the maple syrup and vanilla. Pour chocolate evenly over the peanut butter layer.
Put in the fridge to set (approximately 2 hours, or until chocolate is firm). Sprinkle with flaky sea salt (if desired); slice and serve. Extras should be stored in the refrigerator.
-*This recipe uses 100% all natural peanut butter (no salt / sugar added). Natural peanut butter has the tendency to separate, so ensure the oil is evenly mixed in before scooping and measuring.
-**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.