This recipe is for my good friend Cristina. Years ago when she was living in Boston, I would often visit her apartment for dinner. She had the most charming little kitchen; brightly decorated, whimsical, and inviting. It seemed to just open it's arms to you as you walked in the door, as did she. We would open a bottle of wine and chat over the stove while she chopped and sautéed. Her boyfriend would walk down the street and join us for dinner at her little table. Fresh out of college, we laughed at recent memories and stories, and savored a home cooked meal together, just the three of us. She has since moved to Maryland, and although there is distance between us, I remember nights like these, when our friendship blossomed and we shared our love for food and laughter. I had the chance to visit her this past fall. Her charming little apartment has turned into a beautiful home, and her boyfriend has since become her fiance. We spent the weekend driving through rural backstreets, laughing until we cried, and indulging in a few cupcakes.
I can remember saying to Cristina years ago in her apartment one night that I was craving something sweet. Without missing a beat, she pulled out her recipe binder and whipped up a batch of homemade peanut cookies. We ate them straight out of the oven. It's taken a bit of time, but a few years later I'm returning the favor. Here is my new peanut butter treat. Because I can't deliver these in person, the recipe will have to suffice for now. Somehow I can picture Cristina whipping these up in her bright new kitchen, apron and all down in Maryland. I know she is on the lookout for healthier versions of treats to bake. This one uses brown rice syrup and whole wheat flour.
If you have not used brown rice syrup before, give it a try in this recipe. As a natural sweetener, brown rice syrup is the perfect sugar substitute in these delicious bars. You can find brown rice syrup in your health food stores. I use the brand Lundberg, Sweet Dreams. Brown rice syrup has a rich butterscotch color and a slightly sweet smooth taste. Traditional dessert bars are often overly sugary and sweet. Not these. I find these bars to be just sweet enough and really showcase the peanut butter as the star ingredient. Don't skimp on your peanut butter. Good quality peanut butter really makes a difference in this recipe, as there are so few ingredients. These bars are moist, just a tad bit salty, and topped with slivered almonds to pack a crunch. Baked up to a light golden brown, these peanut butter bars will become your new favorites. They pack well, are perfect for on the go snacking, dessert, or admittedly... even breakfast. I brought these to a friends' house for an after dinner treat and came home with an empty plate. Kids and adults alike love these.
~Purist Peanut Butter Bars Recipe~
1 cup organic unsalted peanut butter
1 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon butter for greasing pan
Preheat the oven to 350º. Beat peanut butter and butter in a stand up mixer or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer. Once combined, add in brown rice syrup. Be sure to incorporate the brown rice syrup completely, scraping down the sides of the bowl if you need to. Continue to beat, adding in vanilla extract, both eggs, 1 at a time, and sea salt. Slowly add in the whole wheat flour until it is combined.
Pour mixture into a 13x9 inch pan. Use an additional tablespoon of butter to grease pan. Using a spatula, gently spread the mixture out to the edges of the pan to be sure it is even. Sprinkle with almonds.
Bake for 35 minutes, until the corners begin to turn a light golden brown. You can also insert a toothpick inside the middle of the bars to be sure they are cooked through. Let the bars cool completely before cutting. Serves 8.