The Peanut Butter Bar: Peanut Butter-Milk Chocolate Filling, Caramel Syrup, and Caramelized Rice Krispies enrobed in Dark Chocolate.
Although this bar has some Reese’s heritage, I like to think of it more as an homage to the peanut butter, brown sugar, and honey sandwiches that I liked to eat as a child, not to mention peanut butter and jellies. Sure, the flavor of the peanut butter was the star, but what I liked so much about them was the almost liquidy refreshment of the jelly or honey and the moist softness of the bread. Nothing killed a peanut butter sandwich for me more than dryness… I knew it would be tough week at lunch when I opened a new bag of Wonder bread to find myself trapped in a world of sliced dryness. Did I mention that I also loved plain peanut butter sandwiches (which, oddly, were all the rage of my 2nd grade class) and peanut butter-butter sandwiches? I did. And do. But not on Wonder bread anymore.
So, that’s my way of prefacing this startling confession: I never truly liked Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They’re too dry, and they never tasted nearly as good as any peanut butter sandwich.
I always wanted to like them, and this bar is my way of tailoring them to my sandwich-y
needs preferences. I wanted pure, clean flavors. So, the peanut butter filling is simply natural peanut butter mixed with milk chocolate and salt. The peanut butter flavor is intact. Interestingly, peanut butter has more fat per weight than milk chocolate, so the milk chocolate kind of thins it out (er, but also firms it up, thanks to cocoa butter, which is solid at room temp).
You can’t see it in the picture, but the filling has a little well in the center of the bar, which is filled with caramel syrup. Caramel syrup is made by simply caramelizing sugar, adding water, and boiling it to desired consistency. Mine is like honey at room temp. Again, this syrup was chosen as a bid for purity. I could have added cream and/or butter to the caramelized sugar for a creamier caramel (which is done for caramel candies and caramel sauce), but I wanted caramel as purely flavored as the honey in my sandwiches (but I didn’t want to actually use honey). Also, peanut butter is so rich and fat that I think that anything in the bar should cut through it a bit, rather than add to it… Maybe this is a good time to also say that this is why I’ve never been into ultra-crazy-rich Peanut Butter-Chocolate desserts, either.
And the caramelized rice krispies add a grain element that echoes the bread in sandwiches (they’re also good on choc rice pudding, and on their own). I also caramelized some wheat flakes and multigrain flakes for the same reason, and they’re tasty. I’m not sure yet which I’ll use for the final bar. I had to use organic rice krispies b/c the original kind has high-fructose corn syrup, which is banned for life from my candy bars.
It’s a delicious bar, but there’s more that needs to be done for it to work completely…
- I’m not sure if I’m going to keep them in these square paper molds. They’re too deep, which makes for bar that’s too big and I don’t want it to have a collar if I fill them less. I also have to paint the bottoms, sides, and top, and they’re too unstable to set up evenly and with clean lines without too much bother. In the picture above, the sides and bottom are pretty thin, and the top is laughably, not to mention uncomfortably, thick. There’s a big professional machine that deposits chocolate into paper molds and then blows air into them to disperse the chocolate pretty evenly, but even I can’t quite bring myself to wish for such a contraption. I may just put them in a bar mold, unless I can find paper molds that are shorter and reinforced better.
- I have to monitor how the caramel syrup fares in the bar. When multiple components are enrobed in a single candy bar, a little ecosystem is created. Moisture and fat migrate unless barriers are put up. The caramel syrup (or ground up hard caramel) may have to be integrated in a different way because it may just disperse into the filling anyway.
- The caramelized rice krispies are quite crunchy, and may be too hard a contrast to the rest of the bar. I may put on fewer grains or maybe cut the caramel with butter, which I deem acceptable in this circumstance b/c it wouldn’t be much.
And going back to that laughably/uncomfortably thick top…
Here’s a little bit of information about working with chocolate… A lot of people think that it’s difficult, and are a little scared to work with it… but the truth is, chocolate is very forgiving — if you let it be. I think of it in comparison to bread. As far as I know, if you over-mix, over-proof, or over-bake bread, that’s it — it’s ruined. It can’t be fixed, and it’s wasted. The same goes for over-mixed and over-baked cookies and cakes. But you have to work pretty hard to ruin chocolate — it can withstand relatively high temperatures, and you can re-melt and re-temper it at will. Broken ganaches can be fixed; even truffles that have already been coated can be melted down so that you can add more cream or chocolate if you want to adjust the consistency. You can even add water to it — as long as you add enough (only a little water makes chocolate seize).
For me, the hardest part of working with chocolate confections isn’t exactly tempering chocolate — it’s keeping a good temper. Tempering chocolate promotes the formation of good fat crystals in the chocolate’s cocoa butter so that they arrange themselves in a certain way that allows for the chocolate to be shiny and snappy. Basically, all you need to do is heat up the chocolate to 115 (dark choc), add bits of solid chocolate to promote the proper crystallization, and let it cool to about 87-91F, removing leftover seed, if necessary. You take a test to see if it’s in temper, and then, if it is, work with it and keep it within the proper temp range (at first, this range seems small, but with time, every degree takes on its own meaning). The problem is that the crystallization doesn’t stop once it’s in temper — it keeps going. So, even if you start off with an absolutely wonderful bowl of tempered chocolate, you’ll probably have a bowl of horribly thick, over-tempered chocolate that’s full of air bubbles an hour or two later. This can be fixed by raising the temperature to melt out some of the crystals and/or adding melted chocolate to disperse the concentration of good crystals… but the risk is very high of raising the temperature too high or adding too much chocolate… and then you have to temper it all over again… which isn’t the end of the world, it just takes more time.
So, that’s the explanation for the thick, bubblicious coating on the top of this bar — that is slightly over-tempered chocolate. It had been fine when I coated the bottom and sides, but by the time I’d filled them and let them set, it had thickened up… and I knew it happened, but I was so close to finishing that I didn’t stop to fix it like I should have. Part of me also knew that it wasn’t the worst it could be b/c it was only thick– seriously over-tempered chocolate will bloom immediately when it sets, and I knew I wasn’t that bad yet. But, when I poured out my leftover chocolate and let that set later, some of it had a dusty-looking bloom (under-crystallized chocolate, btw, tends to have a streaky bloom instead). There is also a chance that my bars may still bloom tomorrow, since cocoa butter can take 1-2 days to completely set (for that reason, the filling was also set up a little more than in the photo; it’s also why cream ganaches should set at room temp overnight).
Anyway, some people could argue that the problem of thick chocolate coating is not a problem at all, but it’s especially unwieldy when you have a softer filling. I do admit, though that the messiness makes it even more kid-like and fun… and it still tastes great.