One of the most common questions I get in my (normal, boring) everyday life about both this blog and writing recipes for cookbooks is this: Wait—you write recipes for things. But how do you decide what to make up? Well, I’m not really one for crazy mashups of foods you’d never imagine together, so everything starts out pretty basic. Sometimes I just start with a flavor combination for something I really, really like and think you might like, too (here it’s peanut butter and chocolate). Or I have something in my pantry or my refrigerator I want to make use of (here, the million batches of homemade sweetened condensed milk I’ve made recently). Or both. I’ve always loved baking shortbread, too, since it’s one of the most basic cookie recipes you can imagine—flour, butter, sugar and salt. No eggs, no leaveners. Peanut butter shortbread isn’t too different, except, well, you add peanut butter. Just be sure to use the no-stir kind, which is the kind that doesn’t separate in the jar. No-stir almond butter would work beautifully, too. Add a layer of the simplest, smoothest fudge you can imagine, and you’ve got a seriously easy, gorgeously impressive dessert.
I like the shortbread layer to be as thick as possible, so I bake it in an 8-inch square pan, but if all you have is a 9-inch square pan, no worries. Just watch the baking time, as it will be done at least 5 minutes earlier. We bake the shortbread in a low (325°F) oven so that it browns evenly without becoming too crisp on the bottom. Perfect.
The crisp and buttery peanut butter shortbread layer is lovely enough, but pair it with thick, smooth chocolate peanut butter fudge (mostly chocolate, just with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter added for good measure)—the kind of fudge that is perfectly set up even at room temperature and leaves teeth marks behind? No one will ever believe how simple these bars are to make.
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
10 tablespoons (140 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (128 g) smooth no-stir peanut butter (the kind that doesn’t separate in the jar)
2 tablespoons milk or cream, at room temperature
Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Layer 10 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks (I used Enjoy Life chocolate chunks)
12 ounces sweetened condensed milk, at room temperature (it’s less than a full 14 ounce can, by the way, if you’re using store-bought)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons (32 g) smooth no-stir peanut butter
First, make the shortbread. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with crisscrossed sheets of unbleached parchment paper, both hanging over the sides of the pan so that you can use them to lift the bars out of the pan after baking. Set the pan aside.
In a large bowl, place the flour, xanthan gum, salt and sugar, and whisk to combine well. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add the butter, peanut butter and milk or cream and mix until the dough comes together. It should be thick and smooth. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking dish and press into an even layer. Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake until evenly golden brown all over the top (about 25 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the baking pan (about 20 minutes).
When the shortbread is nearly cool, make the fudge layer. In a medium-size, heat-safe bowl, place the chocolate chips or chunks. Place over a simmering pan of water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth (you can also melt the chocolate in the microwave on 60% power in 45 second intervals, stirring in between). Remove from the heat and stir in the sweetened condensed milk, salt and peanut butter until smooth. Pour the fudge immediately over the cooled shortbread (still in the pan) and spread into an even layer. Allow to set at room temperature for 10 minutes before transferring to the refrigerator to chill until completely set (about 30 minutes more). Take the pan out of the refrigerator and remove the bars from the pan by lifting up on the overhung parchment paper. With a sharp knife, slice into 16 equal squares. For the cleanest slices, wet the knife in between cuts. The fudge is stable at room temperature, so these can be served without chilling them.
NOTE: To make these dairy-free, too, try using the dairy-free sweetened condensed milkwe made in the fudge layer, and try replacing the butter in the shortbread layer with half Earth balance buttery sticks, half Spectrum nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening. And then let us know how it goes!