Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownies

This is my favorite non-chocolate brownie recipe. Prior to finding this recipe, I'd never liked "blondie" recipes all that much. Not because they didn't taste good, but because it seemed that a non-chocolate bar cookie could never have the texture of chocolate brownies, and that moist, chewy, fudgy texture is one of the things I love most about "real" brownies. Enter this recipe. These peanut butter laden bars come out flavorful, sweet and delicious, but just as importantly, they've got a dense and almost fudgy texture, very similar to the best chocolate brownies. Throw in some chocolate chips, and you'll have people swooning. Even if you're an inexperienced baker, this easy recipe will be successful.

Before I get to the recipe, though, a quick word to less experienced bakers. Unlike cooking soups and casseroles and meats, baking is much more of an exact science. You can't do the Rachel Ray "just eyeball it" when you're measuring ingredients for baking, and RR herself will tell you that (and it's one of the reasons she doesn't really like to bake). Flour and sugar should be measured with nesting cups meant to measure dry ingredients, and after measuring, you need to level the top off with a knife.

I realize how basic all of that sounds, but years ago, I had a friend who was a pretty good cook, and only a fair baker. Once, when I was at his house, I discovered why. I happened to stop by one afternoon just as he was starting to make cookies for a friend's birthday. As we chatted, he pulled out a bowl, a canister of flour, and a measuring cup. One of those glass measuring cups with a lip on it. I shrieked. Why was he about to use a liquid measuring cup to measure flour? He looked at me like I was crazy. That was the cup he used to measure everything, he told me. Flour, oil, water, sugar -- he measured it all in that same cup. After some poking around in his kitchen, I discovered that he did in fact own a set of dry measuring cups, but he used the glass cup for convenience. He figured a cup was a cup, so if you're making cookies, might as well only dirty one measuring cup. I'm all for efficiency and fewer dishes, but a LIQUID cup (8 fluid ounces) is not the same as a cup measured by volume. (Mixing up measurements is surprisingly prevalent. On QVC, they frequently boast that containers of Philosophy shower gel are "a full pound." But they're not -- they're 16 FLUID ounces, not 16 ounces by weight, which is what a pound is.) Remember what I said about baking being an exact science? To get the right measurements of the ingredients you'll be using, you need a liquid measuring cup for liquids, and dry measuring cups for dry ingredients. It can be the difference between a baking success, and a failure. Oh, and "solids," like the peanut butter in the recipe below, are measured using the dry ingredient cups, as well.

Peanut Butter Brownies

1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate or peanut butter chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9 baking pan. In a medium bowl, cream together peanut butter and margarine. Gradually blend in the brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture until well blended. Fold in the chocolate chips, if using. Turn into the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until the top springs back when touched. Do NOT overbake! Cool, then cut into squares. Makes about 2 dozen.

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