Last night, I made the most amazing squares and I’m very excited to share them with you!
It all started with a cake that I made myself for my birthday last weekend. The cake didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted, so I haven’t shared the recipe for that. For one of the layers of the cake, I did a “peanut crunch” layer, where I made a peanut brittle with sugar, water, peanuts and a bit of salt, let that cool to harden, then blended them up in the food processor and stirred that into a mixture of melted dark chocolate and butter. I then spread that over my bottom cake layer for a layer of crunch. We all really liked that layer and my husband commented a couple of times how good it was.
One night as I was going to sleep, I started thinking about how that peanut crunch would make a great base layer for some sort of bar or square. The idea really stuck with me and I decided to do some experimenting to see what I could come up with. I decided that I wanted it to be a 3-layer bar, similar to Nanaimo bars. Here’s a picture off Wikipedia for those of you that aren’t familiar with this Canadian Treat. It has a cocoa, graham cracker and coconut base, a custard buttercream filling and a melted butter and chocolate top:
I knew I wanted to have the peanut crunch as the bottom layer, and I would do the top layer of melted butter and chocolate, like a traditional Nanaimo bar, but what to do with the middle? I settled on making a sort of peanut butter buttercream for the middle layer and got to work making my bars.
When I first made the peanut crunch for my cake, I cooked the sugar/water mixture to hard candy temperature (160C/250F) which hardened nicely and left the peanuts with a white coating of sugar. As I was making the bars last night, I had the inspiration to cook the sugar to the caramel stage (176C/350F) for added flavour. This paid off really nicely because I could taste little crunches of caramel as I was eating the bar. I used 70% chocolate in the base to offset the sweetness of the caramel and the buttercream over top but decided to use semi-sweet for the topping. All in all, the recipe was a big success! I thought I might have to do a few revisions but the first try was delicious! I wanted to take a picture of the expression on my husband’s face as he enjoyed the bar, but he wouldn’t let me, lol.
While these are technically no bake squares, they do require some stove top cooking. Do not stir the sugar solution when making the caramel as it can cause your caramel to crystallize. Instead, swirl the pan gently every so often. Watch the sugar carefully as it approaches 350F. It can go quickly from caramel to burnt sugar if you’re not careful. I didn’t do this last night, but a sprinkle of sea salt over the top of the finished bars might be nice.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Nanaimo BarsThese bars showcase the classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter, with pops of caramel flavour in the base.
For the Base
- For the Middle Layer
- For the Top Layer
For the Base Layer
- Line an 8 inch square baking tin with parchment paper or aluminum foil with edges overlapping the sides of the pan for easy removal.
- Toast peanuts in skillet over medium high heat. Once toasted, turn out onto a baking sheet to cool slightly while you prepare the sugar.
- In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Cook over medium heat, occasionally swirling the pan gently until the the mixture turns a deep golden caramel colour, when the mixture is around 176C/350F.
- Take the caramel off the heat and stir in salt and the peanuts.
- Spread the mixture over a baking sheet lined with silicone baking mat or greased aluminum foil and put into the fridge to cool and harden, about 10 minutes.
- When the mixture has hardened and is cool enough to handle, break into pieces and pulse in a food processor until you have the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.
- In a medium metal bowl or double boiler set over a pan of barely simmering water, combine dark chocolate and butter. Stir with rubber spatula until the mixture is melted and smooth.
- Stir the peanut mixture into the chocolate mixture and then spread over the bottom of your prepared pan.
- Chill the mixture in the freezer until set, about 10-15 minutes. For the Middle Layer
- In a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, peanut butter, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is well combined and light in colour.
- Add the icing sugar and mix on low speed until combined.
- Increase the speed and beat on medium high until you have a light and fluffy texture, about 30 seconds.
- Spread buttercream over the chilled bottom layer and put in the freezer until hardened, about 15 minutes. For the Top Layer
- In a medium metal bowl or double boiler set over a pan of barely simmering water, combine semi-sweet chocolate and butter. Stir with rubber spatula until the mixture is melted and smooth.
- Remove from heat until cool but still spreadable.
- Spread over the top of your chilled bars and smooth top (an offset spatula works well for this).
- Optional – sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.
- Put the bars in the freezer until top is set, about 15-20 minutes.
- When bars have fully set, remove from pan. Warm a chef’s knife under hot water and wife dry. Use this warm knife to easily cut bars into 16 squares. Store in the fridge.
Toast peanuts in a skillet, then lay on a baking sheet to cool while you prepare the caramel.
Cook water and sugar over medium heat until a deep golden caramel colour. Temperature will be around 350F/176C.
Stir in peanuts and salt.
Turn out mixture onto prepared baking sheet and cool in the fridge until solid and cool enough to handle.
Break into pieces and pulse in the food processor until the texture of coarse crumbs.
Melt butter and dark chocolate in a bowl or double boiler set over barely simmering water until smooth.
Add peanut mixture then spread over the bottom of your prepared 8×8 inch pan. Chill in the freezer until set, about 10 minutes.
Combine butter, peanut butter, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixture until combined and light in colour.
Add icing sugar and mix on low to combine. Then increase speed to medium-high an mix until fluffy.
Spread evenly over your chilled base then freeze for 15 minutes until set.
Melt semi-sweet chocolate and butter in a medium bowl or double boiler, set over a pan of barely simmering water, until smooth.
Spread over the top of your chilled bars and sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Chill in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Use a knife warmed under hot water to cut your bars into even squares.