Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter are kind of like the high school sweethearts that everyone always knew belonged together. They just really work, somehow. These bars are both easy and beautiful– perfect for taking to a picnic. No one will ever know how quick and easy they are to make (and take!), and when you whip out those beautiful layers, no one will be able to do anything but rave about how delicious they taste. 🙂
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
(Adapted from Southern Living)
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 cup black cocoa
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. espresso powder
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup mini chocolate chips, coated in 1 tsp. flour
Peanut Butter Layer
1 (10 oz.) bag peanut butter chips
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Chocolate Ganache Layer
1 (12 oz.) bag semi sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy cream
Additional chopped peanuts for garnishing, optional
To make brownies, mix together cocoa, melted butter, oil, and sugar until well blended. Mix in eggs and vanilla and mix well. Stir in flour, salt, and espresso powder. Use a spatula to fold in the flour-coated chocolate mini chips (the flour keeps chips from sinking to the bottom of the batter). Bake in foil lined, greased 13×9 at 350 for 25-30 minutes, just until done. Do not overbake.
To make peanut butter layer, microwave PB layer ingredients (all but vanilla) together for 1-1.5 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, just until the chips are melted and you can combine the ingredients. Stir in vanilla. Pour over cooled brownie layer.
To make chocolate ganache, microwave ingredients in 30 second increments) in the microwave just until the chips can be stirred into the cream. This usually takes about 1 minute, and sometimes an additional 15-20 seconds. Keep stirring and the chips will slowly melt. The mixture does not need to be super hot. Pour ganache over PB layer and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.
Refrigerate bars until completely cool and use a sharp knife to cut into individual portions. Refrigerate until ready to serve, to keep the layers pretty. 🙂
Now, in pictures! 🙂
Bar cookies are kind of like the little black dress of the baking world. They are perfect for get togethers because they travel well, take up only 1 pan for you to balance on your lap on the way to the picnic, and reveal these gorgeous little layers when you dig into them, like the very best kind of relationship! Bar cookies for the win. And these beauties are no exception! 🙂 They are stunningly beautiful when you cut into them, and when you unveil them at the next get together, no one will know how quick and easy they were to make. I won’t tell if you don’t. 🙂
These bars do take a little time to allow each layer to cool a little bit before adding the next one. So let’s start with brownies. Then maybe you can catch a Netflix show while the brownies are cooling and still technically call it “working.” Makes sense to me.
To make the brownies, mix together the cocoa, melted butter, oil, and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer until well blended. The batter doesn’t look like much yet, but don’t worry. You are on the first step to greatness, here. FEEEEEEEL the power!
Next, mix in the eggs and vanilla. I almost said “Mix in your eggs,” but that brings visions of Horton Hears a Who, so let’s say “Mix in THE eggs.” Shiver…
Next, stir in the flour, salt, and espresso powder. Espresso powder is kind of like makeup on a beautiful woman. Yes, she is beautiful without. But WHEWEEEEEE when she puts that stuff on, it magnifies the beauty that is already there. Espresso powder adds an all-so-subtle kiss of richness that magnifies the chocolate flavors without adding the taste of coffee (unless you add more espresso powder, which makes your brownie layer nice and coffee flavored, which is totally another way you can go, with zero judgment from me). Once you add a little espresso powder to chocolate desserts, you will never want to be without it again. Trust me and pass the mascara. 😀
Next, fold in your flour- coated chocolate chips. Ummmmm WHY ARE WE COATING THE CHIPS IN FLOUR???? I am so glad you asked. You are so smart.
Have you ever had a brownie, muffin, cupcake, whatever . . . where all the berries or chips were clustered at the bottom? Yeah. That’s a bummer, especially if you’re splitting that muffin with someone and you get the bare bones top, and they get all the goodies at the bottom.
Coating your add-ins with a teaspoon or so of flour (not enough to have extra– just enough to cover them) helps them to remain suspended in the batter rather than sinking to the bottom. If only the Titanic had coated itself in flour, eh? hehe. Ok that’s not funny.
*Snort!!* You have to admit that’s kinda funny.
Ok it’s not funny. Moving on.
Fill a 13×9 inch baking pan with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. As a general rule it’s always easier to do bar cookies in a foil lined pan. That way you can lift the bars out when they’re done and cut them evenly on a cutting board. It’s WAY easier. Trust me.
Bake the brownies for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees, just until a toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge comes out fairly clean, with a few moist crumbs. You don’t want to overbake these, and I usually do a couple “toothpick pokes,” because if you accidentally spear a chocolate chip, that will make you think your batter isn’t finished when it actually is. A few moist crumbs, but no liquid. Got it. You’re a genius. I love working with you.
Let the brownies cool for a little while. When they are cooled they will be a little tougher so they can stand up to the other layers you are going to be spreading on them.
For the peanut butter fudge layer, mix together all PB ingredients except your vanilla, and microwave in 30 second increments just until you can stir the chips and liquid together. Sometimes if you rush you think, “Oh these chips aren’t melted” and put them back in the microwave. But be patient. Sometimes when you stir for a little bit the chips will melt as you stir. Don’t overcook this or the fudge will get grainy and tough on you. (Maybe that’s what happened to the grouchy sales clerk at the store– she was overcooked? Sounds like a good theory to me).
When your chips have just melted, stir in the vanilla. Adding liquid will cause the mixture to harden a little bit, so work quickly. Pour the PB layer overtop of your cooled brownies. Because you were a good little student and let the brownies cool before adding this layer, they are now nice and firm and ready to support the thickness of the PB fudge without smooshing. You are so smart.
Use your silicone spatula to gently smooth the peanut butter layer overtop of the brownie layer. Just go slowly and don’t stress. Good things take time. Don’t rush. Just slowly smoosh everything into place. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect. You’re doing fantastic. 🙂
To make the chocolate ganache layer, melt your heavy cream and chocolate chips in 30 second increments in the microwave, just until the chips are melted. Again, don’t see unmelted chips and think “I NEED FIREPOWER NOW!!!!!” and cook the life out of your chocolate. Stir for a bit after each heat. Sometimes the chips will kind of melt as you stir. You don’t need your ganache to be hot, just melted. You want warm liquid, rather than hot, which can curdle the cream. Take it slow. Stir. Think chocolaty thoughts. Don’t rush. You’re making bars, and you’re doing it like a boss. You’ve got this.
This is after 1 minute and 15 seconds. I stirred 3 times. See? I told you that you had this. You’re brilliant. Why does no one else in your life tell you this? Come on people.
Use a spatula to scrape the chocolate onto your peanut butter layer. This is another reason that it’s good not to get the ganache super hot, but just warm– you don’t want it to melt the fudge layer underneath.
If you want to, take the back of a spoon and lightly make “C” marks in the chocolate for a pretty swirl pattern. Or, you know, write “Mary rules the WORLD!!!” if you want to. I won’t judge you.
Sprinkle some chopped peanuts overtop of the ganache while it’s still warm, if you want a nice little textural element. You could switch the peanuts up and use another nut instead, if you want. No, your husband does not count as a nut, and please don’t spread him overtop of the chocolate layer. And by all means please do not chop him up.
I can hear your brain thinking right now. Just how many nuts DO I KNOW???? Don’t answer that. Why are you looking at me when you say that?
Refrigerate these little beauties until they are solid– it makes them easier to cut without messing up the layers that you worked so hard to create.
These little beauties are just the right size for sharing– the fudgy, bottom brownie, the smooth as silk peanut butter fudge, and the rich, decadent ganache. And let’s not forget the crunchy nuts on top.
Here we are talking about nuts again. Sigh. No, you may NOT add me to your list of possible nuts. I’m sure there’s a law about that in Iceland or something.
But however you enjoy these brownies, be sure to pour yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea. The nuttiness of the coffee (oh my goodness why do you keep looking at me when I say nuts??) pairs so nicely with the peanut butter and dark, decadent chocolate.
You may just find that you eat most of this little brownie with your eyes closed, in pure bliss. And if you’re thinking about nuts while you do it, well I guess it’s a free country.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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