Beat the Wheat: Gluten-Free PBJ Bars
Ever since I learned how to make my own jams and jellies, I have gone a little crazy in the summer. All the seasonal fruit gets cooked into jam. Some jars I give away as gifts, but the others get used on toast, in sauces and on sandwiches. By the time winter makes its annual appearance, I have a whole fridge shelf filled with half-empty jam jars. When that happens, it's time to make PB&J bars.
These bars have become a hit in my neighborhood. I bring them to potlucks, I serve them as dessert at dinner parties, I take them to cookie exchanges, I make them whenever there's a snowstorm or really cold weather, and I whip up a quick batch so the mail lady and the UPS guy have a little something sweet and salty waiting for them at my door. Much like people feel sorry for me because I can't have gluten, these bars make me feel sad for people who have peanut allergies, because they're just so darn good.
I spent a lot of time tinkering with different flours to make this recipe gluten-free, and using rice, sorghum and oat has worked the best. The dough spreads more evenly, and the flavor of the flours works nicely with the peanuts, almonds and fruits.
Speaking of fruits: You can use any jam flavor you like in this recipe, but I like mixing lots of fruity jams together and seeing how they turn out. My favorite flavor combination so far is one-third strawberry, one-third cherry and one-third blueberry. Using just plain old grape jelly would work nicely too. Whatever you prefer.
These bars make a great snack, afternoon pick-me-up or gift for someone who works extra hard to make your life a little easier.
This recipe makes a moist bar with just the right balance of saltiness and sweetness. Adding almond butter makes the bars less cloying than if you use only peanut butter. And being able to choose your own jam flavor — or doing what I do, mixing all the leftover jam in the fridge into one mixing cup and giving it a stir — lets you customize these however you'd like. Be sure to let them cool long enough before taking a bite. They go great with a glass of cold milk!
2 cups of your favorite flavor jam (I prefer a mix of strawberry, cherry and blueberry)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray or butter.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream the butter and sugar on medium-low speed for 90 seconds. Add the eggs, peanut butter, almond butter and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, sift together the white rice flour, sweet rice flour, sorghum flour, oat flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly and gently add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined, making sure to scrape down the inside of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated.
Using your hands, gently press a little more than half the dough into the bottom of the baking dish, making sure it's an even layer.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the chopped peanuts over the dough and gently press them into the dough. Then spread the jam evenly over the dough.
Using your hands, break the rest of the dough into small pieces and distribute evenly on top of the jam. You probably won't be able to cover all the jam, and that's OK. The dough will spread a bit when it bakes.
Sprinkle with the rest of the chopped peanuts and bake for 50 minutes on the center rack of the oven.
Let cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes. Cut into small squares and serve.