Is anyone else on a sugar high, or is it just me and my peanut butter bars and blondies? It’s not even Christmas for goodness sakes! But what with all the August birthdays (what was happening nine months ago!?) in my life – Boyfriend, Boyfriend’s brother, coworkers, friends – I’m in total baking mode (no wise-ass comments about the peanut butter bars being no-bake). I seem to be going through butter and chocolate chips at an alarming rate, and last night was no different.
I won’t lie and tell you I don’t love it though. Baking is what eventually led me to enjoy cooking as much as I do, and it’s comforting to come back to it. I always hear people say that cooking is easier than baking – just a little of this and that until it tastes delicious, no need for a recipe. And now that I can do it, I agree. But when I was younger, I wanted and needed thos instructions – the precise measurements, the exact directions – to feel confident that my creation would taste how it was supposed to. The idea of just dumping things haphazardly into a pot to create a meal, though, terrified me. How was I supposed to know what spices matched? How spicy was too spicy (apparently my threashold is higher than most – Boyfriend’s nonwithstanding)? At what points was I allowed to taste…did I have to change utensils every time I let one of them touch meat that wasn’t fully cooked? How did I even know when the meat was cooked? Which brings up the whole separate issue of me not wanting to touch raw meat at all – not to cut it up, not to season it, not even really to lift it (wrapped in plastic) from the grocery bag to the fridge. Please bear in mind that I am not a vegetarian. I love meat. Cooked meat.
But baking? Baking I could do. It took me years to scramble an egg by myself and I subsisted purely on ramen when I had to feed myself on the odd night in high school, but I could make a damn good blueberry muffin by the age of 10. And eventually, I felt confident enough to (gasp) swap ingredients in recipes. Don’t want raisins? Don’t put them in. Want to add walnuts? Go ahead.
As trivial as that seems, it was a big revelation to my tiny, fragile cooking ego. If I could figure out what I wanted out of a baked good and adjust it accordingly, why couldn’t I do that with real food? Combined with countless hours spent watching Ina and Giada make magic, and watching my own mother make delicious dinners in our kitchen, I finally started experimenting for myself. And, years later, I still eff things up. All the time, actually. But honestly, that’s half the fun. If everything turned out perfectly every single time, where would my funny stories come from?
Adapted from too many places to count
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted (What? This sounds suspiciously like the beginning of the peanut butter bars? I don’t know what you’re talking about.)
2 heaping spoonfuls of creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1/3 of a small can of sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix melted butter and graham crackers in a bowl, then press into the bottom of an ungreased 8×8 pan.
Sprinkle walnuts and chocolate chips evenly on top. Heat peanut butter in the microwave until it’s pourable, then drizzle over the walnuts and chocolate. Pour sweetened condensed milk over the top.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the top and sides begin to brown and everything’s bubbly. Cool completely (ideally, refrigerate for an hour) before cutting into squares.