Decadence, Squared: The Peanut Butter Confections Formerly Known as Nutter Butters by Dana Cree

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I’ve been waiting all summer for this. I try to post a mixture of Baked Sunday Mornings recipes, travel blogs, and non-BSM recipes, but it was a particularly busy summer with travel and moving, so nothing but BSM got done… Contrary to popular belief, I do actually bake stuff out of books other than the BAKED quartet, though they are my favorites! I finally got my shit together to post these scrumptious and outrageously rich peanut butter-caramel-chocolate squares… for which there is no proper name. I found these on the Lottie + Doof blog, and they were created by James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef Dana Cree of Avec in Chicago. She used to call them “Nutter Butters”, but you can imagine that that might cause a small copyright tussle with a certain American food conglomerate, so she was searching for a new name. Descriptions like “Peanut Butter Crunch Squares” or “PB Caramel Bars” seem positively pedestrian— their sophistication needs something more; in the meantime, they’re being called The Peanut Butter Confections Formerly Known as Nutter Butters by Dana Cree, which is admittedly an awkward mouthful. What is NOT an awkward mouthful is a bite of one of these squares; it is pure PB/chocolate perfection—melting slowly into every nook of your lucky, lucky mouth. Peanut butter/chocolate has never been my favorite flavor combination because I feel like the two ingredients eclipse each other’s best qualities rather than complementing them (go ahead, let the outrage begin). However, this is the perfect PB/chocolate scenario. They weigh heavily on the peanut butter side with supporting notes of white chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel, and cocoa nibs, and there is absolutely not one thing that I would change about them. They are incredibly rich– seriously, one bite will destroy you.

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve been incorporating more professional pastry chef ingredients into my baking repertoire, and this is a great recipe to get cozy with two of them: feuilletine and cocoa butter. I learned about feuilletine in a pastry class in 2013, but I couldn’t wrap my head around its awesomeness and the immense possibilities at that time. In more recent pastry adventures, I’ve learned that it’s an item to always have in my pantry (especially after discovering this recipe); it’s something of a pastry chef ninja ingredient. Feuilletine is essentially a paper thin caramelized crêpe that is broken up into tiny shattered flakes. It lends not only a wonderful flavor to desserts, but also a great textural contrast, particularly to creamy dishes like mousse and ice cream. It is sensitive to humidity and is therefore often folded into chocolate because it retains its special crunch. I may try making it at home at some point, but for now I order it from Chef Shop. If you’ve never used it, I highly recommend springing for a package– you will be amazed at how many different applications it has.

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Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from cacao liquor via a pressing process; it is separated from the material that becomes cocoa powder. Cocoa butter and powder are then reunited and combined with sugar, vanilla, and sometimes milk solids to produce the dark/milk chocolate that we know and love. White chocolate, on the other hand, contains cocoa butter but not powder. (If you come across white “chocolate” that does not contain cocoa butter, it is not technically real white chocolate, and you should stay far, far away.) Cocoa butter is also produced as a standalone professional pastry ingredient, and is often added to desserts to create a creamy, sumptuous texture IN YO MOUF. Like feuilletine, cocoa butter is unfortunately not readily available in the typical supermarket, so I ordered that in “chip” form from Chef Shop as well.

Despite the fancy-pants ingredients, don’t be afraid to try this recipe—it is surprisingly easy. You will produce pâtisserie-quality results with roughly the effort that it takes to make a batch of brownies! You’ll first melt down the peanut butter, milk chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa nibs, and salt in a bowl over simmering water, then fold in the feuilletine and press it into a sheet pan. For the white chocolate-caramel layer, you caramelize the sugar until it’s nearly burnt (a lighter caramel flavor will get completely lost against the white chocolate), strain it over the chocolate and stir together, and pour it over the feuilletine base. Aaaand you’re done! I also elected to scatter some Valrhona Caramelia and Opalys Crunchy Pearls across the top because I’m a little obsessed with them. You can certainly leave the squares naked, drizzle with milk chocolate (after they’ve chilled), or use whatever tasty garnish you want.

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A few notes about this recipe:

  • Cocoa butter can take longer to melt down than chocolate discs, which can lead to a broken emulsion. That didn’t happen for me with this recipe (I think all the ingredients being melted together aid the emulsification process), but it has with other cocoa butter recipes, so if that happens—a) don’t freak out, and b) use an immersion blender to bring it back together.
  • When the folks at Lottie + Doof made it, there was one small problem: If you overheat the cream, too much water will evaporate, and the caramel may separate a tiny bit. If it seems like the mixture is not completely emulsifying when you whisk the caramel and white chocolate together, add a teaspoon of hot water and that should repair it. (Disclaimer: I didn’t need to try it, but this tip is suggested by Lottie + Doof.)
  • I highly recommend using the best possible white and milk chocolates, as well as cocoa nibs, that you can get your hands on. If you’re already kicking down for feuilletine and cocoa butter, it would be a sad, sad shame to use low-qual chocolate. In the caramel, I used Guittard 35% Soie Blanche white chocolate discs (means ‘white silk’ in French) and Valrhona 35% Ivoire fèves would be excellent. Using a white chocolate with around 35% cocoa matter will yield the best melting for your caramel. Most common white chocolates contain around 31% and do not melt smoothly; they are more like a paste. (And for heaven’s sake, don’t use a product labeled ‘white chips’, which contain precisely zero cocoa butter!) For the crust I used Guittard 41% Orinoco milk chocolate and TCHO cocoa nibs.

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The Peanut Butter Confections Formerly Known as Nutter Butters by Dana Cree
Adapted from Lottie + Doof
Yields 117 1″ squares

Written by a professional chef, this recipe only includes weight measurements, which I highly recommend in general, since weighing ingredients is more accurate.

For the peanut butter-feuilletine crust:

  • 450g peanut butter (recommended: creamy Skippy)
  • 150g good-quality milk chocolate, chopped or discs
  • 65g cocoa butter drops/chips
  • 100g cocoa nibs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 300g feuilletine flakes

For the white chocolate-caramel ganache:

  • 150g heavy whipping cream
  • ½ vanilla bean, intact (i.e. seeds not scraped out)
  • 300g white chocolate, chopped or discs
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 40g (about 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter

Make the crust:

Spray a quarter sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper slightly overhanging on the long sides. Set aside.

Measure the peanut butter, milk chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa nibs, and salt into a very large, preferably wide metal bowl and set it over a pot of simmering water on medium-low heat to melt, stirring occasionally. When the mixture is completely melted and homogenous, remove the bowl from the pot, taking care not to introduce any water or steam into the bowl. Make sure all the cocoa butter drops are incorporated. Add the feuilletine and carefully fold it in with a rubber spatula until it is all coated and evenly distributed.

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Scrape the crispy mixture onto the lined sheet pan, and spread it evenly into the corners. Using a small offset spatula, gently coax it back and forth until the feuilletine is in a flat layer and the chocolate-peanut butter liquid is visible on the top. It will probably look like there’s no way that whole mound will fit, but as you work it to the edges and flatten it, it will be just the right amount. Place the uncovered pan in the fridge and chill until the crust is completely firm, about 1 hour.

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Make the caramel ganache:

Heat the heavy cream with the vanilla bean in a small saucepan over medium heat. You want to scald the cream, but do not let it boil– you don’t want too much water to evaporate (see note above). Set aside and keep the cream warm.

Place the white chocolate and salt into a medium bowl and set a strainer on top; set aside.

Place the sugar in a medium saucepan (about 2-quart capacity) and melt it over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to break up the sugar chunks, until it turns a deep shade of amber. Caramelize the sugar until it’s smoking; it should have a bit of froth on the surface. You need to take the caramel reeeally dark in order to develop enough flavor to stand up to the mellow creaminess of the white chocolate. Keep a very close eye on it towards the end, as it can go from amber to black (too far) in the blink of an eye.

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Remove the burnt sugar from the heat, and add the butter to the pan. Let it melt and sizzle on top of the caramel for a few seconds before stirring; this allows the butter solids to brown (more deep, nutty flavor). Once the butter has begun to brown, stir it into the caramel, then stream in the warm vanilla cream (remove the vanilla pod first) and stir until it is completely incorporated.

Pour the hot caramel through the strainer and directly over the white chocolate, then stir to emulsify. Your ganache should be smooth and satiny, a beautiful shade of blonde.

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Remove the chilled crust from the fridge and pour the caramel on top, quickly spreading it in an even layer to the edges with a small offset spatula.

Let the caramel cool slightly so that it begins to set. If you wish to garnish with Valrhona Crunchy Pearls, this is the time to scatter them on top– they will stick, but not melt. Return the uncovered pan to the fridge and chill overnight.

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Since these treats are so decadent, a little goes a long way– 1″ squares are a lovely size. This would yield 117 squares (!!!) in a 9×13″ quarter sheet pan. (Obviously you can adjust your size and quantity to your liking.) They can be served cold from the fridge or at room temperature; I prefer them chilled, though they do stay intact at room temperature (i.e. not a runny mess). Also, they keep very well covered in the fridge, about 1-2 weeks, so you can make these well ahead. Lottie + Doof even recommends chopping them up and folding into vanilla ice cream. Good lord, GIMME. 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.

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