Living in the Colorado High Country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Peanut butter and chocolate have a natural affinity; whenever they’re together, good things seem to happen effortlessly. These peanut butter bites prove that point. They have a star quality that’s always a winner and are made so quickly and easily that it’s almost embarrassing.
They’re close to fool-proof, so very little can go wrong. I only have three pieces of advice:
1. Avoid natural peanut butters that separate and require stirring the oil and peanut puree to blend them before using.
2. Refrigerate the block of cookies until it’s cold all the way through before cutting it into squares.
3. Serve the cookies chilled or the soft filling may lose its shape.
Peanut butter bites
Make in a 9-by-9 inch metal baking pan.
1 1/2 cups finely ground chocolate wafer crumbs (I use Famous chocolate wafers)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with non-stick aluminum foil or regular foil, extending it several inches beyond the pan on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked block of cookies. If using regular foil, grease it generously.
Step 2: Make the crust: Combine the chocolate wafer crumbs and the melted butter in a bowl and stir or toss until they are well combined. Dump the mixture into the prepared pan and press it evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake until the crust is dry and set, about 10 minutes. It will still feel slightly soft to the touch when it’s done but will harden up as it cools. Remove it from the oven to a rack and cool it completely.
Step 3: Make the filling: Cut the softened cream cheese into eight pieces and place them in a bowl with the peanut butter and confectioner’s sugar. Beat at medium-low speed with an electric mixer until blended and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Don’t overbeat or the filling will get watery. Use a rubber spatula or offset metal spatula to spread the filling evenly and smoothly over the cooled crust. Put the pan in the refrigerator while you make the topping.
Step 4: Make the topping: Finely chop the chocolate. Put it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at medium-low heat for one minute. If it has started to melt, remove the bowl from the oven and stir, then continue to heat, at 30 second intervals, until the chocolate is almost entirely melted but some small lumps are still visible. Add the vegetable oil and stir until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Cool slightly and drizzle it decoratively over the peanut butter filling.
Step 5: Cover the pan and refrigerate it for six and a half to seven hours or overnight. Use the foil handles to remove the slab from the pan and cut it into squares. If you’re not serving them immediately, return the cookies to the refrigerator in a covered container. Serve cold, straight out of the fridge.
Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Next Page bookstore in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. She lives in Summit County where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.