peanut butter & cranberry jam cheesecake cookie bars
Hi, Happy New Year!
It's been a while since my last post, so thank you for coming back! Behind the scenes, I've been whirling around with a list of new macarons, a bookshelf filled with recipes from my family's past, and a few life updates. Since that last post, I’ve moved, gotten married (officially, for my mother's and our families' states of minds), and now I feel very much settled in my new kitchen, in our new neighborhood.
Over the holidays, I finally went through all of the recipe cards and hand-written cookbooks that were passed down from my Nana, Great Aunt and Great Grandmother. Have you ever read a cookbook cover to cover? I couldn't put these down, and after that, I found myself going through all of the cookbooks gathering dust in my apartment. Though many of these recipes are online now, I love having these physical books in my hands to flip through the pages and write notes. I jotted a long list of flavors, new combinations, and sketches for what I want my blog to become over the course of 2019. I have enlisted some assistance from my husband, from Erin, and a few choice friends to force me to start and stay on track, so that I can finally dedicate proper time for recipe development, photography, writing, and posting my recipes. So thanks to them in advance.
On this list of things, I first planned to create a holiday-esque treat that wouldn't be pigeon-holed as simply a “holiday treat", something that could last all year. Luck had it that I was sent some peanut butter chips from Sunspire this past fall, so I started tinkering with them. I knew from the start I wanted something along the lines of a PB&J. Being around cranberries all last month, I was soon convinced that peanut butter and cranberry jam needed to be a thing. In my research, I came across inspo in What’s Gaby Cooking with her white chocolate raspberry cheesecake cookie bars and thought, Bingo! I adapted that recipe to create these Peanut Butter and Cranberry Jam Cheesecake Cookie Bars. They are the best of so many worlds. Salty, sweet, tangy, chewy, and crunchy. Could you ask for anything else, really?!
They are very easy to make. Just be sure to take a few extra steps and time for proper chilling in the refrigerator. The great thing about this recipe is that the jam can change to your preference, so once you nail it, you can bake it all year!
I also want to take a moment to note on why I chose to use a gram-based system of measuring. I am a very strong advocate for weight (grams) over volume (cups). As a recipe creator, the only way for me to truly ensure that my recipes can be replicated from my kitchen to yours is with weight (grams). My cup will always be different than your cup, so volume is not precise enough, especially when measuring critical elements that serve a precise scientific function. I strongly suggest buying and investing in a scale. It's the cheapest professional baking equipment you'll ever buy!
Now for what you came for, PB&J Cheesecake Cookie Bars. Enjoy!
…Good to Knows…
- The jam will continue to thicken as it cools in the pan, so don’t worry if it still looks a bit looser than normal jam when removing from the heat. You don't want to overcook it and have it solidify to a firm jelly.
- If you can't find fresh cranberries at your local store, you can try using frozen cranberries but do account for the additional liquid and adjust accordingly. I have not tried this recipe with frozen fruit yet, but if/when I do I, will update this recipe with my thoughts.
- The jam may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You may make it ahead of time, or you can substitute in any of your preferred store-bought brands and flavors!
- I don’t advise canning this jam recipe as I am not familiar with the FDA canning regulations and this jam was not developed per their health requirements.
- Don’t use the toothpick test for this as it is a cookie recipe and the cheesecake and jam layer will give you false readings. It will appear under-baked. It will also have risen quite a lot and have a slight jiggle to it upon removal from the pan. This is what you are looking for. As it cools, it will fall and become the ideal bar texture and consistency.
- It is vital that the bars rest in the refrigerator after baking to allow them to fully set. Without this step, I found that they never truly held their shape. They were more of a soft, loose blondie in texture and consistency, not the cookie-like cheesecake bar they are meant to be.
peanut butter & cranberry jam cheesecake cookie bars
…makes around 12-15 bars…
Recipe adapted from Gaby Dalkin’s book What’s Gaby Cooking
225g (2 sticks or 1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
100g (1/2 cup) dark brown sugar
300g (1 1/2 cups) granulated white sugar
2 large brown eggs, room temp
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
325g (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
210g (1 1/4 cups) peanut butter chips
130g (approx. 1 cup) fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
65g (approx. 1/2 cup) roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
230g (approx. 2 cups) fresh cranberries
170g (3/4 cup) apple cider juice (substitute water if desired)
100g (1/2 cup) granulated white sugar
1 medium lemon (zest + juice)
225g (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese, room temp
100g (1cup) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla Bean Icing
125g (1 cup) powder sugar
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste, extract, or the seeds from one vanilla bean pod
2-3 tbsp milk (or water)
As always, weigh out, gather and prepare all ingredients prior to mixing. Place butter, brown sugar and white sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer and cream together for 5 minutes, or until the butter/sugar mixture is smooth, fluffy and pale in color. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until fully incorporated. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in vanilla. Now sift the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. In two parts, add the dry mixture to the wet mixture on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated. Do not over mix! Fold in half of your chopped cranberries, 2/3 of the peanut butter chips, and half of the peanuts.
Place the cranberries, apple cider juice, lemon zest and white sugar in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, heat until all the cranberries have split (their skins have burst) and the mixture has come to a boil. Stir occasionally. This process should take around 13-18 minutes and you should end up with a nice chunky sauce consistency.
Transfer the sauce to a blender (or food processor, noting the blending time will be roughly double) and blend on high power for around one minute, or until the sauce is smooth.
Return the sauce to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat for 12-15 minutes, or until the sauce become a loose jam consistency. At this time, stir in lemon juice and remove from heat. Allow the jam to cool in the saucepan for about 20-25 minutes. The jam will continue to thicken as is cools in the pan, so don’t worry if it still looks a bit loose when you remove it from the heat. You don't want to overcook the jam and have it solidify to a firm jelly.
Transfer cooled jam to an airtight container. Jam may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
In a blender—or you may use a food processor, but note the blending time will be roughly double—add the mascarpone cheese, white sugar, vanilla and egg. Mix on medium-high for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until the cheesecake mixture is fully combined and smooth.
Vanilla Bean Icing
In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients until well combine and no lumps of powder sugar are visible. You are looking for the consistency of honey. Make this icing when you are ready to ice the bars as it will start to harden after a few minutes. If it starts to harden before you are ready, continue to whisk, and if needed, add a few additional drops of milk (or water) to bring it back to the correct consistency.
…ASSEMBLY and SERVE…
Place oven rack on the center position and preheat oven to 350˚f/180˚c. Butter one 9 x 13" cake pan. Line the bottom and four sides of parchment paper.
As always, gather and prepare all ingredients prior assembly. To make your first layer, press 2/3 the cookie dough mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan. For the second layer, spread the jam in a even layer over the cookie. Then pour the cheesecake mixture on top of the jam. Using an offset spatula, evenly distribute the cheesecake mixture, ensuring you get it to all four corners. For the fourth layer, break the remaining cookie dough into pieces and scatter it on top of the cheesecake mixture. Follow this with the remaining cranberries (chopped and whole), peanut butter chips, and peanuts.
Place pan into the refrigerator for 30 mins to rest. Then place into pre-heated oven and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the top of the cookie dough is golden brown and there is a slight jiggle in the center. Remove the bars from the oven and let cool in the pan for 30-60 minutes. While still in the pan, transfer them back to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours; preferably overnight for best results. Once cooled, remove bars from pan and drizzle with vanilla bean icing. Cut into your desired size and serve.
Bars may be refrigerated for about one week or frozen in the freezer for a few months in an airtight container. Enjoy!