“No good ever came from baking.”
At least, that was the mantra I was raised with. The woman who ran our kitchen spent her years fighting to stay on a diet and evil carbohydrates were the enemy. As a result, I was not allowed to eat bananas, drink orange juice or contemplate the all-American deliciousness of a PB&J. You can image then that baking was not an encouraged pastime, what with all the massive exposure to flour and sugar one is subjected to.
When I set out recently to come up with recipes that include Justin’s All Natural Nut Butter (childhood scars well in place, peanut and almond butter are my drug of choice for which I will never seek treatment) I was hard pressed to present anything that went beyond standing in the kitchen in my coziest PJ’s (that my mother is shocked that I still own and answer the door for the UPS man in), eating Justin’s Maple Almond Butter from a teaspoon accompanied by a hot mug of ginger tea. Not pretty, but addiction rarely is.
When one goes searching for recipes that include nut butter, most results pull up baked treats and not being a baker, I had to call on friends and neighbors for support. Even though they weren’t aware of my no-baking stance, they rallied together and strangel came up with No Bake Bars using my beloved Maple Almond Butter. They even promised to serve chai tea with almond milk. Theme baking, who doesn’t love that?
Baking by committee sounded risky, along the lines of too many cooks spoiling the broth, but I knew it could be fun. The recipe chosen said that the promised road to non-baked nirvana would be 25 minutes start-to-finish. Uhm? No, not when you gather in a kitchen with friends to distract you from your original purpose. Magazines offer up hairstyles, the internet presents multiple choices of rugs to consider for the living room before the relatives arrive next week, paint colors must be discussed to compliment said rugs and jewelry compliments are handed out (with follow-up conversation about the whole gift versus self-purchase). Then, there is the whole other element of a roomful of ladies adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing during the “lets double the pudding” phase. It only gets better when a healthy dose of attention deficit is involved.
“I’ve doubled the pudding, but I just noticed something. Two boxes were 3.4 ounces and the others were 5.9 ounces. Do we think it matters?”
“Consider that we also have to double the powdered sugar, too. So, eight cups.”
“Whoa! EIGHT cups?! That seems like an awful lot of sugar.”
“Alright then, I’m stopping at seven. That was seven I put in, right?”
“Hey! There’s no comma after the word layer in this recipe. What does that mean?”
“Why is your little boy’s lunch still in the fridge?”
By this point in the morning, the only one really paying rapt attention to every step of the recipe process was the dog. Every drop of cereal, every splash of butter – she was in on. Nothing slipped past her, but she wasn’t allowed to weigh in on how many cups of powdered sugar actually went into the bowl, which was too bad. I’m pretty certain she knew the answer and had probably calculated it down to the ounce.
The other beautiful thing about gathering vibrant creative women in a kitchen together is their willingness to experiment with a recipe to make it, well… more interesting. As one who doesn’t bake (or even non-bake, for that matter) it didn’t occur to me that things can and will go wrong in the substitution department. Our lead chef chose to change some things. Knowing that we were already substituting almond butter for peanut butter, our kitchen hostess (she of the delicious chai tea cabinet), opted to switch vanilla pudding to chocolate and butterscotch chips for chocolate chips, which may have required further investigation prior to experimentation.
“When I made the chocolate frosting before, it didn’t look this oily.”
“Maybe it’s the butter. Did we use too much?”
“I don’t know. Let’s pour some of it down the drain.”
“Hold on a minute. BUTTERscotch. Maybe you shouldn’t have added ANY butter.”
“Could be! Just throw it all out and start over.”
Since the hostess no longer had enough butterscotch chips in her pantry, bodies flew out the door into the neighborhood in search more. This, in addition to five previous trips to procure other missing ingredients, kept our canine companion from caring anymore about people coming and going. Her new post was the kitchen sink and tears of disappointment replaced barking long ago.
We were waaaaay beyond 25 minutes at this point.
Three hours later, ginormous bars (apparently, this is what happens when you double the pudding part) were served to all present. They were, in a word: delectable. My mother might have thought that no good ever came of baking, but I can assure you that No Bake Bars made with Justin’s All Natural Nut Butters are a necessary evil. Assemble your own crew (and DON’T follow directions) for added giggly goodness.
No Bake Bars
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light-colored corn syrup
2 cups peanut or almond butter
2 cups crisp rice cereal
3 cups cornflakes
1 ¼ cups butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 (4) serving size packages instant vanilla pudding & pie filling mix
¼ cup milk
1 (12 oz) package chocolate pieces
A) Line 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pan with foil over the edges of pan. Set aside.
B) In large saucepan, combine granulated sugar and corn syrup. Heat and stir just until mixture bubbles around edge. Heat and stir for one minute more. Remove from heat, stir in nut butter until melted. Stir in rice cereal and cornflakes until coated. Press mixture evenly in the bottom of pre-prepared baking pan.
C) For pudding layer, in a medium saucepan melt ¾ cup of the butter on medium heat. Remove pan from heat. Stir in powdered sugar, dry pudding mixes and milk. Spread pudding mixture over cereal layer and set aside.
D) For frosting, in a small saucepan combine chocolate pieces and the remaining ½ cup of butter. Heat and stir on low heat until melted. Spread frosting evenly over pudding layer. Cover and chill until set. Use foil to lift bars from pan. Cut into bars.
25 minutes start-to-finish. Makes 64 bars.
T. Katz, an absorbent observer whose views about human nature, current affairs and life in general go down well with a cup of tea or mug of strong coffee. Over time, she has collected stories and experiences from her time in television production, teaching piano, being a mom and just being related to some of the wackiest people on the planet — allowing them to brew and steep, until they are ready to be served… sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet and rarely, if ever, bitter. Tea with T. Katz [Facebook: T. Katz / Twitter: @TeaWithTKatz]
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