For me, a former child of the Midwest, the recipes in Amy Thielen's The New Midwestern Table are like culinary flashbacks to being an 8-year-old, so blogging about this recipe feels a lot like sharing a favorite children's book. Writes Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt, "Believing that the best, most iconic dishes are passed down hand to hand, generation to generation, she’s collected 200 recipes that celebrate the regional traditions that waves of immigrants have brought, and still bring, to the American heartland."
Peanut Maple Fudge Bars
Desserts made to resemble candy bars are very popular here in the rural Midwest, and when the candy bars being emulated come from the Pearson Candy Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, that’s when I join in. Pearson is a company that built its reputation on high-quality nuts and winning, no-nonsense combinations. The Nut Goodie bar, for example, which debuted in 1912, is still a marvel: a thick peanut butter–infused layer of chocolate enrobing a maple fudge filling dotted with fresh peanuts. The only thing I added was a chocolate shortbread base, to facilitate lifting and handling. I stuck with a simple maple fudge made with sweetened condensed milk (the candy-maker’s friend), softened with a lump of cream cheese. The base is the only thing that requires baking; the rest is just a matter of chilling and layering. I cut these smaller than other bars because they’re so rich.
Makes 25 small bars
- ¾ cup flour
- ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) melted salted butter plus
- 6 tablespoons (¾ stick)
- 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- ½ cup smooth peanut butter
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter
- ²?³ cup sweetened condensed milk
- ¾ cup maple syrup
- 1 cup (lightly packed) light brown sugar
- ¹?8 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons cream cheese
- ¾ cup lightly salted roasted peanuts
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper, leaving at least 3 inches overhanging on all sides.
For the base, mix together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly until you have a soft dough. Break the dough into small pebbles and spread it evenly in the bottom of the lined baking pan, then gently press the dough into the pan in an even layer. Bake until it turns a shake darker, 15 minutes.
Let base cool a bit. Meanwhile, make the chocolate layer: Put the chocolate in the top of a double boiler, or in a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Add the peanut butter and heat gently until melted and combined, stirring occasionally.
Pour ½ cup of the warm melted chocolate mixture over the baked base, and spread it out evenly. Refrigerate until set.
Reserve the remaining chocolate mixture on top of the stove while you prepare the maple filling.
For the maple filling, melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the sweetened condensed milk, maple syrup, brown sugar, and salt and bring to a simmer. Boil softly, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until the mixture reaches the firm ball stage, or 245ºF on a candy thermometer. (Gauge the doneness using the cold-water test: Fill a bowl with very cold water and drop about ½ teaspoon of the mixture into it. If it forms a soft ball that you can easily pick up, it’s ready.)
Fill a sink with at least 6 inches of cold water, and set the saucepan into it (making sure not to slosh water into the fudge).
Stir constantly with a sharp-edged wooden spoon, scraping down the sides of the pot, until the mixture starts to turn granular, about 5 minutes. When it starts to look like beach sand and becomes increasingly hard to stir, remove the pan from the water and add the cream cheese. Stir, scraping the sides, until the mixture is smooth and light.
Immediately spread the maple filling in an even layer over the cooled chocolate layer. Scatter the peanuts on top and press them very lightly into the maple filling. Gently heat the remaining chocolate mixture to return it to a liquid state. Drop the chocolate from the side of a rubber spatula onto the maple layer, making wide swipes across the peanuts, taking care to cover them completely.
Return the baking pan to the refrigerator and chill until completely set, about 4 hours. Cut into small bars.