My friend Katy and I are avid bakers. We love to dazzle our friends with tempting treats and decadent creations. We work together, but occupy completely opposite sides of our office. These sides of the office have completely separate pantries that are a great distance apart. So naturally we were never aware of the other’s baking prowess because we always displayed our goods to the staff in our own pantries. Basically, each of us thought we were the soul queen of the baked goods for our office until we collided with brute force over baking for a friend’s birthday. What was initially a rivalry of Trump-Rosie proportions quickly evolved into a friendship that revolves around tips of the trade and baking secrets. “Have you tried this recipe? It’s fantastic” “Oh, you fill your cupcakes like that? Okay” or “I usually pipe my frosting this way, but that works.” Things of this nature.
Our mutual love of baking (and, I’m sure, an inherent need to out-do the other in the kitchen) promted us to have a day where we concocted something together. We each had something to bring to the table besides our mad baking skills — Katy, a Kitchen-Aid mixer (jealous!). Me — a larger kitchen. So we gathered some friends and met for a little pre-baking brunch and shopping on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. Our battle of the bakers gained some much needed merit and purpose, other than self-glorification, when we realized that the Susan G. Komen Bake for Hope bake sale was scheduled for the very same weekend. What timing! Now we could feel guilt-free about whipping up dozens of delicious baked goods for no reason but to admire and eat them. It saved us many calories and gave us that warm, satisfied feeling that goes along with doing good.
After a quick trip to the store for some essentials we were ready for our day of baking. Both of the recipes we decided on we from my favorite little cookie Bible, Martha Stewart’s Cookies. I’d always wanted to try out the Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars. So we settled on those in addition to her Magic Blondies, which are magical indeed. They are like brownies, posing as blondies, disguised as cupcakes and studded with delicious surprises like chocolate chips, dried cranberries, coconut flakes, and walnuts. We were quite sure these treats would be flying off that bake sale table — and all for a good cause!
Katy and I tackled the Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars first. The process began with usual creaming of butter and sugar in my trusty Sunbeam stand mixer. It’s no Kitchen-Aid, but it gets the job done. Unless you look away for a second and your spatula gets lost in the spinning bowl and suffers a tragic fate twisted up in the two rapidly twisting beaters. This is not pretty. It’s best to keep your eyes and hands on the bowl at all times.
The dough for the PB&J bars is rich, dense, and peanutty. It calls for 2 1/2 cups of peanut butter! That’s a lot, especially when you have to scoop it all out of the jar and smear it into the cup. Thankfully, my friend Nicole took care of that step. This is a versatile dough because it serves as both the brownie-like base of the bars as well as the crumb-like topping. Sandwiched between these two already scrumptious layers? Strawberry jam. Yes, please.
With the dough evenly smooshed into the pan and the jam generously spread, the crumbly bits of back-up dough get sprinkled on top along with chopped peanuts for a finishing touch. These bars bake for a surprisingly long time (almost an hour). Definitely do as clever Martha says and cover them loosely with foil for the last few minutes so your crumbly bits don’t burn. The finished product was absolutely gorgeous, gooey, sticky, and nutty.
The Magic Blondies didn’t turn out so bad either. Turns out group baking is kind of tricky — did you put the salt in already? How much vanilla was that? This can be a recipe for disaster. So we split up the duties. My friends Nicole and Jackie took the lead on the blondies. Apparently I can be a little bossy in the kitchen (who knew? Oh, everyone. I see.) After informing me I was treating them like interns, I stepped back and let the magic happen. They did a fantastic job if this photo has anything to say about it…
Magic indeed. With our day of baking coming to a close, we wrapped up our treats in cellophane bags and plastic wrap and tied them off with a flourish of appropriately-pink ribbon. As for us rival bakers — our wits were matched, our treats were baked, and our friendships strengthened by a little healthy competition.