Growing up, August meant back-to-school shopping, both dreading and anxiously anticipating the start of another school year, and promise that the oppressive summers in Tennessee would break–even just a little–soon enough. Oh, and PB&J bars. Lots of PB&J bars.
My mom has a few recipes she’s returned to almost every single year, and these are one of them. A perfect take off of the classic last-minute sandwich, the bars are nutty and sweet, fruity and chewy, gooey and rich! No wonder we requested them each year.. and I even have memories of being sent a box or two during my undergrad years!
When I asked her to send me the recipe so I could make them myself, I discovered a dependable reader-submitted recipe from an 80s Southern Living cookbook.. so what does that mean? Definitely not vegan. Definitely not gluten-free. Definitely not remotely healthy. Loads of butter, loads of sugar, and an egg in there for good measure. So I decided to try my hand at healthifying these puppies up, so that when O and I have our own little family, we can continue on the tradition that my mom started.
In the meantime, we’re focused on eating entire pans of these without quite the guilt that accompanies the original recipe. Self-restraint was never either of our strong points.
These are perfect back-to-school treats for your little ones or heck, for yourself! You’ll love how gooey and fruity and peanut-buttery they are. And because they’re vegan, gluten free, and free of refined sugar, you’ll feel great about offering these as a little after-school treat!
If you’re not concerned as much about gluten and all of that, you can sub 3 cups regular bleached flour for the blended oatmeal, brown rice flour, almond meal, and chickpea flour. If you don’t care about dairy products, go ahead and use butter instead of Earth Balance. If you ARE vegan, use 1/2 cup agave nectar instead of 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup agave. I felt moved to use honey to play with the peanut butter, but we just happened to have some lying around.
I personally used a cherry jam I got from the Mediterranean market in our neighborhood, but a classic grape jelly would be so, so fun and delicious. Ultimately, you can use whatever you want or have on hand, including my famous blueberry chia jam! Either way, I hope you love them as much as I have for, dear God, over 20 years now. On second thought, it’s time to switch to a fully raw diet.. I am getting old, people!
PB&J Bars (GF, Vegan)
- 1 1/2 cups rolled oats , divided
- 1 cup brown rice flour
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1/2 cup chickpea flour
- 1/2 cup vegan butter spread , like Earth Balance*
- 2 flax eggs (mix 2 tablespoons freshly ground flaxseed meal with 6 tablespoons warm water and set aside til the consistency of a beaten egg)
- 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
- 1 cup jelly , your choice of flavor
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup sucanat or other unrefined dry sugar
- 1/4 cup honey (sub 1/4 cup agave if vegan)
- 1/4 cup agave nectar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Blitz 1 cup of rolled oats in food processor or blender until a fine powder. Combine flours, almond meal, rolled oats, oat powder, sucanat, baking powder, and pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Cut in butter and peanut butter until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Then add in liquid sweeteners (agave nectar and honey, or all agave), vanilla extract, and flax eggs and mix well.
Press 1/2 of mixture into a 13x9" pan that's been greased with coconut oil or butter. Spread jelly over peanut butter mixture then crumble the remaining peanut butter mixture over the jelly layer.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top begins to brown. Cool then cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.
Feel free to sub 3 cups flour for the cup of blitzed oatmeal (keep the other 1/2 cup of whole rolled oats), all brown rice flour, all almond meal, and all chickpea flour.
*Feel free to sub butter for the vegan butter spread.