- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Without a doubt, my daughters’ favorite recipe to bake for their classmates and to serve at holiday parties is peanut butter chocolate bars.

The page that holds this recipe in my book “The Cake Mix Doctor” is dog-eared and weathered by now because it has been turned to so many times by busy cooks in need of something delicious.

What makes this recipe so appealing — in addition to the irresistible combination of peanut butter and chocolate — is that it is based on pantry staples. As long as we have a can of sweetened condensed milk, some peanut butter, chocolate chips and a box of yellow cake mix, we’re set to bake.

The original recipe includes chopped pecans and shredded coconut, and I love it with all those goodies inside, but my girls prefer the bars without the nuts and coconut.

Creamy peanut butter or chunky — the choice is yours. Cut the batch into bite-size pieces and pair them with traditional sugar cookies and other holiday treats when friends come to visit this season.

Five time-shaving food gifts from your kitchen

When you haven’t the time to bake a loaf of bread or make a batch of cookies, here are some quick food gifts you can grab and take along to friends:

• Drizzle walnut or pecan halves with a little olive oil or melted butter and roast at 350 degrees until golden brown. Lightly salt and package in clear cellophane bags with a pretty ribbon.

• Place a bay leaf and a couple of dried hot peppers in pretty, clean bottles and pour in good olive oil. Place the stopper or top on the bottle and attach a gift tag.

• Assemble packets of cocoa mix and hot spice tea mix in a nice basket. Add a lemon and an orange, some nice tea biscuits and perhaps a pair of pretty mugs. Wrap the entire basket in clear cellophane and add a holiday bow.

• Buy a loaf of good bread from the bakery and place it on top of a nice new cutting board for a friend. Decorate with a simple raffia bow and a gift tag.

• Who can resist chocolate? Fill an inexpensive candy dish or canister with the chocolates of your choice. Decorate with a chocolate-brown bow.

Peanut butter chocolate bars

The preparation time is 20 minutes, and the baking time is 25 minutes.

1 18.25-ounce package plain yellow cake mix

1 cup smooth peanut butter

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

2 large eggs

1 12-ounce or 2-cup package semisweet chocolate chips

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons butter, optional

1 cup shredded coconut, optional

1 cup finely chopped pecans, optional

2 teaspoons vanilla

Set aside an ungreased 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

Place cake mix, peanut butter, melted butter and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down side of bowl with a rubber spatula. Mixture will be thick. Reserve 1 cup for topping. Transfer remaining crust mixture to pan. Using your fingertips, press crust evenly over bottom of pan so that it reaches all sides. Set aside.

To make the filling, place chocolate chips, condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter, if desired, in a medium-size heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir and cook until chocolate is melted and mixture is well-combined, 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and stir in coconut and pecans, if desired, and vanilla. Pour chocolate mixture over crust and spread it evenly with the rubber spatula so that it reaches sides of pan. Using your fingertips, crumble reserved crust and scatter it in pieces over chocolate.

Place pan on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven. Bake cake until top is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove pan from oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Cut cake into 24 bars. Remove bars from pan and cut them in half again, if desired. Makes 24 to 48 servings.


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