When it comes to American icons, PB&J should be listed up there with Apple Pie and Baseball. Peanut butter and jelly was, after all, a staple for service members in World War II. American children of all ages enjoyed and often depended on PB&J as a meal long before Smucker’s Uncrustables were a thing.
the evolution of the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
We don’t know who invented the first peanut butter & jelly sandwich, but Julia Davis Chandler is credited with the first recipe printed in 1901 in the Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches grew in popularity throughout the Great Depression. Peanut butter was beneficial as an inexpensive source of protein for Americans trying to survive hard times.
World War II played a significant role in the popularity of PB&J. The U.S. Military listed peanut butter and Grapelade (like marmalade) on their rations menus from 1941-to 1945. Service members from World War I were already familiar with “Grapelade.” Paul Welch crafted the jelly made of Concord grapes in 1917, and it was distributed to the American military during the first world war. U.S. troops in WWII found their peanut butter rations much more appealing covered in the grape jelly.
When the war was over, service members craved their PB&J concoction, and sales for the ingredients skyrocketed in the late 40s.¹ Now, we have evidence showing the average American consumes 3,000 PB&J sandwiches in their lifetime.² Need I say more?
PB&J sandwiches are maybe not the healthiest, but they sure are wonderful. I like to make mine with toasted bread filled with a nice blend of creamy and chunky peanut butter (I know, it’s tedious), and seedless blackberry jam. Strawberry jam is good too, but blackberry jam is the bomb dot com!
Do you know what’s even better?
As one friend says, “they make you lose all sense of self-control!” I developed the recipe with my ideal PB&J sandwich in mind. Salty, chunky, peanut butter cookie with blackberry jam inside. Feel free to use your favorite jam, though. I’ve made this recipe with strawberry jam and the result is equally as incredible. I’m also planning to test out a batch of almond butter bars, so stay tuned!
Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F and lining a 9″x13″ baking pan with parchment paper. The parchment paper helps the bars release from the pan easier.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy.
Add peanut butter, vanilla, and eggs; beat well after each addition. It takes about 15-20 seconds for each egg to mix into the dough.
Fold the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) into the mix in three or four additions (it helps keep the flour in the bowl and off the countertop when you’re mixing).
Divide the dough into 1/3 and 2/3 portions. Set 1/3 aside and press 2/3 into the parchment-lined baking dish.
Bake the first layer of dough for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F. When I left this step out, I found it takes much longer for the bars to cook all the way through.
While you wait, crush the peanuts in a plastic bag with something hard and sturdy. I like to use my marble rolling pin, but a peanut butter jar works pretty well too. The advantage of using a heavy object like a marble rolling pin is you pretty much just roll over the nuts and…Voilà! They’re crushed!
Once the 15 minutes of baking is up, remove the baking dish from the oven and place it on a cooling rack or hot pad. Pour jam over the dough and spread evenly–stopping just before the jam hits the edge. If it gets too close to the edge, the jam often oozes out the sides and burns during the baking.
Finish by crumbling the remaining 1/3 of the dough in little chunks atop the jam, and sprinkle with crushed peanuts.
Bake for another 25-30 minutes or until golden brown, rotating and checking after 15 minutes. Make sure the peanuts don’t start to burn. If the peanuts are getting too brown, you can cover with aluminum foil to finish the bake.
Let the bars cool to room temperature before serving.
These PB&J bars are hefty but oh-so-GOOD!! They’re perfect for cheering any back-to-school or back-to-work blues. Send them in a care package to a college student or deployed service member. PB&J bars beat the MREs and chow hall meals, any day! When my husband and I were living long-distance, I sent a batch of these cut in small squares for him to snack. He was overjoyed!
If you have a preferred way of making a PB&J sandwich or if you made the recipe and enjoyed it, let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
- 2 1/2 C. Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup plant-based butter
- 1 1/2 cups raw granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 16 oz jar natural, smooth peanut butter
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups fruit jam (blackberry or strawberry are my top choices)
- 1/3 C. salted peanuts
- Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9”x13” pan with parchment paper and trim edges if they reach over the top of the pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes at medium-high speed).
- Add peanut butter, vanilla, and eggs, beating well after each addition. It takes about 15-20 seconds for each egg to mix into the dough.
- Fold remaining dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture in three or four additions. Be careful not to over stir.
- Separate dough into 1/3 and 2/3 sections. Press 2/3 of the dough into prepared 9”x13” pan.
- Bake first layer at 350 degrees F for 15 min.
- While the dough bakes, crush peanuts in a plastic bag with something hard and sturdy like a rolling pin.
- Remove first layer from the oven. Spread jam evenly over the dough and crumble the remaining 1/3 of the dough over top.
- After the 15 min., sprinkle crushed peanuts evenly over PB&J bars and allow to cook for 20-25 more min. or until golden brown.