I don’t think too many people crave cafeteria food from their youth. Right? I have been in more than one conversation happily reminiscing over rectangular pizza that fit the entire width of the portioned tray, but that in no way inspired me to re-create the floppy pizza squares of my youth. But these peanut butter blondies? These stuck with me. I’ve finally brought them home.
The “PB Brownies,” as they were known on the lunch menu, were dense, extremely peanut buttery bricks with a thick coating of peanut butter frosting. They weighed a TON, they were sweet, they were HUGE. The lunch crew would cut them into 4×4 inch slabs and you could buy extras for 50 cents. I was typically a lunch packer, rarely moving through the hot-lunch line, but when it was PB Brownie day….I was all over it. I would buy an extra at the end of lunch and savor it in that cold, loud cafeteria. A little moment of sugary peanut buttery bliss in the middle of the school day.
More years ago than I would care to admit, after indulging in one of the dense, frosting-laden PB Brownies, I managed to get my hands on the actual recipe. From the cafeteria! My 17 year old self had a paper copy that an office worker (who shared my love for the treats) had swindled. It was for an entire sheet pan (so huge, cafeteria sized) of the brownies. I don’t remember making them at home, but I do remember unfolding the sheet of paper (why I decided to hold onto this old photocopy instead of typing it out and saving it somewhere it could maybe, possibly be kept is beyond me) in college a few years later and attempting to make them in our college kitchen. What resulted was most likely based on poor math on my part, trying to cut the recipe down by a third. I had greasy, dense (but not in a good way) brownies, and soupy frosting. It appeared as though PB Brownies were simply meant to live on in the cafeteria, and nowhere else.
Cut to a few years ago, when I found myself on the hunt for the recipe once again. I scoured Pinterest, trying to sift through the chocolate brownies with peanut butter frosting– which most commonly came up in search results. I tried a few recipes, many which included oats– and that wasn’t what I was looking for at all. They were all dry and lacking the chew that the brownies from the cafeteria coveted. I ended up clicking on a super old food blog that hadn’t been updated in years, outlining what I believe was a similar recipe, although it made no mention of the PB Brownies from central Indiana cafeterias in the late nineties.
I took that recipe and tweaked it a bit to lighten the load. I no longer craved the greasy heavy bricks my high school metabolism loved. I wanted something a little lighter, with fluffy peanut butter frosting made with real butter– not Crisco. Baking Powder added to the mix allowed for some rise in the oven and less brick-like texture. A fluffier, lighter frosting in a thinner layer helped too. A sprinkle of salt and choosing to cut the brownies into small 2×2 inch squares sealed the deal. The PB Brownies of my youth had grown up.
Salted Peanut Butter Brownies
Makes one 9×13 inch tray
For the Blondies
2 sticks unsalted butter
1.5 C creamy peanut butter
1.5 C granulated sugar
1/2 C light brown sugar
2 C All Purpose Flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
For the Frosting
3/4 C Creamy Peanut Butter
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of table salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 C Powdered Sugar
1/4 C heavy cream
Maldon Sea Salt
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Spray a straight sided 9×13 baking pan with nonstick spray. Make a foil sling and place inside baking pan. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter and peanut butter together until combined. Set aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together both sugars. Add melted butter and peanut butter mixture and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Add one egg at a time and stir until combined. Add in vanilla.
In a separate small bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Add to butter and sugar mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until combined and no streaks of flour remain.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is brown, and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix peanut butter and butter on medium speed until combined. Add vanilla and salt and continue mixing on medium speed until creamy, stopping to scrape the bowl at least once. Slowly add powdered sugar and continue mixing until fully incorporated. Finally, add heavy cream and increase speed to medium high, whipping until fluffy and delicious.
Remove blondies from pan using foil sling. Evenly spread frosting over the top, and sprinkle with sea salt. Cut into small squares and serve! Just TRY to only eat one!