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September 27, 2011

Peanut Butter & Dark Chocolate Shortbread Bars

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What???  Peanut Butter and Chocolate Shortbread Bars can be healthy?!?

Yes!  A butter-free "shortbread" crust comprised of whole grain oats, honey and natural protein powder ...  a soft PB filling that is to die for, using natural peanut butter ...  a delicious, thick dark chocolate peanutty layer to top it all off.

Are you salivating yet?

But you know me, it took a few trials to get these bars just right.  Ah, and so we begin:

Trial #1:
     When we're talkin peanut butter and chocolate, I don't think anyone could go wrong there  :)  Just because these bars were sticky and gooey, they were still mighty delicious!  These bars did not have a shortbread crust because I thought of adding it the second time around.  Oh, and clearly. . . there was not. enough. chocolate!

Trial #2:
     I was really surprised that the shortbread actually turned out like shortbread!  It was crumbly, just like real shortbread cookies are.  But, the crust came out thicker than I expected, almost as thick as the peanut butter filling!  In the next trial the shortbread crust recipe will be cut in half.
     As for the peanut butter filling, I was imagining a soft texture.  Unfortunately, it was hard, dry and crumbly. I think the dryness factor was because of the brown rice syrup, which is a lot thicker than honey, so in the next trial honey will be used instead.
     And finally, the chocolate topping.  It looked good, the texture was great, but the taste was awful--I used 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate mixed with 2 tbs of peanut butter and and 20 drops of stevia extract, and not even that could rid the bitterness from the chocolate!  Plus, right after making the bars, I remembered that I was using whey protein concentrate (a milk product) in the peanut butter filling, rendering the 100% cacao chocolate useless antioxidant-wise (read this post for more info on chocolate-antioxidant absorption).  So in the next trial, 60% cacao chocolate will be used for a much more pleasant taste.

Trial #3:
     YUMMM!  I don't think the word "delicious" can even begin to describe these cute little baby bites!  The "buttery" vanilla shortbread, the soft peanutty filling, the smooth chocolatey topping, mmmm. . . much better than the previous trials--no dryness, no bitterness, no sticky peanut butter layer!  Although (for some reason) while I halved the shortbread crust recipe, I didn't half the salt.  So, apart from the salty crust I made, I have no complaints!

Well, I might have one.  Dare I say, I think these bars had too much chocolate?


I heard you gasp!  But don't cover your ears screen, please!  Let me explain!  Even though the chocolate added a good bite to the bars, I felt it was too strong and detracted from the peanut butter flavor.  I think that the 4oz of chocolate I used should be reduced to 3oz, or maybe even 2oz?


Oh no, should I retract that statement?  Should I expect some hate mail from the chocolate-lovers out there?

No, I don't think I'll get hate mail.  These bars are just. too. good.
They have the perfect balance of flavors with optimum nutrition!

Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Shortbread Bars:  [no bake, high protein, GF, vegan]
(makes 9 big squares or 36 bites)

   Shortbread Crust:
       96g (1 cup) Old Fashioned Rolled Oats, blended to a flour (GF if you like)
        48g (1+1/2 scoops) Vanilla Protein Powder
        1/4 tsp Salt
        105g (5 tbs) Brown Rice Syrup
        28g (2 tbs) Coconut Oil
        1/2 tsp Hazelnut Extract (or vanilla)
        1/2 tsp Stevia Extract
        1/4 tsp Butter Extract

   Peanut Butter Filling:
        256g (1 cup) Natural Peanut Butter (no sugar/salt/oil added)
        189g (1/2 cup + 1 tbs) Honey or Agave
        1/2 tsp Stevia Extract
        96g (3 scoops) Vanilla Protein Powder

   Chocolate Topping:
        2-4oz 60% Cacao Chocolate (2oz if you like chocolate, 4oz if you love it to the point where you'd marry it)
        32g (2 tbs) Natural Peanut Butter (no sugar/salt/oil added)
        20 drops Stevia Extract

Directions (for the shortbread crust):
1.  Line a square brownie pan with parchment paper both ways for easy removal later.
2.  Mix together the blended oats, protein powder and salt, then add in the brown rice syrup, coconut oil and extracts.  Stir until everything is incorporated and even (you can use a hand mixer and a large bowl if you like)
3.  Press the mixture down into the brownie pan until every corner is even in height.  This batter makes just enough to fit the bottom of the pan.  Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, or until firm and dry.

Directions (for the peanut butter filling):
1.  In a large bowl, add the peanut butter, honey/agave and stevia extract and stir.  Add in the protein powder and pinch of salt and stir until combined (you can use a hand mixer for this too).  It should look like a big, soft blob of peanut butter play-doh.
2.  Press this onto the shortbread crust until even in height.  I would suggest using a pastry roller if you have one, but I used a rubber spatula.  Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, or until firm.

Directions (for the chocolate topping):
1.  Break up the chocolate into pieces, and microwave at thirty second intervals until melted.
2.  Add the peanut butter and stir in until melted and incorporated.
3.  Add the stevia extract five drops at a time, stirring after every 5 drops.
4.  Pour the mixture over the peanut butter layer (if the chocolate is too hot, let it cool a little bit) and spread until even.  Refrigerate until the chocolate has just barely hardened, then take it out and slice (this allows the chocolate so slice in nice lines rather than break, which happened to me because I refrigerated it overnight and then sliced them).  Store in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap.
5.  To serve, take out of the refrigerator to soften for 10 minutes, EAT!

These are best eaten close to room temp.  The fork slides easily into the bar and you get all three flavors in one scrumptious bite!  When they are eaten right out of the fridge, the layers will separate on you . . . it's not like I know that from copious experience or anything, because I'm super patient  ...  that was sarcasm.

Mmmm . . . deliciousness!   "I'll just have one more" you say.

Oh, those famous last words . . .


  1. I am making these first thing tomorrow. YUM!

  2. Just found your blog through foodgawker and I love it! As soon as I saw 'peanut butter and chocolate bars' and 'healthy' in the same description, I knew that I had to check it out. I'm hoping to make these this weekend. They look fantastic! Also love the Maple Oat Petit Fours. Keep up with the blogging, I'll be back for more :)

  3. Wow just found you b/c Emma/Sweettooth linked both of our recipes in her post and holy moly woman, these look amazing.

    I love all the trials and errors and your thoughts about what you did & changed & tweaked. I love the backstory on recipes.

    And the choc layer is SO SMOOTH. What tool do you use to spread it? My chocolate no matter what I do is NEVER that smooth!

  4. Averie,
    Thank you so much! They tasted amazing ;)
    I melted the chocolate in a bowl at 30 second intervals until it was all shiny and smooth, then I just poured it over top of the peanut butter layer. I used a rubber spatula to push it out to the corners, but sometimes I just jiggle the pan until it spreads out itself. I guess it also depends on what chocolate you use (I used Ghirardelli). Hope this helped!

  5. Ok yes very helpful! So you use regular chocolate that you melt, i.e Ghirardelli. I usually melt choc chips and I think the stabilizers in the choc chips render an un-smooth application. That or all the powdered sugar I add to the frosting/chocolate layer of most of my bars...haha!

  6. Haha! Yes, I find chocolate bars easier to measure than chocolate chips, and they also reduce the snacking-on-chocolate-while-cooking habit ;)

  7. Looks like an excellent recipe, I will try it out as soon as possible. I like the the scientific approach to the way the recipe was developed,together with peanut butter and choc-yum!

  8. If I were just using regular flour how much would I use (aka how much flour does one cup of rolled oats typically yield)???

  9. Jillian,
    I didn't measure the oat flour, but I think it would amount to about 1/2 cup to a 3/4 cup. Try adding 1/2 cup of oat flour first, and if the dough is too sticky, add one more tablespoon at a time.

  10. Do you know what happens to whey protein when it is baked? Or exposed to heat for that matter? I'm experimenting with some existing dessert recipes and I know this one is no-bake, but I thought you might be the person to know.

  11. Anonymous,
    Protein powders can be baked into bread-like things. I guess you can say they act like a flour? It depends on what brand you use, but in my experience, the texture of an all-protein-powder baked good has never been great and the taste was always plain. That's why I only use it as an additive to my baked goods rather than it being the sole source of "flour." To see what I'm talking about, microwave one scoop of protein powder with 1/2-3/4 cup of milk (or nondairy milk) for about a minute, or just until it's cooked all the way through. I did this in a mug, and I did not get a pleasant result. I hope you do, though!

  12. Thanks for the recipe. Just made it, can't wait to sample it ;-)

  13. 3rd time is a charm right?! Looks pretty delicious to me!

  14. Do you have any calorie/protein information for these bars?! They look delicious!!

  15. Anonymous,

    As for calories, one bar will be around 492 calories if you make nine total. If you make the mini bites (cut each of the nine bars into quarters) it will be 123 calories per bite.

    As for protein, one bar (if you make nine) will have 21.1g protein (whoa!), and one bite (if you make 36) will have 5.2g protein.

    Keep in mind that we may have different oats, or peanut butter and protein powder, so give or take on the cals and protein levels. Just to note, don't be afraid of the calorie amount--although these bars are delicious, they are very rich and one bar is plenty (and not to mention filling from the healthy fats, fiber and protein!).
    Hope this helps!


  16. Great, thanks for the info I can't wait to try them!

  17. I really hit the jackpot finding this recipe! First of all - your photos made me want to make them right away! Great job on the photos! Your directions are superb and made my batch I made last week come out perfect! They are SO addicting, that's the only down side!

  18. I'm so glad you liked it, Chloe! :)

  19. These look so wonderful. Who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter?? I can't wait to try this recipe, but I do fear I will not stop eating them with just one...however - the protein level is good, so that makes me feel good about it.

  20. Hi, I noticed that you put protein powder in a lot of your recipes. why is that? and also, if I dont have it on hand, can I leave it out?

    1. Hi Andrea, I use protein powder in my dessert recipes because I try to make my desserts "nutritionally balanced" (with healthy fats, slow digesting carbs, fiber and protein) so they can be enjoyed as an everyday snack or meal, rather than a once in a while treat.
      As for omitting the protein powder, it really depends on the recipe, but in recipes like this I would strongly recommend keeping it in. The protein powder adds taste, texture and substance. Without it, it would just be goo.
      If you are looking for a protein powder, check out my pantry staples tab (at the top of the page under the header). I would recommend using whey protein powder, such as jay robb or optimum nutrition brand, as your first choice option. If you have allergies or dietary restrictions, then use Sun Warrior brand, just note that you may need to adjust the amount of honey you use.

    2. Alright, thank you very much Jessica! I will definitely be trying some recipes out. They all look very good:)

  21. Have you ever tried baking with non-fat dried milk powder in place of the protein powder? do you think that would work?

    1. I've used dried milk powder in a few recipes of mine, but not as much as protein powder. I find that it has many of the same qualities when it comes to no-bake treats, such as these bars, but I haven't had much luck using it in baked goods (it dissolves very fast and doesn't provide structure like protein powder).

      If you want to use dried milk in this recipe, you probably can (I haven't tried it though), just note that it will provide a strong flavor. Be sure to add some vanilla extract too! :)

  22. thanks for sharing.

  23. I'm sp glad I found you! You must have posted this to Tropical Tradition's recipe site because I first saw it there and LOVE it! I also make it using 1/2 almond butter and 1/2 coconut butter instead of PB.

    1. Yeah, I did post to TT's site! And using almond butter and coconut butter sounds so good, I definitely need to try that :) I'm glad you like the bars!


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