With my wedding plans well under way, in addition to an upcoming engagement party and the fiance's big 3-0, let's just say I've been in full on entertaining mode. The internet has been a fabulous (if not overwhelming) source of creativity. With all the extra inspiration coming my way however, I feel the need to harness the overload of ideas into a few solid hostess home runs.
I've always loved the idea of a themed dessert bar for a party. For my own, I thought it would be fun to create the "ultimate snack bar," featuring homemade versions of all my store-bought junk food favorites—think ding dongs, cereal bars, twinkies and whatever other whacky gas station goods I can think of.
I was hashing the idea out with a coworker and she demanded I make her Nutty Bars, a Lil' Debbie snack I had all but forgotten about. Feeling nostalgic, I stopped by the grocery store on the way home just to snag a box. It had probably been 15 years since I'd last tasted a Nutty Bar and one bite took me right back to childhood. I flipped over the carton to check out the nutritional info; let's just say I didn't make it to bite number two. I practically needed a chemistry textbook to decipher the ingredient list!
Despite the onslaught of preservatives, the flavors are simple: chocolate, peanut butter, and sweet wafer. I figured I could handle the task. I had planned on making homemade wafers from scratch, but a little research made me realize it would overcomplicate my whole concept. I remembered seeing recipes floating around the web for a spin on toffee using matzo crackers; I wondered if they could work for my Nutty Bars? (Full disclosure—this was the first time I'd ever seen or tasted a matzo cracker in person. It's just not something that shows up very often in a Southern kitchen.) The crackers sure didn't taste like much, but then again neither do plain wafers, so my plan was still on.
Three ingredients and a *heap* of cracker crumbs later, I had homemade Nutty Bars that would make the "real thing" run for the hills. These crispy treats taste of good quality chocolate, creamy peanut butter and nothing else. Make these today and remember your childhood—without the plastic wrappers or the guilt.
(Readers, if anybody has a good method for breaking/cutting matzo sheets into even pieces, please let me know in the comments section. I have a feeling mine is not the most efficient method!)
Homemade Nutty Bars
Makes approximately 8 bars
plain, thin matzo sheets
creamy peanut butter
good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Gently break the matzo sheets into 4 long pieces, then split each of those pieces in half cross-wise. (In a perfect world you'd get 8 even sections from 1 matzo sheet. I am not so lucky and shattered many pieces of matzo to get all my rectangles. Good thing I have a new recipe for Matzo Brei, which I'll be having for breakfast tomorrow.) Arrange similar sizes of rectangles into stacks of three. (I made 8 stacks.)
Heat the peanut butter for a few seconds so that it is spreadable but not runny (if you overheat it, allow to cool a bit before moving forward). Have a 3-stack of matzo rectangles ready. Using a knife or off-set spatula, smooth a layer of peanut butter on one cracker, add another cracker, another layer of peanut butter, and top with the third cracker. Place the stack on a parchment-lined sheet pan and continue with the remaining crackers.
In the bowl of a double boiler (or in the microwave on medium power), melt the chocolate until smooth and glossy. Use a pastry brush or off-set spatula to smooth a thin layer of chocolate over the top and around the sides of the stacks. If desired, draw a waffle pattern across the top of the bars using a toothpick. Chill the bars until the chocolate has hardened, at least 30 minutes. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Related: Do You Have a Secret Food?
(Images: Nealey Dozier)