Chocolate Peanut Butter Bran Buddy Bars—Prototype 5:

While Prototype 4 had a decent taste, its single-mixture appearance might have been too mysterious for some. So it's back to the two-layered approach, but with some major changes: The peanut butter goes to the bottom, and the chocolate (all of it!) goes to the top. And baking (!) is added as well.

First, the crust. Start with the first 8-oz. package of the softened cream cheese and blend it with the 4 oz. of creamy peanut butter, the 1 tbsp. of skim milk, the 1/2 package (i.e., 8.8 oz.) of Bran Buds, finely ground, and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Press it all into a 13" x 9" pan (lined with wax paper).

Then bake this crust at 350 degrees (preheat the oven first) for 10 minutes.

Next comes the filling, a blend of the second 8-oz. package of the softened cream cheese, the entire 12 oz. of melted, semi-sweet chocolate, the 2 teaspoons of vanilla and 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. of the sugar.

Spread this filling evenly onto the crust in the pan (cooling it off first is not necessary, and was largely skipped here).

Then return the pan to the 350-degree oven for another 10 minutes. Remove and let cool afterward, for about an hour, then place into refrigerator, and let the recipe firm up there before cutting into squares.

One of the challenges was deciding how much of the recipe's total sugar to allocate to the crust, which was initially going to contain only the peanut butter and the ground Bran Buds, along with the crust's small share of the sugar. However, this mixture was determined to be way too dry. Ultimately, some of the cream cheese (likely all of which was originally planned to be allocated to the filling) was gradually added to get the moisture up. And this was done, unfortunately, after the peanut butter and the Bran Buds powder got mixed together earlier. So blending in the cream cheese was difficult. Some heating assistance was needed, therefore the mixture got a little "microwaving" in order make the cream cheese hopefully more workable. The milk, originally planned for the filling on top, also got switched to the crust on the bottom in order to contribute to the moisture.

So the filling got "robbed" of all of its milk, half of its cream cheese, plus some of its initial share of the sugar (to compensate for the cream cheese shift) in order to "pay" the "thirsty" crust. To bake this crust was also a late decision, in hopes of possibly enhancing the blend for a better firmness, in light of the cream cheese's late addition (and therefore difficulties in blending) to the crust. The filling's stiffness led to the additional baking (in hopes of the filling evening out more).

It should also be noted here that the peanut butter used in this prototype was unsalted (salted varieties were likely used in at least some of the earlier prototypes).

The result of all this is a lightly-colored crust on the bottom, along with dark-colored filling on top, in keeping with the looks of many popular, square-shaped, baked goods. Furthermore, the peanut butter's light, brown color matches the crust exclusively containing it. And the filling's dark, brown color does a good job of reflecting the chocolate solely allocated to this upper layer.

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