Cakes / Cupcakes / Brownies Desserts

whole-wheat chocolate “PB & J” brownies (or two-layer cake)

PB&J in a whole new way ::::

“I just don’t like frosting,” I remarked offhandedly. I was sitting with a group of friends at a birthday party.

Eyes in the room turned toward me. Some guests averted their eyes and stuffed their faces with more sheet cake, forks piled high with Crisco-based frosting, fingers greasy.

“It has to be good frosting,” I started. “Without the fake Baker’s Butter. Or the shortening.” Blank stares.

You see, I was spoiled, working in a restaurant in high school. I learned how to make buttercream. Real buttercream, with lots of butter, not that barely palatable sweet paste I’d find my friends getting sugar highs on at birthday parties as kids. And I learned to make cream cheese frosting with freshly made cream cheese. When I looked into the glazed eyes of my friends at the more recent party, it dawned on me that many people don’t realize what good frosting really is because they’ve never had it nor do they know how it is made.

But what is this frosting without the vehicle with which to drive it into my mouth? Still good, but even better with a platform of chocolate. Since peanut butter and chocolate complement each other so well and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (mine toasted, please) are a classic, I thought putting them all together could work even better. Peanut butter frosting, chocolate brownie, tart currants: “excellent, Smithers.”


It is law, somewhere, that when expensive high-end chocolate goes on sale, one must buy it. I complied by purchasing two bags. Civic duty fulfilled, thank you. Here is where my mission to reinvent the brownie began.

Trial One: The only place I could find any currants was Whole Foods. They did not have the true black currant (berries of the Ribes  genus) but dried Zante currants (Vitis vinifera), actually small, seedless black grapes. Not what I had planned but useable. Once again, the United States has shunned a once popular food. Grapes have won out too many times! Bring back the black currant!


I noticed something while ambling over to purchase my currants. A price reduction. The same brand of ice cream is cheaper at Whole Foods than at the “conventional” grocery store: a sign that the Apocalypse is coming soon. As such, it was imperative that I finish my brownies not only for the blog but also in the event of needing to shuttle some more chocolate up to Heaven (I mean, it is  Heaven. Chocolate’s gotta be there, along with bergamot.)
My first trial with just the Zante currants produced a wonderful brownie — but not enough of the grape jelly tartness I envisioned. Trial One brownies were a big hit with Eat’s workmates, just expecting a typical brownie. Sweet, dried currants just don’t translate into the tart, fresh currant flavor I love. Truth be told, raisins are an excellent substitute for the Zante currants, and less expensive. If you’re trying feed more fruit to your family, enveloping it in a fudgy, chocolatey brownie is a perfect way to hide it. (Prunes work here too, much to my family’s dismay.)
Trial Two: Mission Tartness. After irritably shuffling around my pantry, nibbling on chocolate chips, I had an idea. Mixing dried cranberries with the currants were the answer. Since I didn’t want to overpower the chocolate with cranberry chunks, I chopped them to match the size of the dried currants. The goal of this recipe for me is to appreciate each part: the sweet and bitter of the chocolate, the tart of the “jelly”, the tangy of the cream cheese, and the subtle saltiness and nuttiness of the “peanut butter.”

Only it still  didn’t give me the perfect “jelly” tang I wanted. So, you ask, why didn’t I just use jelly to start? Too messy. I couldn’t figure out how to neatly incorporate the peanut butter frosting and jelly together. Topping the brownie with both was too tenuous. Trying to put the jelly inside the brownie was too messy and reminded me of a jelly doughnut. So another trial was due.

Trial Three: Jelly too messy in a brownie? Let’s make a cake! I made a double recipe of the brownie recipe below in two 9-inch diameter pans and made a double recipe of the peanut butter frosting. I spread a thin layer of raspberry jelly (couldn’t bring myself to buy the grape jelly) between the two cake layers, then topped this with the peanut butter frosting. Again, not quite tangy enough but it made for a beautiful cake.


The verdict: I didn’t achieve my “jelly” exactly and I’m still on a crusade to find true currants to use instead. If using raspberry jam in between the cake layers for an obvious fruity flavor, I’d use more next time. Without the currants or just a tad of jam, the brownie is still top notch. The whole wheat pastry flour: not gritty, not heavy, brownie perfection. (You can’t tell the difference between whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose white flour.) The peanut butter frosting: to die for. Now, to send some of these brownies to those judgmental friends from the birthday party….their idea of frosting will change completely.


whole-wheat chocolate "PB & J" brownies (or two-layer cake)
Recipe type: dessert
  • 1½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (124 grams) (This can be replaced with all-purpose flour at a 1:1 ratio)
  • 1½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (a mix of semi-sweet chips and bittersweet work here too)
  • 2 ounces dried black or red currants
  • 2 ounces finely chopped dried cranberries
  • ⅔ cup (45 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup 2% warm milk
  • Peanut butter cream cheese frosting (recipe below in Notes section)
  • ⅛ cup raspberry jam (If making a two-layer cake.)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8 x 8-inch or 9 x 9-inch pan. If making a cake: make a double recipe and use two oiled 9-inch diameter pans.
  2. Mix sugar, salt, and flour together.
  3. Melt ½ of chocolate chips and all of the butter together. Whisk in cocoa.
  4. Whisk together eggs, vanilla, and milk. Add to chocolate and and cocoa mixture and mix well.
  5. Fold in flour mixture, then mix in remaining chocolate chips, all of black currants and cranberries. This mixture will have a pudding like consistency.
  6. Pour into prepared pan.
  7. Bake 37-39 minutes. If using a 9 x 9-inch pan, bake 35 minutes. Toothpick will come out with cakey bits, but crumbs will not look raw. Cool completely before frosting. Cool completely? I know! They're brownies! Try. The cake will feed a crowd. It's very rich and dense, so slice thinly and relish each bite.
Peanut butter cream cheese frosting another original, but inspired from the cream cheese frosting in Eating In: From the Field to the Kitchen in Biosphere 2. (I used that recipe for my Banana Bread Pudding recipe.) ½ cup apple juice 8 ounces cream cheese 6 tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, you choose) 1 tablespoon honey (I tend to like less sweet frosting, so feel free to adjust to your liking.) Mix all ingredients in blender and chill until thick and spreadable. This is a double recipe for frosting the brownies, so feel free use on toast for a decadent breakfast or make my Banana Bread Pudding and frost instead of with the original cream cheese frosting. Bananas and peanut butter can't be beat. (I have some other ideas what to make with that coupling....) Alternatively, you can mix this all by hand for a more textured frosting (which I like). If you use unsweetened peanut butter, it may be less smooth because of the grind size or if you use the chunky variety. If making a cake: Make a double recipe of this frosting so that you have enough to entirely frost the cake and frost between the two layers. I also put a thin layer of raspberry jam in between the two layers. Like to trim edges to make pretty brownies to serve? What do I do with those edges, you ask? Mini brownie sandwiches, that's what. I ate waaaay too many of these.


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