Peanut Butter & Jelly Cake
If you grew up anywhere in North America before 1990, there’s a very likely chance you or a friend of yours opened that trusty lunchbox to find the infamously paper-wrapped treasure we all know as the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Typically prepared on enriched white bread, and in the U.S. it was Welches Grape Jelly, in Canada strawberry or raspberry jam. The peanut butter was smooth or crunchy, but if I had to guess, 9 out of 10 kids always preferred smooth PB with their J.
I recently opened my blog to requests, asking friends and followers for some of their favorite comfort foods and childhood classics. One request I received was the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My first thought was how do you take such a classic and alter it into something different but still familiar. I’ve seen many interpretations of PB&J, some brilliant while others had possibly gone too far off the mark.
I’ve decided to take a more literal approach with my interpretation of the sandwich. I’ve always appreciated it’s honesty and simplicity. However, I also thought it was far too sweet for lunch. I’ll take my ham and cheese any day over PB&J, but I’ll certainly have it for dessert. And that is what led me to my own spin on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — dessert.
Now of course this can’t just be an ordinary sandwich, using ordinary ingredients. Hell no. If I’m to create this childhood icon I’d better create something that any child in the world would want to devour.
So that traditional spongy white bread, loaded with preservatives known to be found in morgues, will transform into a soft, moist white cake. Now who didn’t see that coming?! The peanut butter is pretty basic, but do I reach for a bottle of that store-bought stuff… Nah, just the list of ingredients on the back of the bottle will do. From there I will roast, crush, and sweeten the peanuts into my own butter. And lastly, we have the jelly. Or jam? How about we do both. Though it isn’t the typical grape jelly, I’ve chosen to do strawberry jelly inside the sandwich and a fresh strawberry jam to garnish the plate. Speaking of garnish, that light brown powder sprinkled around the plate is the kid-like playfulness of powdered peanut butter dust that returns to its natural state when you put it in your mouth. A touch of molecular gastronomy.
Let me just say up front, I’m not a pastry chef, but I do however, consider myself logical and a hopeless perfectionist. So after many attempts I’ve devised a formulaic recipe for a white cake that has body and spring, a crumb that will hold up to icing without falling apart, and most importantly for this dessert I needed to replicate that bleach white appeal of the traditional white bread. My science relies heavily a weight and ratios, so you can put away the measuring cups for this recipe.
Vanilla Sponge Cake
- 180g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3oog sugar
- 200g egg whites, room temperature
- 245g flour
- 265g buttermilk, room temperature
- 5ml baking powder
- 2.5ml salt
- 5ml vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180C with the rack in the middle of the oven.
Grease a 35cmx26cm cake pan and line with parchment paper.
In a bowl, combine sugar and butter and whip on high speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Next, add the egg whites in three parts, incorporating them well until fluffy. Then turn speed down to medium and add the buttermilk and vanilla. Don’t overbeat this or you’ll knock the air out of your egg whites.
In another bowl, measure out flour, baking powder and salt.
Using only a spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture in small batches. There shouldn’t be any lumps, but do not overfold.
Spread the batter evenly into the pan.
Place in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Insert toothpick into cake to check for doneness. If it comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Then transfer cake to cooling rack and allow to cool for 1 hour.
After an hour, cut the cake in half and tightly wrap each half in plastic and store in freezer. This will help with assembly and will also retain moisture in the cake.
Making Peanut Butter …Really?
“You’re crazy, why don’t you just use the bottled peanut butter?” my wife said. Sometimes she asks rhetorical questions like that. She knows me better than to use store-bought products when I can simply make it myself. That way I control what goes in and how it turns out. And 99% of the time when she tastes the finished product, she understands.
For this peanut butter we’re going to make it a smidgen sweeter than the bottled stuff since this is a dessert, but you can add as much or as little sugar as you’d like. Also, we’re going for a smooth blend of peanut butter, but because we just don’t have the heavy machinery the factories use to process it, then the consistency will be just slightly coarse.
- 450g unsalted blanched peanuts
- 75g icing sugar
- 1/2 cup peanut oil
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tsp salt
First we have to impart some flavor into those peanuts, so we’ll roast them. Spread the peanuts out on a baking sheet and roast at 200C for 15-20 minutes. They should look like the photo below. If they get too dark, it’ll make the peanut butter bitter, but still, give them a good roasting.
Pour the warm peanuts into a food processor and crank it up to high. Drizzle oil into the peanuts as they blend. The mixture may start to get thick, but that’s okay. Keep them blending until you’ve incorporated all the oil.
Now add the molasses, sugar, and salt and continue blending until it becomes a fine paste. If it’s too thick, add a little bit more oil to loosen.
Scoop the peanut butter into a air-tight container and store at room temperature.
- 3 cups of frozen strawberries
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 water
- 1 cup apple juice
- 2 tsp agar agar*
In a medium-sized pot, add the strawberries, sugar and water. Over medium heat, cover the pot and gradually bring to a boil.
Line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth or muslin, and place over a bowl to collect the liquid. When the strawberries start to boil, drain in the sieve and allow for the liquid to collect naturally. Pressing the berries will push through impurities, causing the liquid to turn cloudy.
After you’ve collected the liquid, pour back into the pot and add the apple juice. Turn heat on high and bring to a boil, then add the agar agar. Be sure the agar agar is completely dissolved. Now pour the mixture into a rectangular container, roughly the size of one half of the cake, and let cool to room temperature. Place in fridge to set for at least four hours.
*The great thing about using agar agar as opposed to gelatin is it has a much higher melting point after it has set. Gelatin will melt at room temperature.
- 2 Cups Strawberries
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tbsp pectin
Place the strawberries in a pot and turn heat up to med-high. Add sugar, and pectin and stir well. Bring the mixture up to boiling point, then turn down heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes. Turn heat off and allow to cool for and hour. If desired, mash up the fruit occasionally while it cools.
Pour the jam into a jar and let cool before placing in the refrigerator.
Assembling the Cake:
Now I’m not going to lie. This cake has one issue when assembled as one large cake, and that is cutting it. Two alternatives I recommend is assemble and plate individual cakes by cutting out squares of your desired size, as would be done in a restaurant. Or, I recommend assembling the cake whole and place in freezer until frozen, then cut while frozen into desired servings. Allow to thaw before serving.
To assemble whole:
Take the two halves of the cake out of the freezer and allow them to thaw for 30 minutes.
On one half of the cake, generously spread a layer of peanut butter.
Take the jelly out of the fridge and using a knife, cut around the container to loosen it. Cover the container with a cutting board and flip the jelly out of the mold. You’ll probably have to give it a good bonk to free it.
Very carefully turn the jelly over to the second half of the cake. Now place the peanut butter side down on the jelly. Trim around the edges so you have a clear view of the peanut butter and jelly between the cake.
Peanut Butter Dust
- 1 cup maltodextrin
- 2 tbsp of homemade peanut butter
In a food processor or blender, first add the maltodextrin then the peanut butter. Mix on high speed until it turns into a powder. For a finer powder, just keep adding more maltodextrin for desired consistency.
Sprinkle dust over the cake and on the plate.
Now stop taking life so seriously. Sit back and be a kid for the next 10 minutes!