A Timeless Classic Revisited
PB&J is, by its own nature, a simple sandwich. It’s the meal the picky kid goes for because each element can be recognized and seen. No hidden veggies, no extravagance.
A basic peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be made even better with just a few switches and a great focus on ingredients. All flavors are visible, the trinity is kept intact (bread, jam, nut butter), but within these bounds there’s ample room for variety.
This sandwich is my dream to assemble because two-thirds of the elements are things I already make by hand and LOVE to incorporate in recipes. When working with so few ingredients, the most important thing is quality.
First of all BREAD. If you’ve watched or read Michael Pollan’s Cooked, or you’ve heard of Tartine Bakery, you know it is sourdough or nothing. We use a hearty Country White, the most basic sourdough loaf here at Community Loaves. It is mostly organic bread flour, flecked with a little stoneground whole wheat, a substantial crust from the heat of the stone oven and a beautiful open crumb.
Next up, JAM. This spring we used seconds from the strawberry crop at Frog Song Organics Farm to make preserves with lemon and raw sugar, which we kept minimally sweet. High quality strawberry preserves from your local grocery store would be the best option if you didn’t get to jamming this season.
The ingredient that takes us furthest away from a traditional PB&J is our NUT BUTTER. Tahini is hip right now. Graze the pages of any Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook and you will see tahini used in sweet and savory recipes alike. It provides a nutty flavor but is actually a paste made from sesame seeds. We whip our tahini with flavorless sunflower oil, salt and a little honey to create a smooth butter with a sesame flavor that’s not too overwhelming.
Whether making a traditional PB&J or using a sampling of new-fangled ingredients, my favorite preparation technique is taking a little dollop of butter or olive oil and browning the bread on a griddle before assembling things into a sandwich. Once you’ve browned the outsides of the bread, add strawberry preserves, tahini butter, close the sandwich and pour a glass of milk! (Wainwright’s, of course.) While in Oregon this summer, I learned that the green and foggy state is home to most of the hazelnut trees that grow in the U.S., an ingredient we rarely use at Community Loaves, but one that I love. Crusty sourdough bread with hazelnut butter and sweet jam make a great sandwich. But I found it was even better as French toast. Dip a simple hazelnut butter and jam sandwich in a French toast custard (think egg and milk) then brown it in a skillet for a delicious breakfast or great weekend brunch. Go ahead and experiment with your next PB&J. Adding high quality, simple ingredients, some creativity and a skillet, the most basic sandwich can be turned into something slightly elevated; crisp, sweet, nutty and delicious.