The Perfect Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
What is it that makes a peanut butter jelly and sandwich so perfect? For me, it's the interplay between each of its ingredients. The arrival, first, of that pillowy white bread, followed by rich and crunchy peanut butter which threatens to dry out your mouth until comes along some sweet, sharp, restorative jam.
Search for "gourmet PB&J" on Google and you will be presented with all sorts of recipes which stray significantly too far from God's light. Bananas? Toasted bread? Absolutely not. RYE BREAD? Please.
Therefore, in proposing my own "gourmet" version of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I do not wish to deviate too far from the all-American classic — processed white bread, grape jelly, smooth peanut butter — which is nearly unimprovable. I say nearly, because in giving proper consideration to each ingredient I think we can make the PB&J an even more delicious experience, one that elevates it from great to transcendent. Settle in, this is serious stuff.
As we have already discussed, it is vital for a PB&J to be made with soft, white bread. Enter: Japanese milk bread, also known as Hokkaido milk bread, also known as shokupan. It is the lightest and fluffiest bread you will ever taste. It has a sweetness that beautifully replicates the slight sugariness of the processed white stuff. I can't recommend it enough.
Now, it's not widely available in shops so I suggest you make it yourself. I used Julia Moskin’s classic New York Times recipe from 1998 and the results were honestly perfect. I would urge you to bake some yourself. The method is actually really easy, and it’s not like you have to make your own peanut butter or cook your own jam! That said, if you don’t have time to make the bread yourself, or you aren’t sad enough to spend all your time baking bread, fair enough. A loaf of buttery brioche, thickly sliced, will be a very good substitute and it’s available in any big supermarket.
The Peanut Butter
Most Americans use smooth peanut butter in PB&Js. I prefer the extra crunchy stuff -— it provides a lovely layer of texture against the soft white bread and gloopy jam. Whether you opt for smooth or crunchy is a matter of personal taste. We used Manilife original crunchy peanut butter, which is natural, brilliantly thick and very creamy.
A PB&J in the US is most commonly made with grape jelly (which means jam in American), which I know because I googled it. Grape jam isn’t widely available here in the UK, but that’s OK because one thing we do have in abundance is lots of really quite delicious and fancy jams. Try whichever takes your fancy, but consider using one which replicates the slight sharpness of grape jelly. We used a nice, tart apple and blackcurrant jam which was a lovely contrast to the sweetness of the bread and the crunchiness of the peanuts.
That’s it. No toast, no bananas, no supplementary ingredients. Just three perfect ingredients, getting along famously and providing you with the most nourishing, affordable, and nostalgic sandwich in the world. Enjoy!