Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"Peanut Butter & Jelly"

To be perfectly honest, many of my favourite foods are often choices based not just on taste alone, but on nostalgia. Take peanut butter. Till this day, I can't eat it without recalling those scrumptious after-school sandwiches. Neither can I shake off that residual feeling of guilt (which also, now that I think about it, makes anything taste better) I associate with the stuff - whenever my mother's back was turned, I would sneak a large spoonful or two to consume neat. This, of course, required some artfulness on my part - being sure to scrape right in the centre of the jar without touching the sides, thus maintaining the crafty appearance of a full jar for the purposes of any casual exterior inspection. It goes without saying that my deception was found out soon enough - I opened the fridge one day to discover that my mother had quietly switched to peanut butter and jelly. As anyone who has dug into one of these jars will know, it's virtually impossible to swipe an illicit helping without distorting the stripes, thus shattering the illusion of fullness. Much to the poor lady's dismay, I found another way to amuse myself - how to twist the knife at precisely the right angle so as to emerge triumphant with the optimal ratio of peanut butter to jelly. This, of course, made for good eating, but left behind a very unsightly mess.

Thomas Keller's "Peanut Butter & Jellies"
I love The French Laundry Cookbook for many reasons, not least of which are the many recipes boasting familiar, comforting flavours presented in wholly unexpected and delicious ways. In the dessert chapter alone, seemingly innocuous treats like "Coffee and Doughnuts", "Banana Split", "Candied Apple", and of course, "Peanut Butter and Jellies" are given the signature Keller treatment. The spectacular results promise to tempt both kid and adult alike, and more pertinently, the kid in every adult.

The "Peanut Butter" component in the Keller pairing is actually a peanut butter truffle - small balls of milk chocolate and peanut butter ganache dipped in bittersweet chocolate then dusted with cocoa. Presentation-wise, instead of this elegant and grown-up manner, I opted for an alternative route, inspired by everybody's favourite peanut butter cups, as well as a recipe for Peanut Butter Pucks from Michael Recchiuti's Chocolate Obsession. Using great chocolate and great peanut butter ensures all the difference - think of these as Posh Peanut Butter Cups. I used Valrhona's Guanaja 70% to create the bittersweet chocolate shells. As for the filling, I went with Jivara 40%. The peanut butter that's blended with the melted milk chocolate should be a creamy, natural one made from roasted nuts (and without added salt and sugar) - I like this organic nut butter. To finish, a few grains of fleur de sel for a salty burst of flavour and subtle crunch.

The "Jelly" part of the equation (Keller offers recipes for both Yuzu Jellies and Concord Grape Jellies) is, ingeniously enough, in the style of a very French and very chic pate de fruit, those delicate translucent squares - intensely flavoured and brightly coloured - gleaming like so many precious jewels from the most bijoux of Parisian confiseries. If, like me, you love yuzu (which, incidentally, makes a mighty fine citrus curd), these jellies offer a brand new way to enjoy the flavour.

PB & J Macarons, a.k.a. The Chubby Hubby
Neither chunks of chocolate covered peanut butter-filled pretzels in vanilla malt ice cream nor deep ripples of fudge and peanut butter to be found it's not this Chubby Hubby, but this Chubby Hubby I'm naming the macaron after. Quite aside from the fact that he likes his peanut butter and jelly, this PB & J bender I've been on was sparked by a conversation we had some weeks back about whimsical macaron flavours. As any fan of his fabulous blog will know, the man has an uncanny knack where matters gustatory are concerned, even when suggesting things half in jest.

Part of the reason I've been so keen to learn how to make macarons is that they are the perfect, bite-sized, fun yet elegant vehicle for experimenting with a whole spectrum of flavours - so PB & J it was. For the cookie component, I substituted part of the quantity of ground almonds called for in a typical macaron recipe with ground peanuts, tinkering with the ratio until the taste was right (I finally settled on 2 parts peanuts to 1 part almond). As for the jelly, it's a soft-set grape number based on a recipe from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures.


Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

Woah... I just tasted one of your PB&J macarons. First, thank you for naming them after me. Secondly, thank you for giving S and me some. Third, OHMYGOD!!!!! These are awesome! Delicious. The texture is perfect and the taste is out of this world. It's the perfect mini-lunch... both a main course and a delectable dessert rolled into one. You MUST MUST MUST start selling them. If not to the general public, to me at least. I'll buy a dozen a week.

7:33 pm, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Beautiful post, J. I love the updated take on a childhood favorite - and I know that it's one flavor combination that I could never tire of.

9:54 pm, May 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very adorable! Funny coincidence - I was just at French Laundry on Sunday; of course there were pate de fruits as part of the mignardises, but they were apricot and raspberry. I would have loved to try yuzu!

10:35 pm, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

How about sending the local courier named W with a bunch of that great looking/sounding stuff to the office? :-p
Seriously, it looks fab. I love peanut butter cups and those macarons... the wannabe pastry chef in me is awestruck. I remember the first time I ate a Reese piece when I was 14 (yes, i was a late bloomer). So surprised were my tastebuds that saliva exploded from their glands (I'm sure there's a better way of saying that, but it's been a tiring week :-))

2:36 am, May 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joycelyn - another lovely post, and those are the poshest, most elegant looking peanut butter cups! I just wish I could taste those, just looking at them/reading your words makes my mouth water... Can you easily get yuzu in Singapore? I've been searching here without success, it's funny that I wasn't that mad about them when I was in Japan but I really miss the flavour now :)

7:31 am, May 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J that is fabulous, Love the initial background story.
I have never been lucky enough to get an yuzu :(

9:24 am, May 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful post and I second CH's suggestion. Although I think it is a lot of hard work and meagre returns - please do consider! I will drive from the other end of S'pore for one of your tasty treats :)

2:15 pm, May 18, 2006  
Blogger tanvi said...

Ah now I am intrigued what "Candied Apple" a la M. Thomas Keller would be like. Those peanut butter and jellies look lovely in the little foil liners! And that macaroon is quite creative!

4:21 am, May 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So beautiful!

Food is inextricably linked to memory. We all of those associations. Those foods that we love for the taste, but also for what they remind us of.

Well done!

4:37 am, May 19, 2006  
Blogger Cathy said...

Jocelyn - I savored every bit of this post - word and picture (just wish I could savor a bite!). Everything is gorgeous and just sounds so good. OK - I have an idea... how about smores macarons? :)

8:16 am, May 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gorgeous looking J! These are so cute!

I am a big fan of the French Laundry cookbook too, even if I only have had it for a few weeks now. But already made a few dishes that turned great.

6:53 pm, May 19, 2006  
Blogger Steffles said...

J, besides the great looking peanut butter cups, your serving place is gorgeous. Everytime I read your blog, I wish I was related to you....

11:49 pm, May 19, 2006  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

What a wonderful post. It certainly reminded me of all the stolen cookies I would remove from the tins my mother would spend hours preparing to be given away to friends and relatives. I used to think I was clever and then when she would confront my siblings and me with "who's been eating the cookies?" we would think she was a witch. Of course looking back - it is easy to tell cookies are missing when you're down to the bottom layer of a 3 layer box!

2:24 am, May 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the article on the sophisticated side of PB&J. Now I know that you grew up somewhere in the States. Is PB easy to get over there?

11:09 pm, May 20, 2006  
Blogger FooDcrazEE said...

hmmmm...i'm a noob in baking and only does home cooking. will love to try all these recipes once I shift to my new house that will be ready only in err...2 yrs time...thats a long way. So, thanx for the recipe that I have copied and keep for my future use.

6:12 pm, May 21, 2006  
Blogger Fran said...

Beautiful post.

4:43 am, May 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, leave it to your boundless talents to turn peanut butter and jelly into something so exquisite! Strangely enough I was never a big PB&J-sandwich fan - strange because I'm normally so wild about sweet and salty together. I suspect I would feel differently about your gorgeous macarons, however! As for peanut butter cups, I think I would sell one of my kidneys to have a constant supply of them here in Scotland. But maybe now I won't have to - how did I miss that recipe in Recchiuti's book?

5:27 am, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Michelle said...

I love imagining you sneaking little scoops of peanut butter under your mother's careful watch - especially the ingenuity when faced with the trial of the layered jars! And what gorgeous things have come from your childhood 'obsession!' I love the creativity!

7:56 am, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Jen said...

wow... send some over this way!! They look divine.

10:08 am, May 24, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

you have such flair!

5:19 pm, May 24, 2006  
Blogger Anthony said...

Goober grape was my favourite request of my friends on a US base. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a big fave of ernie and bert but I think I never joined the dots as a kid to work out it was peanut butter and jam - never did have quite the ring to it. Lovely work and thanks for pointing out pate de fruit - another thing I've heard before but thought I'd misheard it.

7:36 pm, May 24, 2006  
Blogger Gustad said...

looks awsome. do you use a certain peanutbutter?
i entered a hot dog eating contest last week it's on my blog if you want to see

11:38 pm, May 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, you are a genius. I just don't know what else to say about the PB&J macaron, except you've really outdone yourself.

By the way, I love the way Keller plays with eaters' conceptions of dishes like coffee and donuts and PB&J. Food is supposed to be fun, but part of his genius is to sometimes make it funny.

2:15 pm, May 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These were awesome! I much prefer the control of proportions I get by combining the jam and peanut butter in a PBJ sandwich myself (rather than getting a jar of Goober Grape). But the ultimate after school sandwich of my childhood had butter (salted) slathered on first, then peanut butter and jelly :P Totally awesome because the salted butter accentuated the salty-sweet combo. Thank you for sharing your stash.

9:58 am, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your food photography is marvellous. Really enjoyed the pics.

4:28 pm, June 07, 2006  

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