11:00 am 12 March 2022
We used to have salted caramel (in the mainstream anyway). Before, we had miso caramel. Before, we had something salty and heart-stopping mixed with caramel from elsewhere. There was the PB&J sandwich.
For a generation (or two or three), it was childhood’s gateway to that sweet, sweet encounter of sugar and saltiness. Plastic white bread, brushed with peanut butter… coated in grape jelly (jam).
It’s one of my son’s favorite snacks after football and after school, but I didn’t really understand the sweet/salty alchemy until early adulthood. I think I was put off by my mom’s insistence on adding chopped bananas to the chicken curry. She loved it. My brother and I could detect and reject the microscopic debris of the fruit from a mile away. presumably mom had seen a recipe (we’re talking 90s here) with plantain and decided to make a, shall we say, reckless substitution.
More recently, I remember being on vacation in Sintra, Portugal, with friends. While I ate a hearty bowl of marinated pork and fried potatoes with a glass of red, the rest of my friends were face to face in ham salads topped with apples, oranges, strawberries and more fruits that had no place there.
They still watch with rose-tinted glasses this meal. I guess they were A: sunburnt and delirious and B: drunk.
It wasn’t, I think, until I first tried American pancakes with maple syrup and golden slices of smoked bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbly, that I was stung by the salty sweet bug.
This week’s recipe is a very, very naughty yet enjoyable take on a PBJ, elevating simple lunchbox filling into something a little (OK a lot) more decadent. It’s thick slices of homemade pain au chocolat, sprinkled with chocolate chips, a salty white chocolate and peanut ganache, and a rum-infused strawberry jam. Served still warm, it makes a superb dessert. Or make the sandwiches, wrap them well and serve them as a picnic pud. The bread, sliced, spread with the toppings and covered in chocolate cream is probably one of the dirtiest bread and butter puddings you can make. Try.
The ultimate PBJ sandwich
(For 4 to 6 people)
450g strong white bread flour
50g cocoa powder
100g brown sugar
2 tsp dry yeast
2 tablespoons butter or oil
Pinch of salt
300-350ml lukewarm water
100g dark chocolate chips
For the ganache
200 ml fresh cream
100 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons (filled) dark roasted peanut butter
Salt to taste
Half jar of good quality strawberry jam (at least 50% fruit)
2 tbsp white rum
Line a 2 lb loaf pan.
Put the bread flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Combine. Add the butter or oil and rub with your fingers until it disappears into the mixture.
Stir in water with a knife until blended. Cover and let stand 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, knead the dough on a lightly floured surface. Leave to rest for another 30 minutes. Knead again.
Put the dough in a large greased bowl, cover and place it in a warm place until it doubles in size.
Brown the dough and knead the chocolate chips. On a floured surface, roll out into a rectangle shape as long as a 2 lb loaf pan. Roll up the rectangle and place it in your prepared pan. Leave to rest for 30 minutes in a warm place.
Heat the oven to 220C.
Bake the bread for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 200°C, cover with parchment paper and cook for another 25 minutes.
For the ganache, heat the cream in a saucepan. Remove from fire. Stir in white chocolate and peanut butter. Stir to combine well. Taste, and add a pinch of salt.
Mix strawberry jam and rum.
When the bread is completely cold, slice and generously sandwich the pieces with the ganache and jam mixture. It was nothing!