How many of you remember those little brown bags, scrunched up on top, holding within its confines,two slices of white bread slathered with peanut butter (Creamy or crunchy) and concord grape jelly? Actually, I do not. Lunch for me was never in a brown bag and most certainly not a Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich. My mother would have cringed at the thought. Instead, like every other Indian school girl, I carried a lunch bag, with a little steel tiffin carrier (this changed to Tupperware boxes in the later years) and a water bottle. Each stacked layer of the tiffin box (mostly 2, sometimes 3) contained a dish carefully prepared by my mom early in the morning, to make sure I had all the nutrition I needed for the day. Sometimes it would be rice, dhal, sambar and vegetable. On other days it would be chappatis and vegetable. When my mother was feeling adventurous it would contain pasta and some salad or fruit. In any case, it was always something home cooked and carefully packed with a lot of thought.
I would watch in awe, when in some of the American movies, the school going child would nonchalantly snatch a brown bag from the kitchen counter. Inside, of course, was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My mother, of course, did not believe that a single sandwich in a paper bag could actually constitute lunch. Strangely, I would have to be in college before I could taste my first PBJ. To be brutally honest, with my first bite, I did not understand what the fuss was all about. It was kind of mushy, and I had the peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth, and the clumps of over sweetened jelly sort of made me sick. Much later, I discovered its delights. Mixed with nutella, it made an awesome spread on toast (everything tastes better with nutella right?) My cousin taught me to dip wedges of crunchy apple into peanut butter and I loved it. I was ready to try the sandwich again. This time it was with a slice of sourdough (Not the cotton-wool like, tasteless white bread we find in the store) Suddenly it tasted different. The jelly was a home-made berry spread, slightly tart with the goodness of fruit. I could see this becoming my favourite.
Today, I would willing eat a PBJ (like my mother, it has never been my lunch) but made my way. I am partial to the crunchy kind of butter ( I have always liked a bit of texture) and home-made jelly. Sometimes, I would throw in a sliced banana and grill the sandwich and it would become my dessert. I could claim I was on a diet and eat this guilt free. It had fruit right? and nuts are good for you. When I am feeling indulgent, it calls for a dollop of nutella or a scattering of chocolate chips. What was seductive about the flavours was the nutty saltiness combined with the natural sweet and tartness of the fruit. Little light bulbs seems to turn on every time these flavours hit the taste buds.
So sitting with my cousin (the one who taught me about apples and PB) as she slathered on the nut butter and jelly on bread slices for her children, she turned to me “Hey make bread with peanut butter and jelly built into it” she implored “Then I will not have to make these sandwiches everyday” “But you will still have to make the bread” I reasoned. “Not till you are here and willing to make the bread for me” she said half imploring and half commanding.
Actually, I already had something on my mind. Anybody who has tried to bake a bread, at some point of time in their life, has always wished for a bread which did not require any kneading. God heard their prayers and Jim Lahey was born. If you have never heard of him, he is the guy who created the famous ‘No Knead Bread’. Yes, you read that right. You do not have to knead your dough. Just mix and set aside overnight and bake it the next day. Even your two-year old can make bread! In his book ‘My Bread’ (which my cousin had let me borrow from her library on her card) there was this perfect recipe which used peanut butter and jelly in the bread. The butter is mixed in with the dough and the jelly is spread on the dough. I was so fascinated, I read the recipe few time but I completely forgot to copy it down. So I was left to my devices to jog my brain cells for some memory action. The recipe I finally tried may be the exact replica of the recipe Jim created or might be totally something I imagined he wrote. Placing my trust in my memory I got to work.
The flour, yeast, peanut butter (I used the crunchy kind, I told you I was partial), some more peanuts and water went into the bowl. I remembered, the recipe asked for an egg. Somehow I was not very comfortable using an egg and letting the dough sit out on the counter for an overnight fermentation. So I skipped the egg. Mixed it all together and covered it and left the yeast to do its work. The peanut component was taken care of. Now the jelly. I had this delicious strawberry spread that I had. It was simply berries cooked down with a touch of sugar (I will not even dare call it a jam or jelly) To me it was perfect. I could eat the bread to my heart’s content, knowing it will not be super sweet. Jelly spread and dough rolled, it sat in a pan with a sprinkling of peanuts decorating its surface. Finally baked to a golden, I could not help but try to lick some of the fruit which had spilled its red juices from the sides. Fingers sticky with the juice, I had to hold off till the bread was cool. And when I cut it, there could not be happier kids (and adults who behave like kids) in the house.
The crunch of the peanuts added a lovely dimension and if you love peanuts, you will love this bread. The peanut butter flavoured the bread beautifully and the fruit spread was perfect. It was not too sweet and I could taste bits of the fruit as it peeked from the pinky- purple swirls. The over night slow fermentation, gave the bread a depth of flavour which you can never find in your mass manufactured loaf. All you needed to do was close your eyes and you could well believe that you were eating a perfect sandwich. If you like the intense sweetness of the jelly, you could make your like easier by just using store-bought version of your favourite fruit jelly. I could already see my cousin sneaking away a couple of slices for lunch the next day.
280 gms Bread Flour (You can use All-Purpose with 2 Tbs of gluten, or even skip the gluten if you cannot lay your hands on it)
20 gms Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Instant Yeast
260 gms Water
50 gms Peanut butter (you could use crunchy or creamy)
70 gms Dry Roasted Peanuts roughly chopped
100 gms Jam or Jelly of your choice
1. Get your kids to help you here. Dump the flour,salt, yeast, water, peanut butter and half of the chopped peanuts in a bowl and mix. It should take about 30 seconds and you will have a wet, sticky dough. That’s it. You are done. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover and place on your kitchen counter overnight (about 12 hours), if you live in a cool place, or in your refrigerator if you live in a place like Chennai.
2. The next day, carefully scoop the dough on to a lightly floured counter top and pat and cajole it into a rectangle.
3. Spread the jelly on the rectangle and roll it like you would a Swiss roll.
4. Pinch the seams well so that the jam does not leak
5. Lightly oil your bread pan and sprinkle half of the left over nuts on the bottom and then place the shaped bread and sprinkle the other half of the nuts on top. Cover and allow to double in size.
6. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. When the dough has doubled brush with milk and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden and done.
7. Remove from pan and cool completely before slicing.
Like I said before, you could jazz up your bread with some nutella or chocolate chips. I personally think this bread tastes great as is. The dough is extremely sticky but please try not to add any more flour than necessary. This hydration will help the yeast and the gluten to develop. If you must, you could toast the bread but watch out for the jelly drips. You could slice the jelly roll and bake them like you would cinnamon rolls but to me the real pleasure is to bake it as a loaf and enjoy the ooohs and the ahaaas as you slice the loaf to reveal the jelly and the second ummmm s they bite into it to discover the peanut butter.