Wed08202014

Food & Wine

Jazz up PB&J with custom nut butters and fancy spreads


Photo By: Megan Kempston/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Megan Kempston/Special To The Town CrierA pecan-and-pumpkin-butter sandwich makes a delicious autumn lunch.

There’s a reason why peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make such good lunchbox fare – they’re quick to make, they’re easy to store and, when made right, they’re delicious.

A few gourmet touches can make the difference between the soggy, sticky sandwich of childhood and a more sophisticated, grown-up meal appropriate for all ages.

Despite the iconic “PB” in the name, it’s OK to branch out to other kinds of nut butters. Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market and gourmet shops have added more interesting flavors, like cashew and almond butters, to their shelves. There’s even sunflower-seed butter for people with nut allergies.

Even better, nut butters are among the easiest pantry staples to make at home. They require two things: a food processor and nuts. That’s it.

Between the various types of nuts out there – peanuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, etc. – and possible add-ins like vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, you can radically expand your sandwich options.

As for the jelly, don’t feel constrained to go with strawberry jam or grape jelly. Specialty stores sell fruit spreads as diverse as fig, pineapple-mango, raspberry and currant. Around this time of year, apple, pear and pumpkin butters also appear on shelves.

And fruit spreads aren’t required – plenty of people add banana slices to their sandwiches, but pear or apple slices work just as well. Some even put lettuce or grated carrot or zucchini on their nut-butter sandwiches for the same moisture content with a little extra nutritional oomph.

Then comes the hard part – narrowing down the possible options. Feeling like a really healthful sandwich? Try almond butter with sliced apples. Longing for a tropical getaway? Try macadamia nut butter with a pineapple or mango spread. Excited about fall food? Try a pecan and pumpkin-butter sandwich.

With this many choices, you’re sure to have a delicious sandwich no matter how you slice it.

Homemade Nut Butter

• Raw nuts, any variety

• Any mix-ins, like vanilla, cinnamon or salt

 

Decide if you want to make raw or roasted nut butter. Roasted nut butters tend to have darker, fuller flavors than raw butters.

If you’re making roasted nut butter, roast nuts on cookie sheet in 400 F oven, or toast them in dry skillet over medium heat on stove. For both methods, stir nuts frequently – they can burn quickly.

Toss nuts in food processor and start. Nut butter will go through a couple of stages – first, it’ll appear sandy as nuts are ground more and more finely. Then it will get crumbly as nuts start to release their oils – this is a good time to stop food processor once or twice and scrape sides. Nut butter will begin to look like nut butter, but let it go another minute or two to ensure that it will be really creamy. All in all, it may take up to 15 minutes of food processor time, so don’t throw in the towel if it doesn’t look like it’s working at first.

Add mix-ins to taste, including vanilla, cinnamon or salt.

Store nut butter in refrigerator. While commercially produced peanut butters like Jif and Skippy are shelf-stable due to added preservatives, homemade (or even store-bought “natural”) nut butters make a friendly environment for carcinogenic aflatoxins when stored at room temperature for more than a day or so.

Want to test the limits of the PB &J? Eliza Ridgeway's article on grilling up bespoke sandwiches suggests unlikely additions that can make the lunch hour fit for a party.

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