What if a PB&J was made with the peanut butter on the outside, and it was a dessert?
A PB&J hand pie is my dessert-centric, adult answer to the sandwich that many of us still love in spite of having consumed hundreds, if not thousands over the course of our lives. The dough is flavored with both toasted ground peanuts and creamy peanut butter for a rich, nutty, and slightly sandy texture, and the filling is a brighter, more tart version of a jam from a jar (in a good way), studded with chopped berries, and the whole package fits comfortably in your hand like a Pop-Tart, resulting in a dessert that is just as delightfully portable as a sandwich, but so much more special (and grown-up).
To a sweets lover/pastry chef like me, who likes twisting and tweaking old-school desserts, or in this case, the oldest sandwich in the school, it doesn’t get much better than this. Yes, I could make a grown-up version of a PB&J sandwich, much more quickly and efficiently than making hand pies, by spreading freshly ground peanuts from Whole Foods on artisanal sourdough bread from my local farmers’ market, along with pricey homemade jam, as Allison Robicelli so eloquently reminds me.
But to my 10-year-old self, the archetypal PB&J sandwich consisted of (smooth) Skippy peanut butter, thickly spread on one slice of soft, white Wonder Bread (no need to cut off the crusts, as they are really just a lightly browned version of the bread itself), and grape (or strawberry) Smuckers jelly, thickly spread on the other. And truth be told, decades (ahem) later, the paragon is the same. Thus, with these hand pies, I aim to replicate that ideal PB&J sandwich of elementary school.
When I first started dreaming about “dessertifying” the sandwich, I imagined it would come via a scoop of peanut butter ice cream atop a slice of fruit pie. But the grocery store is sadly lacking in the straight-up peanut-butter-flavored ice cream department. And then it hit me: Skip the à la mode altogether and flavor the pie dough itself.
Yes, the combination of the PB dough and the jammy filling would make for an excellent nine-inch pie, but when riffing on a sandwich, it seems only right to keep things handy and compact. The peanut butter in the dough is Skippy, and the flour is white all-purpose. The strawberries are sweetened just enough to remind you of your most cherished jam from a jar. The smell of the hand pies baking perfumes the kitchen with that same eau de PB&J that wafted from my opened Flintstones lunch box every single day of third grade.