This is the first official edition of For Goodness Cake, a monthly cake column from pastry chef Joy Cho. Every month we give you a cake recipe that is not only relatively easy to make, but also rewarding and comforting. We firmly believe that cake is not just meant for special occasions, but also to celebrate the sweetness found in everyday life.
Peanut butter and jelly don’t bring me back to third grade packed lunches or after school snacks. It actually brings up almost no childhood memories for me. I preferred other kid-friendly foods like turkey rolls or Velveeta Mac ‘n’ Cheese when I wasn’t eating the Korean meals my mom or grandma made. Lunchables and Gushers were in my alley, but Uncrustables? Not as much.
Given that story (or lack thereof), I find it both funny and intriguing that PB&J is one of the most common foods I eat today as an adult at age 20. My path to avid PB&J use began when, as a very lazy college intern, I was looking for a regular meal that was portable, moderately filling, and borderline nutritious in the summer heat. The humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich seemed to fit perfectly. (Mom, if you’re reading this: I promise I ate vegetables too!) What started out for practical reasons turned into a ritual and even enjoyable part of my life – at the end of almost every work day, I ate one while walking home across the Brooklyn Bridge . At a time when I felt aimless and lonely (even a few weeks in New York can do that to you), a PB&J provided dependable comfort, if only for a few minutes a day.
My habit persisted even after I shed my college-age anxiety: I now eat a whopping PB&J five to six times a week, either in sandwich or toast form. The simple but deeply satisfying combination of salt, sweet, creamy, and jam on sliced bread delivers every time – and is as effortless and inexpensive as a sandwich. Although (or maybe because) I discovered PB&J relatively late in life, I’m weird, thoroughly obsessed with it.
So making a PB&J cake was one of the most branded projects I was able to take on. But where do I start? Although the sandwich is ubiquitous in American culture, PB and J flavored cake doesn’t seem like a real thing. During my research, I discovered that if peanut butter shows up in a cake at all, it usually shows up as the chocolate’s chum. When I started tinkering in the kitchen, my recipe went through several iterations: I tested a peanut butter loaf cake with jam icing, and then swirled a square snack cake with the jam icing into the top of the dough before baking. They weren’t quite right, and my first attempt at making a streusel topping that didn’t look like streusel was wrong either, to say the least. But hey, it’s called recipe development for a reason. So I kept marching through test cake scraps believing that the PB&J cake I was craving was out there somewhere.
And then I found it. Just as everyone has their unique sandwich preferences (creamy or crunchy nut butters; jelly, jams or jams; white or wheat bread, etc.), this homely, but indulgent cake is my very personal ode to PB & J: large, distinctly peanut buttery crumb cake squares with a sweet and sour jam layer and an even thicker layer of nutty sprinkles on top. To really filter out the peanut butter taste, I use both powdered peanut butter and powdered peanut butter. And because I like using an ingredient in more than one way, the peanut powder reappears in the crumble, replacing the more typical cinnamon or spices. The resulting sweet, salty, peanut (and slightly addicting) crumb topping is my favorite part of the cake, in large part because it reminds me of a similar streusel topping soboro-ppang, the first item I reach for in a Korean bakery.
I’m under no illusions that a PB&J cake can ever completely recreate a good old-fashioned PB&J sandwich, but if it tastes just as good, who cares? So cut yourself a thick piece of cake, pour a second cup of coffee, and come up with the perfect combination of peanut butter and jelly (and maybe a childhood memory or two). While I’m late for the PB&J game, I think this familiar but improved cake can make up for the lost time – that and eating PB&J every day, a habit I won’t be giving up anytime soon.
PB & J Crumb Cake with peanut crumble
Makes an 8 “by 8” square cake
For the peanut crumble:
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50 grams) of light brown sugar
¼ cup (35 grams) all-purpose flour
2 level tablespoons (12 grams) of peanut butter powder (e.g. PB2 or Mad Richard)
¾ teaspoon of kosher salt
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cold and diced
Flaky salt like Maldon as a topping (optional for those who really like sweet and salty desserts)
For the cake:
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
½ cup (70 grams) whole wheat flour
3 level tablespoons (18 grams) of peanut butter powder
¾ teaspoon of baking soda
¼ teaspoon of baking powder
¾ teaspoon of kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50 grams) of light brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (150 grams) smooth peanut butter (use a private label such as Jif or Skippy for best results)
½ cup of buttermilk at room temperature
For the filling:
½ cup of jam or jam of your choice (Tip: use a seedless variety if you don’t want easy bites from the seeds.)
Step 1: Prepare the peanut crumble: In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, flour, peanut butter powder, and kosher salt and mix thoroughly with your hands. Work the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the crumble resembles wet sand and clumps together when pressed. (Some small pieces of butter are fine, but for the most part, the butter should be worked into the crumble). Store in the refrigerator until use.
Step 2: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 by 8 inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the sides (to make removing the cake easier after baking), and grease the parchment.
Step 3: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, peanut butter powder, baking powder, baking powder, and salt.
Step 4: In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a large bowl with an electric hand mixer, stir the butter until smooth. Add both sugars and cream the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Cut off the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Step 5: Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well mixed after each addition. Scre the bowl one more time, then whip the vanilla and peanut butter until mixture is smooth.
Step 6: Sift half of the dry ingredients over the peanut butter mixture and beat until just combined. Gently stir in the buttermilk and sieve the remaining dry ingredients. Just beat until the batter is smooth. (Do not overmix.)
Step 7: Transfer half of the cake batter to the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a small offset spatula. Pour the jam over it and distribute it carefully. Do your best to leave a half-inch margin around the edges. (The rim prevents jam from sticking to the sides of the pan while baking.) Place the rest of the cake batter on top of the jam layer, gently smooth the surface, and sprinkle the crumble evenly over the top. If desired, sprinkle the cake with flaky salt.
Step 8: Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes and turn the pan in half until the crumble is brown and a toothpick comes out clean in the center of the cake.
Step 9: Let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then carefully loosen the edges with a small offset spatula and carefully place the cake (with the parchment per loop for support) on a rack to cool completely. If you have difficulty removing and transferring the tall and strong cake, you can also let it cool completely as it is and serve the slices straight out of the pan.
Joy Cho is a pastry chef and freelance writer based in Brooklyn. After losing her job as a pastry chef at the beginning of the pandemic, Joy started Joy Cho pastries, an Instagram store that sells her gem cakes to the New York City area.
Celeste night is a Filipino American food, travel, and portrait photographer based between Portland, OR and San Francisco, CA..
Prescription tested by Deena Prichep