In our humble opinion, it's hard to top a good PB&J. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have been a staple of millions of Americans' daily diets for their entire lives, with a huge part of the meal's appeal lying in how easy it is to make and how it relies on shelf-stable, affordable ingredients. PB&Js have been around since the start of the 20th century but became ultra-popular during the Great Depression, as families started to look to cheap solutions for hungry mouths. Once they were firmly established in American culinary culture, they never went away -- and although recent food trends have seen a shift away from the processed ingredients that PB&Js rely on, they remain popular.
In our view, that popularity is partly due to how adaptable PB&Js are. Peanut butter and jelly provide the perfect base of salty and sweet, to which dozens of different ingredients can be added. These ingredients can either mix up the textural qualities of a PB&J or add in entirely new flavor elements, making this classic sandwich feel like a brand-new recipe. Swapping out some of the PB&J's standard components, like its bread or its peanut butter, can also give your meal a fresh twist. We've got some of our favorite upgrades right here.
Use Different Bread For Extra Flavor
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, as we all know, is traditionally made with standard white bread. Pillowy, predictable, and tasty, white bread provides a perfectly neutral base for the bolder flavors of nut butter and sugary spread. Swapping your bread for a new type, though, can introduce new flavors to the sandwich and improve its mouthfeel.
Japanese milk bread (or shokupan) is one of our top choices for a PB&J. This bread is made by creating a tangzhong, a roux of flour mixed with water or milk and heated, which increases the bread's moisture content and renders it extra fluffy. Its high sugar content, meanwhile, gives the bread a moreish sweetness, which perfectly contrasts the peanut butter and complements your jelly.
Opting for brioche can also be an excellent choice, with the bread's butteriness providing an undertone of luxury to the sandwich. Flavored brioches, like those studded with chocolate or threaded with cinnamon sugar, can bring brand-new notes to a PB&J, making it into something altogether more gourmet. You can also opt for a crusty white loaf, or even a baguette, which can give your sandwich a more robust structure and stop it from getting too gummy when chewing it.
Grill Your Sandwich
Part of the beauty of a PB&J is that it requires no cooking -- but that doesn't mean you can't do it anyway. A grilled peanut butter and jelly is a thing of sheer beauty and creates a next-level textural contrast for your sandwich. Grilled PB&Js are cooked in the same way as grilled cheese. You simply need to construct your sandwich before spreading the outside of your slices with butter and then frying it in a skillet, flipping it halfway through until golden brown on both sides.
By grilling your PB&J, you develop a brown, crusty exterior on your bread, which gives it extra flavor and creates crunch, as well as making the sandwich stronger and less mushy. Simultaneously, the peanut butter in your sandwich starts to melt, becoming oozy and gooey. The butter you spread on the outside, meanwhile, contributes to the sandwich's flavor, and you can improve this even more by using a flavored butter, studded with cinnamon sugar or mixed with honey. It's best to go with thick-cut white bread if you're grilling a PB&J, as the sandwich will remain stronger overall, and the inside will still be soft and deliciously chewy.
Add Spice To Heat Things Up
Heat and spiciness may not be the first sensation you want from a PB&J, but once you've had it, you won't look back. Spice can add a new dimension to this sandwich, making its mouthfeel and the experience of eating it way more interesting and giving it a taste boost, as well. It's best to add heat through something that will complement the other flavors in the sandwich, and sriracha is an awesome choice. A peanut butter, jelly, and sriracha sandwich has a sweetness that pairs well with both the peanut butter and the jelly, and there's a slight brininess to it that rounds everything out nicely, without becoming distracting.
If you want a hit of pure heat, you can also use dried spice, like cayenne pepper or chili flakes. A small sprinkling over the peanut butter can give your sandwich some piquancy, without diminishing the flavor of the nuts or jelly. To incorporate spice directly into your regular jelly, try mixing it with a hot pepper jam, or replace it entirely with a chili jelly. Remember, though, spice doesn't necessarily mean heat. There are plenty of ways to add non-fiery flavors by using spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, which provide woody notes, or even shavings of crystallized ginger for a peppery, sweet hit.
Add Fresh Fruit To Brighten Up The Sweetness
While PB&Js pack a punch flavor-wise, one thing they normally don't provide is a sense of freshness. Because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are made using jarred ingredients, they can sometimes lack layers or nuance. Using fresh fruit is a brilliant way to get around this. Fresh fruit can work wonders in your PB&J, giving it extra crunch, more moisture, a pleasing hit of sourness, and exciting flavor contrasts.
If you want to keep things streamlined, it's easy enough to jazz up your chosen jelly's flavor with its corresponding fresh fruit. For strawberry jelly, try slicing strawberries into thin planks and layering them throughout the sandwich, which will give the spread a zingy tartness and a more complex mouthfeel. You can also go rogue and pick a different fruit entirely, like opting for the classic combo of peanut butter, jelly, and banana or popping in some tangy pineapple slices. Additionally, fresh fruit lovers can choose to omit jelly entirely and just use apple or pear slices placed directly on the peanut butter. This will give your sandwich slightly less sweetness, but the crunch of the fruit and the wholesome glow you'll have afterward will more than make up for it.
Include Bacon For A Savory Smack
It's no secret that bacon goes well with everything. That includes, you might be surprised to hear, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While including bacon sounds distracting at first, it helps to reinforce the combination of salty and sweet that PB&Js trade on, a flavor duo that we're hardwired to love. "Salty and sweet combinations are basically a primal instinct that our bodies are designed to crave ... We are genetically programmed to crave sweet foods," James Briscion, the Institute of Culinary Education's director of culinary research, tells Eater. Our bodies associate the sensory overload that the combo of salty and sweet provides with the feeling of balanced satiety, a desire for which was vital for our survival as hunter-gatherers.
Adding in bacon amps up this salty-sweet punch, thanks to the cured meat's high salt content, and intensifies all of the other flavors in the sandwich. It also gives a PB&J extra savoriness, rounding out its flavor even more. If you're using bacon, though, you'll need to make sure that it's cooked properly. Pale, thick, flabby bacon will make your sandwich chewy and, frankly, disgusting. Opt for thin bacon and cook it until it's deep brown and crispy. That crispiness will also add an exciting new texture to your PB&J.
Make Your Sandwich With French Toast
Look, we're never going to say no to a mashup of our favorite breakfast and lunch foods, and that's exactly what a French toast peanut butter and jelly delivers. Combining French toast and a PB&J creates a super-satisfying meal that also layers dairy flavors in, which can serve as a mellow undertone for the sharper tastes in the sandwich. As well as this, French toast PB&Js are eminently toppable, and you can cover them with fresh berries, whipped cream, dustings of your favorite flavored sugar -- whatever your heart desires.
There are two ways to combine French toast and PB&Js, either by creating a stuffed toast with the sandwich or using two slices of cooked French toast as your bread. While either is viable, we prefer the former, to cut down on mess and make things easier. You just need to make your PB&J as normal, before dipping it into your egg-and-milk mixture and then frying it in a buttery skillet. Doing this allows the peanut butter to melt in the middle of your sandwich, leaving your breakfast guests with a gooey surprise when they slice into it, while the outside firms up and remains bouncy and eggy.
Use Slider Buns For A Lunchtime Treat
Sometimes, you just want to make your lunch a little more fun. Using slider rolls for your PB&J is a great way to do it. Slider rolls give you the ability to portion out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without having to slice them up, and they're particularly useful if you're preparing them for a group of kids. They also make preparation way easier and quicker: You can make multiple PB&J sandwiches in one go by spreading your peanut butter and jelly inside a row of sliced buns, before putting them together in one seamless move.
As well as this, slider buns offer you the opportunity to use different-flavored breads. Going for a potato roll, for instance, will give your sandwich a slightly more buttery flavor and a fluffier texture than you might get with sliced white bread. Brioche slider buns can do a similar thing, with their golden-brown egg-washed domes giving a hint of caramelization. It's also a fun idea to mix it up with a few different types of jelly or nut butter in different slider buns, to offer up a bit of variety to any hungry guests you're catering for.
Include An Additional Nut Butter
While it doesn't feel right to call a sandwich a PB&J without the presence of peanut butter, it's fair to say that in 2024, it's far from our only option. These days, there are a host of nut butters you can choose from, and many of them can give your sandwich a fresh twist and brand-new flavors. Opting for cashew butter instead of peanut butter, for example, can give your sandwich extra creaminess. Pistachio butter, meanwhile, can provide a PB&J with slightly more savory flavors, not to mention an uplift in its nutty, almost grassy notes.
How you use additional nut butters is up to you: You can either replace your peanut butter with another one entirely or mix the two, which can give the sandwich extra layers. Don't be shy about using flavored nut butters, either. A cinnamon almond butter can give your sandwich a spicy-sweet edge from the cinnamon plus a pleasing butteriness from the almonds.
Add Soft Cheese For Funkiness And Squelch
Fruit, nuts, and cheese are a classic charcuterie board combo, so why shouldn't they go together in a sandwich? Including cheese in your PB&J can give it a hit of sharp brininess, a slightly savory edge, and a great boost to its texture. Your cheese choice is important here, though, and opting for a crumbly cheddar or a hard parmesan may not quite work. Instead, we'd recommend going for a soft cheese like Brie or ricotta, both of which can amp up the creamy, chewy factor in your sandwich.
When adding cheese, you need to think carefully about its intensity. It's best to aim for a mild cheese that has just a hint of funk to it, as going for something too mature will just overpower your sandwich. A young Brie is ideal here, as it has just enough flavor to add to your PB&J but not enough to clash with your jelly and nut spread. How you add it to the sandwich is up to you, but we like to layer in relatively thick slices, rind included. The rind adds some extra bite to the sandwich's interior, with the soft cheese making everything gooey.
Deep-Fry Your PB&J For The Ultimate Lunch
You can deep-fry pretty much anything, and PB&Js are no exception. Deep-frying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich turns it from a simple lunch into an ultra-indulgent treat. When you deep-fry a PB&J, the peanut butter and jelly filling melts, turning creamy and giving it a silky-smooth mouthfeel. The exterior of the sandwich, meanwhile, develops a shatteringly crisp exterior, creating an exciting texture contrast.
Because the dual filling of peanut butter and jelly serves to bind your pieces of bread together effectively, you don't have to worry too much about your sandwich falling apart in the hot oil. Having said this, making a thick enough batter to coat your PB&J is important. Coating it in batter both helps it crisp up and stops any of the peanut butter or jelly from leaking out into the fat, which can cause a difficult cleanup operation. Fry the PB&J until golden brown on both sides, flipping it halfway through to ensure an even cook.
Scatter In Breakfast Cereal For Extra Crunch
If you're using smooth peanut butter instead of crunchy, it can simplify the texture of your sandwich. However, while some people like the chewy softness that smooth peanut butter allows, others miss the crunch factor. A great way to reintroduce it, and add flavor at the same time, is by scattering some breakfast cereal into your sandwich. As breakfast cereals are designed to be soaked in milk, they generally stay crispy when introduced to moisture, so unless you're making your PB&J far in advance, they'll deliver a great crunch.
You can pick your breakfast cereal to bolster the taste of your jelly or add another dimension entirely. Froot Loops go well with pretty much any jelly and can also introduce some other fruity flavors (albeit slightly artificial ones -- but hey, they're still tasty). Opting for Cocoa Krispies, on the other hand, add some mellow chocolate notes, whereas Cinnamon Toast Crunch can provide a mild hint of spice. As using certain breakfast cereals can create a real nostalgia factor, this is also a great way to combine your lunch with a trip down memory lane. One thing we'd recommend, though, is not picking cereals that are too bulky or have especially large pieces, as this can just make your sandwich annoying to eat.
Use Waffles Instead Of Bread
If you're bored of using standard white bread for your PB&J, the solution to this lies in your freezer. Using frozen waffles in place of bread can give your peanut butter and jelly sandwich extra bite, bulk, sweetness, and crispiness. Frozen waffles have a lightly sweet, slightly eggy taste that works well with the nutty peanut flavors. Their gently sugary notes also make them perfect for use with less sweet or reduced-sugar jellies and will help bolster the flavor of the sandwich.
Our favorite thing about using waffles is their texture. Their toasted nature brings a light crunchiness to the table, and the little pockets of space that they're studded with are perfect for the peanut butter and jelly to pool in, giving you little bursts of pure flavor as you chew through them. When using waffles, however, it's really important to remember to not be sparing with your filling. If you don't put enough in, it'll be harder to spread everything evenly, and you'll end up with some irregular coverage. It can also be useful to cut a waffle PB&J into smaller pieces, as the sturdiness of the waffles can make them somewhat tricky to eat whole.
Toss In Some Nuts
Peanut butter can range significantly in flavor, with industrially produced smooth spreads tasting pretty different from a natural, small-batch, chunky option. So, if you're finding that your peanut butter just isn't nutty enough for you, or lacks texture, we'd advise throwing in some extra nuts. Putting additional nuts in a PB&J is an excellent way to add further nuance to your sandwich, with different nuts giving both crunch and flavor: A handful of slivered almonds, for instance, gives the sandwich a light crispiness and a sweet, slightly toasty taste. Roasted almond pieces can give even more depth and warmth.
Chopped hazelnuts can also work well in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and give the spread more earthiness, particularly if their skins are left on. Walnuts, conversely, can give a PB&J more creaminess, and their softer texture means that they don't give too much bite. Importantly, though, texture is everything when it comes to using nuts. If you opt for whole or large pieces, you'll just end up making your sandwich a nightmare to eat and run the risk of breaking a tooth as you chomp through it. Slivered pieces, on the other hand, range between a thickness of 0.3 to 2 millimeters and are perfect for providing a gentle crunch.
Bring Out Extra Flavor With Potato Chips
If you haven't tried a PB&J with potato chips in it yet, you haven't lived. Potato chips stuffed into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich create a sheer flavor explosion, with the combination of saltiness, nuttiness, and sweetness making each mouthful seriously intense. As the peanut butter and jelly act as a glue for each chip, you also don't have to worry too much about crumbs going everywhere, and it ensures that the flavor is well-contained and evenly spread.
Plain salted chips are our preferred option for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with their concentrated salty flavor proving simple but effective. Having said this, there's no reason why you can't experiment with your chip flavors: Sour cream and onion chips can give your sandwich a savory edge, whereas barbecue chips give spicy sweetness. You might find, however, that these kinds of flavors just end up being distracting. You should also aim for a chip that's not too thick so that it doesn't overwhelm your spreads. While other types of chips, like corn or root chips, can mix things up texture-wise, you might find that they get soggy quicker and turn a bit mealy. Potato chips, on the other hand, hold their shape and texture well, even when slightly wet.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.