WELL here’s a funny one. I’ve told you before how I come by most of my recipes; they’re versions of things I’ve been taught, or culled from my notebooks.
Many are taken from other people’s writing, tested and tweaked. Some just come to me as I’m looking at a specific ingredient, and many are sparked by conversations on the internet, where foodies share meals and recipes like I used to trade football cards.
Some recipes come from happy accidents, and some are absolute classics, not to be toyed with lest the original magic evaporates. But this week’s recipe came to me, almost perfectly formed, during what I think was my very first (certainly that I can remember) lucid dream.
It was so powerful, so perfectly-formed, that I was able to wake at three in the morning, sketch out the details, a little illustration, and even the beginnings of a supermarket shopping list before drifting off to sleep again.
The dream began in the middle, as most dreams do – you never seem to be starting, you’re just ‘there’ – with a drive along some Spanish holiday coastline, which was then instantly transformed into deep countryside, and a visit to a house in what I can only guess was somewhere in mid-western America.
I was at home as a guest (I think) of a nice family, whose mother was showing me what she’d just prepared for dessert – ice-cream sandwiches made with peanut butter and jelly (their word for jam). They looked amazing. No sooner had she said this, than I was dreaming of being in a strange combination of my home and work kitchens, and here’s where it became very precise.
I was actually out-of-body for large parts of the time, observing myself at work on these sandwiches, and could actually see what I was writing down, and alter it if I ‘disagreed’ with myself. It was all most strange. Eventually I finished, and so, abruptly, did the dream.
The upshot of all this was a feeling of incredibly deep and satisfying sleep as I awoke, and several sheets of scribbled notepaper by the bedside. Well, I had to try it, didn’t I? I have to say, full marks to dream-me. They are delicious.
Essentially, they are a frozen version of a classic American lunchbox sandwich, which has for decades been a quick, easy ‘go-to’ snack, like milk & cookies.
The proper PB&J should ideally be built on white bread, and comprise peanut butter and grape jelly (jam), though many favour strawberry.
In my mind I’d seen that the sandwich was made not of bread, but crisp biscuits, and it was perfectly cylindrical, as if it had been set in a mould. I knew just what to do. I thought that a thin biscuit of cheesecake base would make a nice textural contrast, bound with a few salted peanuts, then smeared with smooth peanut butter.
On top of this I would pipe a rich vanilla-flecked parfait, spoon a little jam – I used raspberry – and top with another biscuit, then leave them to set before unmoulding and softening a little at ambient temperature.
And so, that’s exactly what I did. And they worked a treat.
One bite delivers a terrific combination of rich, creamy peanut with smooth vanilla parfait and a fruity hit from the jam. The salted peanuts accentuate the flavours and add texture.
It was hard to stop at just the one, so I’d recommend making a few each time. Oh, and keep a notepad by your bed. You never know when you might need it. Aprons on!
For the vanilla parfait:
175g unrefined golden caster sugar
6 fresh, free-range egg yolks
570ml double cream
The seeds of 4 large vanilla pods
For the peanut butter layer:
140g smooth peanut butter
4 tbsps full milk
For the jelly:
Approx. ½ a jar of raspberry jam (or any flavour you like)
A splash of lemon juice
For the biscuits:
300g digestive biscuits
50g salted peanuts
1 tbsp unrefined golden caster sugar
Several disposable piping bags
A wide tray for freezing
About 12 7cm ring moulds
First, make the cheesecake biscuits. In a food processor, whizz the sugar, digestives and peanuts until they form smooth uniform crumbs.
Melt the butter and pour into the crumbs. Line a tray with greaseproof paper and begin making the biscuits and bases.
Spoon a little mixture into a ring mould, making sure it’s well-packed and smooth, then remove the ring and repeat the process. You should have enough for about 12. When you’ve done 12 discs, you need to repeat the process but leave the ring moulds in place. These are the bases. Pop the tray in the freezer and allow the biscuits to set up.
Make the parfait now. Split the vanilla pods and scrape the seeds into a bowl or the bowl of a food mixer. Add the egg yolks and sugar, and whisk until very pale and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, whip the cream to a soft peak. Combine the two mixtures, and tip into a piping bag.
Next, loosen the peanut butter with the milk and spoon or pipe over the biscuits in the rings. Pipe in the vanilla parfait to within about a centimetre of the top, smooth, then pipe a raised circle around the edge, leaving a neat depression in the centre.
Loosen the raspberry jam with a little lemon juice, and pipe or spoon into the depressions.
Carefully lift each top biscuit from the sheet, turn over to have the smoother side uppermost, and place gently onto the jammy tops, pressing lightly to attach them to the parfait.
Freeze for at least 12 hours, then unmould carefully using a blowtorch or warm hands, and allow to come round for a few minutes before eating.