5:50 in the early morning, 1996. The sun has just begun to rise over the rows of houses in a tiny and quiet neighborhood. Dawn is taking shape. High above—it spreads it’s light into the sky—casting with it’s descent, a colorful hue that mimics a cacophony of sound and color beyond the mountains. 6:20 in the morning. The sun has brightened and its warming rays slither through the far off distance, past the empty school, across the street. It finds its way through a white picket fence, and creeps over the trimmed lawn, painting its yellow color on the white walls of a modest family home. 6:40 in the morning. Tiny streaks of sunlight gleam through closed blinds illuminating certain areas of a disheveled and disorganized room. Remnants of a once-clean abode can still be seen beneath all the clothes, toys, and books that are thrown about littering the floor, shelves, and desk. Crowded, picture-laden, walls go undisturbed by the light that has made its way inside the unsuspected domain. As time ticks, by the light, emitting from the outside world, begins to grow stronger. It fights off the darkness within, and fills the room with a warmth that is not welcomed at this early hour. 7:00 in the morning and the alarm buzzes for the fourth time. Something stirs on the bed, and the sheets begin to rustle. Beneath the crisp bundled mounds of striped cloth lies an eight year old me awakening from a deep sleep. A tired, limp hand emerges from underneath a giant pillow, hitting the alarm clock. The buzzing sound ceases and the room is quiet once again.
7:20 in the morning. The boy dashes from the closest to the bathroom, back and forth. Rapidly brushing his teeth, combing his hair and putting on clothes, he prepares for school. The mad dash only intensifies as time slips away becoming more apparent that a tardy is in store if he does not hurry. He enters the kitchen and sees his sisters dressed and ready to go. Just waiting for him to finally make his appearance. He ignores their stares and scoffs—for the school is right across the street—and goes straight to the breakfast table where his morning fare awaits. No time to enjoy it at a reasonable pace, he practically swallows it whole without breath, without hesitation, giving off the impression that this is a daily occurrence. He has become accustomed to it. Only when stripes of maple syrup are left alone, on the plate, are they ready to depart. Ready to go to school and learn. One by one they each pick up their sacked lunches. Their names neatly written across the front brown paper, allows for no confusion as to which bag belongs to which sibling. The contents within are always the same. Expected and required. A fresh fruit, a string cheese, frosted circus animal cookies, a juice box and a delicious sandwich.
The sandwiches vary from child to child revealing that their tastes and sophisticated palates are unique to each sibling. For the girls, a turkey with swiss on wheat, no crusts and a provolone and tomato no mayo, with plenty of mustard. The boy’s is much more simple and modest in flavor. Peanut butter (crunchy) and jelly (raspberry) on whatever bread, slightly toasted. The salty and sweet sandwich give him something to look forward to among the long hours stuck in a classroom. Each day he awakens not wanting to go to school, dragging his feet as he gets ready and makes his way to the kitchen where his sisters await impatiently. The only salvation that comes his way is knowing that his lunch will always be the same. Right there on the counter waiting for him to pick it up and take it to school. Waiting to be eaten and enjoyed. Only when he walks out the door with his brown sack—”Jon” written in block letters—can he face the day. Only then is he willing to make the best of what lies ahead, PB&J in hand.
These cupcakes were inspired by that infamous PB&J of my early years in school. Flavors that mimic and recreate my childhood are paired together to construct a treat that brings us all back to the days of our youth. We begin by making the jam. Yes, the jam. You might not want to take this extra step in making your own jam, but I think you should! It’s super easy and a lot healthier. Healthier because you know all the ingredients that are going inside. Healthier because it is made without any weird preservatives or thickeners.
If you make your own jam people will look at you as if you are a master in the kitchen. It works. Let’s make jam together. I’m using two types of fresh berries for this one. Blackberries and Raspberries. Why? Because I like those two flavor profiles together. But also because they were the best looking ones at the farmer’s market that week. You can use whichever fruit you prefer or whatever is in season.
Pick through the berries to make sure there aren’t any bad ones in the bunch. I just go through with my hands and toss away any berries that are soggy or moldy.
Dump the good ones into a colander.
Give the berries a rinse and allow them to air dry for a bit. You don’t have to worry about making sure if they are completely dry, just dry enough will do. You can also pat them dry with a few paper towels, but that’s an extra step that I’m too lazy for.
Throw the berries into a large pot.
We need to sweeten these berries. Add a cup of sugar. Blackberries and raspberries—in my opinion—tend to be tart and sour sometimes, so the sugar will help cut through that and just round out their flavor.
Throw it in, what are you waiting for?
Eh, that doesn’t seem to be enough.
Let’s throw in another cup of sugar. Why not? Might as well.
And now we need to balance out the sweetness from the sugar and the tartness from the berries, with some lemon. Fresh lemon juice will be great. Don’t bring out some of that refrigerated already squeezed stuff here, it’s not welcome.
Squeeze your own lemon juice, it’s easy and more fresh than that stuff in a bottle that who knows how long it’s been sitting in there.
Use a potato masher and just smash away.
Mush. Mush. Mush.
Mash. Mash. Mash.
Mash the berries until you end up with small chunks.
*Note: I like my jam slightly chunky so I don’t smash the berries completely. You can mash until you reach the desired consistency you like.*
It needs some more citrus. A little orange influence is required.
Throw in a couple pieces of orange rind, which is just a fancy way of saying orange peel.
Stir everything together and allow it to come to a slight boil.
This next ingredient is completely optional. I know that it is divided. True die-hard jam makers will probably disagree with me and say I shouldn’t add it, while others will tell me they also include it. So it’s completely up to you.
But I add a small pat of butter. Why you might ask? It’s supposed to reduce the jam from foaming. As you can see in the picture above, bubbly foam is starting to rise to the top. If you add a bit of butter this will be reduced, and you don’t have to worry about skimming it off later on.
So why take that chance of having foamy jam? Just add the butter (if you want to).
Add it to the pot, stir and melt.
Once it comes up to a small boil, lower the heat and allow it to reduce, and thicken slightly.
Let it go for about 18 minutes—stirring every so often—on low heat.
You can see above that it has reduced and is a lot thicker than when we started.
It is ready.
Let’s jar up this delicious homemade concoction.
Now, I don’t have the time—or frankly the patience—to go throw the whole jarring and canning procedures of boiling the mason jars and filling them and boiling the lids, and then boiling the filled jars. It’s too much work. Not to mention the fact that I would not have the will power to save all those jars of jam in my pantry for a long period of time. I’d want to eat it all at once.
So what I do—when I make jam—is that I don’t make that big of a batch, and I don’t can it to store in the pantry. I just can it to keep in the fridge for a short period of time. That way I don’t have to worry about all those boiling steps because the jam won’t go bad in the fridge. The only downside to this is that it won’t keep as long as it would if you canned it for the shelf. Instead of months, it’ll keep in the fridge for about 3-4 weeks. But since it’s just a small batch, I have no problem using it within that time frame. And believe me you’ll use it just as fast.
Of course, if you’re an expert at jarring and canning, then by all means go through the steps and do it right.
Anyhow, let’s turn our attention back to the jam.
So I still use a mason jar, like I said, I made a smaller batch so one big mason jar will hold it all.
*Tip: You do not want to add the boiling hot jam into this room temperature jar right away, because the heat might cause it to shatter and crack. So what I do is get the jar to a relatively same temperature as the jam. Turn on the hot water, in the sink, and allow the water to fill up the jar. Let it run in this manner, for a few minutes. That will heat the jar.*
After a few minutes, it will be ready. Empty out the jar and dry it completely with a lint-free towel or napkin.
And then just use a ladle to fill it up. BE VERY CAREFUL, as the jam is extremely hot, and I do not want you to get burned.
Oh this reminds me….
*Tip: If you are not like me, and you do not like the seeds in your jam, you can strain the mixture before adding it to the jars. Just pass it through a fine sieve and use a spoon to push out the liquid. Toss out the seeds. You can also use a food mill, if you have one.*
I happen to really like the seeds in my jam. Which is probably why I always opt out for preserves when I’m at the market. I just like the texture and homemade feel it gives the jam. But it’s completely up to you.
Once the jar is filled, cover it tightly with the very clean lid.
See how nice the seeds look? It just gives it a special touch, I think. I might just be crazy, and partially lazy to remove the seeds but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone.
Okay so there you go, the blackberry and raspberry jam is done. You should be proud of yourself. You are a Suzy Homemaker or a Sammy Homemaker (take your pick). Allow the jam to come to room temperature. You CANNOT add it to the fridge while it’s extremely hot. If you do that, it will lower the temperature inside the fridge and everything inside will spoil.
I like to keep it in the fridge for about 24 hours, before using it for the cupcakes. It’ll give it a chance to thicken and congeal.
So let’s pretend we’ve waited those excruciating 24 hours. And all we did was dream about our homemade jam. Before we begin our cupcakes for filling, let’s enjoy our jam and perhaps have a piece of toast or an english muffin. Go ahead I give you permission to.
Did you enjoy that toast or muffin with your homemade jam?
Good. Party is over! Back to work!
Let’s make cupcakes.
Here’s what you need (thought I forgot about this shot this time, didn’t you?).
In the bowl of an electric mixer dump in the butter and granulated sugar.
This is just a basic, moist, yellow cake batter.
It’s the “bread” to our pb&j’s.
Cream the butter and sugar on high, until light and fluffy.
While that’s going, let’s mix the dry ingredients, or sift them (if you are into sifting).
*Tip: When making cake, I like to use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. It gives the cake a better crumb and moist texture. If cake flour is not available to you (or you just do not have any on hand and you are too lazy to go out to the market to get some), just use regular ol’ all-purpose flour.*
To the bowl of cake flour, add the baking powder and salt.
Whisk and mix (or sift).
Once the butter and sugar are creamy, light and fluffy, add the two eggs and one egg yolk to the bowl, mixing well after each addition.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix once again.
Add the vanilla extract and mix.
As always, use the real stuff. Don’t bring out some of that imitation stuff. Sure, it’s cheaper. You might be tempted to save money. No one will tell the difference, you might be thinking. But you are wrong! EVERYONE can tell the difference! Buy the real stuff!
And now for the last two steps.
We are going to add the dry and wet ingredients, alternating between the two.
The only rule is to begin with the dry, and end with the dry.
Just take turns, dry, wet, dry, wet, dry until it’s all used up.
*Tip: Whenever you are making cake batter, and the recipe calls for regular whole milk, swap it out for buttermilk. This will make your cake moist and delicious.*
Make sure you do not over mix after each addition. That will cause dry cupcakes.
That’s it. The batter is done.
Get out your cupcake pans.
Line them with those paper liners.
You already know the drill by now. Use a medium-sized ice cream scoop and fill these cupcake pans.
Fill, fill, fill until they are all filled up.
Bake these in a preheated 350° oven for about 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Bake, bake, bake until they are all baked up.
Once done, allow them to slightly cool in the pans.
Then, invert them onto a cooling rack. Fix them. Space them out. Place them nicely, and allow them to cool completely.
You should still have batter left over, so make another batch.
When all the cupcakes are baked, and completely—and I do mean completely—cooled, it’s time to fill them with our homemade jam.
First thing we have to do is cut a hole in the center of each.
I use a small pairing knife. Nothing fancy.
It’s just a small cavity.
Bring out that jam.
And a spoon.
Fill each cupcake with about a tablespoon of jam.
I tend to overfill mine because I love this fresh filling. Follow in my footsteps, and overfill them too. This is the only time I’ll tell you to overfill something, so take advantage.
And like magic, they are all filled. Poof. Just like that.
I could not decide on which image to show. The one above, or this next one. So you get both.
Pop these in the fridge while we make the frosting.
I know you must be asking, “Jonathan when is the peanut butter coming in to play?” Well here it is, here it is.
We are going to make a light (that’s light as in airy not as in healthy) peanut butter frosting.
Dump the butter into a mixing bowl.
And the peanut butter.
*Note: Use creamy peanut butter for this. I know, I know. Crunchy peanut butter is really the ultimate and the best for a pb&j sandwich, I agree. But sadly for this frosting, the creamy kind is the absolute best because we’re going to whip it like crazy. Just whip it. Whip it. Okay, out of my system.*
Whip the two ingredients until they are combined and smooth.
Add the vanilla extract and salt.
Add the powdered sugar.
And mix once again.
When all the sugar is incorporated and the frosting appears to be extra, super, duper thick add the heavy whipping cream.
Whip on high until the frosting is light and somewhat thick.
*Note: DO NOT over mix at this stage. When adding the cream it is fairly easy to over whip the frosting, it can go from light and fluffy to heavy and chunky in a flash. So just whip for a couple minutes to thicken.*
Transfer the frosting into a pastry bag—if using—fitted with a plain circle tip.
*Tip: If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can use a gallon size food storage bag. Just cut off one of the ends.*
In a circular motion, holding the bag with both hands, frost each cupcake.
That was super simple wasn’t it? Don’t even think about saying it was hard, try holding the camera with one hand and piping with the other, now that’s hard.
Look at these cupcakes. They look awesome.
We are done right?
We can eat them now?
I want one.
Wait just a minute, there.
We are not done yet!
It needs a garnish, they look so plain.
Plus, remember earlier how I said that chunky peanut butter is the best for pb&j sandwiches? Well, since I want these to taste exactly like a pb&j, I think it needs a nutty topping.
Just some lightly salted peanuts.
I like that little bit of salt on the cupcakes. It balances everything perfectly.
Give them a rough chop.
Sprinkle it on the cupcakes.
And that’s it. Now you are done.
Stand back and admire your work.
Okay, that’s enough admiring.
Yea grab one right now for yourself, before you start handing them out. You have to try it to make sure they are good.
You don’t want anyone to get sick, if they are bad, right? This is quality control is all.
Shhh…I won’t tell anyone that you snuck a cupcake while you were in the kitchen.
And just like that it is gone.
Quick, throw away the evidence. Wipe the crumbs off your face. You look like a mess.
Pretend that nothing has happened.
Now rearrange the cupcakes so your friends and family do not see that one is missing.
Go out there and eat another, as if you’ve never tried them before.
These cupcakes are hard to believe, they are so good, they seem too good to be true. Or at least that’s what I was told.
They taste just like a PB&J sandwich. Granted, we used jam instead of jelly, but you get the point.
They are probably the best cupcakes I have ever made. Although according to my peanut butter-hating sister, they are not. She’s an impartial judge, she does not count.
If you happen to be a big PB&J fan, like me, you have to make these right away. And make your own jam! You don’t have to use blackberries and raspberries, if you do not want to. Feel free to swap them out for other fresh berries. Like strawberries.
The best part about making your own jam is that you’ll end up with quite a bit, and you instantly have an excuse to make these cupcakes often in the span of 3-4 weeks. You’ll be so thankful that you opted for the fresh homemade jam. Believe me.
I’ve already showed you an obscene amount of images, and talked your ear off. So the only thing left to do is for you to go on and make them. Try these cupcakes for yourself. Be sure to let me know what you think!
PB&J (Peanut Butter and Jam) Cupcakes
These cupcakes are amazing with homemade jam (recipe below) but if you do not have time to make your own, your favorite store bought kind will do just fine!
- 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 – 1/4 cups cake flour
- 2 – 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, buttermilk
- homemade blackberry raspberry jam (recipe below)
- peanut butter frosting (recipe below)
- 2 tablespoons chopped peanuts, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350° and line two cupcake tins with liners.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk together. Once the butter and sugar are creamed, add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl frequently to ensure even mixing. Add the vanilla extract and mix again.
Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, alternating between the two. Make sure to start and end with the dry ingredients. Do not over mix. Using a medium-sized ice cream scoop, fill each lined cupcake pan. Give the pan a few light taps on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pans for a few minutes, and then transfer the cupcakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Once the cupcakes reach room temperature and are cool to the touch, cut a hole in the center of each with a pairing knife. This is for the jam filling. Fill each with about a tablespoon of the blackberry and raspberry jam (or desired filling of choice). Top each cupcake with the peanut butter frosting and sprinkle with chopped peanuts for garnish. Eat right away or store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Enjoy!
Blackberry and Raspberry Jam
Swap out these jam flavors for whichever you prefer or for whichever fruit is in season. It is great for morning toast or on a muffin. Even better in a pb&j sandwich.
- 3 containers fresh blackberries
- 3 containers fresh raspberries
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 3 pieces orange peel
Pick through the fresh berries, discarding any berries that are bad. Place the blackberries and raspberries in a colander and rinse. Allow them to air dry for a bit, they do not have to be completely dry, just not soaking wet either. Once dry, transfer them to a large pot and place over medium-high heat. Add the sugar, lemon juice and orange peel. Using a potato masher, smash the fruit until you reach your desired consistency. I like my jam slightly chunky. Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring constantly. When it comes to a boil, lower the heat to low, and allow to simmer for about 18 minutes or until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. Remove from heat.
Heat the mason jars you are using by running them under very hot water for a few minutes, this will ensure that they do not crack or shatter when you pour the hot jam in. Dry the jars thoroughly and fill them with the jam. Cover them tightly and allow to cool down to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up 4 weeks. Enjoy.
Peanut Butter Frosting
This light and airy frosting is perfect for any cupcake. Try it on chocolate cake as well, for a nice twist.
- 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon course salt
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
Place the peanut butter and butter in a large mixing bowl. Whip together until creamy and smooth. Add the vanilla, salt and powdered sugar. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to ensure everything gets incorporated. Slowly add the cream to the mixture as it runs on low speed. Beat on high speed until the frosting is light and smooth. Do not over-mix. Enjoy!