Peanut Butter World and Consistency

Courtesy of Ben & Jerry official website.

A lot of folks marvel at my weird, homemade cookbooks, not the least because of their weird cover arts. Amalgamations of regional fare, household staples, and a lot of things I’ve never even tried, but that looked really good, all behind a cover of a haunting, candlelit burger jar…or Cookie Monster…or ram skull. But sometimes, they’ll thumb to a particular recipe: ketchup, or chicken stock, and they’ll ask me why I go through the trouble of making it when I could just buy it at the store. Usually, I just tell them it’s because the homemade stuff just hits differently. Because I appreciate the joy, the accomplishment of making my own food whenever I can. But there’s a tinge more to my reasoning.

I’ve always loved peanut butter, whether as the glue in my sandwiches, the protein-boost to my apples, or the perfect dollop of added flavor in my ice cream. Especially in ice cream. The salty contrast to the sweetness of (almost-always chocolate) ice cream? Yes. Chef’s kiss. However you phrase it, that’s my jam. But even peanut butter themed ice cream wasn’t doing it for me; I always needed to swirl more peanut butter in. I needed more.

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Chocolate Ice Cream

Chocolate (semi, milk, dark), 6 oz.
Whole Milk, 1 C.
Heavy Cream, 2 C.
Cocoa Powder, 1/3 C.
Sugar, 3/4 C.
Egg Yolks, 6
Vanilla Extract, 2 tsp.
Kosher Salt, 1/4 tsp.

1.) Make ice cream base: fill a large bowl with ice and water, set aside (shock bath for later). Fill a medium saucepan with about 2” water and place over medium heat (double-boiler). Place a large, heatproof bowl on top. Add chocolate (combination of different types to taste; I tend toward 2 oz. dark, 2 oz. semi, 2 oz. milk), stir until melted. Let cool slightly.

2.) In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk milk, cream, and cocoa powder together. When mixture begins to boil, remove from heat, set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk sugar and egg yolks until pale and thick ribbons form (3–4 min, hand mixer optional). Whisking constantly, gradually add hot milk texture, one ladle at a time, to warm through egg mixture.

3.) Pour whole mixture into saucepan, then whisk in melted chocolate and place over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until mixture thickens. Ensure it never comes to a simmer. Takes 4–5 minutes. It is done when, if the back of the spoon is coated, your finger leaves a clean line.

4.) Stir in vanilla and salt. Strain into a large bowl, ice bath. Let cool to room temp, then cover and chill 3 hours (up to overnight) before using).

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In July of 2015, my then-partner and I moved into a Michigan hotel, not three hundred yards’ walking distance from a Target. Our in-suite refrigerator was limited, our freezer more pathetic than that, so we did a lot of shopping to make things day-of when we weren’t feeling takeout. One of those trips for food and snacks took me to Target. To the freezer section. To Ben & Jerry’s section. To a strain of “Exclusive Flavor”-marked lids. And that which stared back at me bore into my id-driven heart, challenging me to deny it and begging me to take it: a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter World.

It was perfect. The ultimate blend of sweet ice cream with salty peanut butter, complimented even more so with crunchy chunks of chocolate cookie, all swirled together in that Ben & Jerry’s excess. Even after we moved from the hotel, the Target was still in driving distance, and I had no qualms about making the trip. Through TV show binges, through nights when we just needed to relax, through a series of trying times for both of us, I was able to lean back on Peanut Butter World. It was delicious, yes, but it was also comforting. Like it was made for me, both before and when I needed it most.

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Peanut Butter Swirl

Peanut Butter, 3/4 C.
Heavy Cream, 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.
Salt, pinch

1.) Whisk all together. Cover in plastic wrap, set aside at room temp.

2.) After finishing ice cream, drop spoonfuls on top of ice cream and swirl it through with a butter knife or stiff spatula. Do not overstir so that it completely incorporates, but remains thick swirls.

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After Michigan, post-divorce and between jobs, I crashed with a friend in western Chicago for a few months. I was now walking distance away from a Target, still able to get Peanut Butter World for these weird and uncertain times. It genuinely helped, and comforted me as I searched for and eventually secured employment in Connecticut.

Out east, Target was a bit of a hike away, but still not far. They still had Peanut Butter World, and I had a freezer all my own. And as I started working in a new place, with new people, and new challenges both at work and in life, I leaned into Peanut Butter World. It became part of my routine, both a thing to look forward to and a thing that I could break out if I thought I needed it. Whether as a prelude to a movie, or in the first act of the most recent Critical Role, or as I barreled through a few episodes of whatever show I was watching, Peanut Butter World was the constant. Something to depend on. To rely on. I don’t mean this with an ounce of hyperbole, but that one flavor of ice cream was a true comfort during one of the worst times of my life. Knowing that no matter how difficult things were, no matter how hard life or work was, I could always find some time to decompress with Peanut Butter World.

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Chocolate Cookies

Flour, 2.33 C.
Baking Soda, 1 tsp.
Kosher Salt, 1/2 tsp.
Cocoa, 3/4 C.
Unsalted Butter (Room Temperature), 1 C.
Sugar, 1 C.
Light Brown Sugar, 1 C.
Eggs (Room Temperature), 2
Vanilla, 1 tsp.
Chocolate Chips (optional*), 1 C.
Chocolate Chunks (optional*), 1 C.
Sea Salt Flakes (optional*), sprinkle

*Optional materials may compromise structure of ice cream when incorporated.

1.) Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or baking mat. Set aside.

2.) Medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, sea salt, cocoa. Set aside.

3.) With a mixer, cream butter and sugars until smooth. Add in eggs one at a time. Next, add vanilla extract and mix until combined.

4.) Gradually add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and chocolate chunks. Scoop dough into rounded tablespoons and place onto baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies for 8 minutes and remove baking sheet from oven. Quickly and gently press large chunks of chocolate into tops of cookies. Place the baking sheet back in the oven and finish baking the cookies for an additional 2 minutes or until the cookies are set around the edges but still soft in the center.

5.) Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 3 minutes. When cooled, but still malleable, incorporate into ice cream mixture.

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In August of 2021, after leaving my job, I moved back to Indiana to live with my mother. It was isolated from most of the world I knew, 45 minutes away from the nearest Target, but hey, you can’t beat free rent. In my initial running around the area, I ran into the closest Target and found a couple pints of Peanut Butter World. Had one as I transitioned to whatever this between-jobs life was. Fantastic. Something in my soul told me to wait until I could restock before enjoying the next pint. So I swung by Target when I could, when I was in the area. Empty shelves, over and over again. Then, no label for Peanut Butter World on the shelves. The internet tells me they exist, but other parts clamor that it’s been discontinued, or suffering supply shortages. It’s safe to say that I don’t know what to believe, but I know what I see, and that’s a distinct lack of Peanut Butter World in my life.

I had that final pint in the freezer, no more than ten paces from where I slept, promised to split with my mother as a celebratory “Yay I got a job and am moving out” treat. I’ve managed to stretch out that one pint into two evenings of bliss, with a third to come, now that I’ve moved out. But after that? Who knows?

Backtrack to 2020. April, early in the pandemic, the height of physical and emotional isolation: I ordered an ice cream maker from Best Buy and had it dropped off in my car. And I got to work. I didn’t have all the industrial machinery that Ben & Jerry’s had, but I had that desire to try and make my own Peanut Butter World. Using rinsed out pints as my storage containers, I got to experimenting, trying, and always being just a bit too short of the full experience. But I knew I was getting closer. I wanted to be ready if name-brand food remained just as hard to acquire as it was at that time.

I’m still trying to hit that perfect balance that I found in Peanut Butter World. This situation is the manifestation of “why do you make it when you can just buy at the store?” Because I don’t know when I suddenly won’t be able to buy it at the store, whether just for a while or maybe forever. I’ve been to the Ben & Jerry’s plant in Vermont, I’ve seen the ice cream graveyard, I know it’s always a possibility. Because I find such genuine comfort in such specific food that I would rather not leave all of my eggs in one basket and assume it’ll be around forever. Even if my own concoctions never match what Ben & Jerry have made, it’s still something I can make with basic, universal ingredients. It is mine, and I need only depend on myself to ensure my supply meets my demand.

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Mike Shepard

Mike Shepard

Just an amateur reminding himself of what he loves. Looking to write about all the things and experiences that make the end of the world worth living in.