…Dr. Luce introduced the concept of “periphescence.” The word itself means nothing; Luce made it up to avoid any etymological associations. The state of periphescence, however, is well known. It denotes the first fever of human pair bonding. It causes giddiness, elation, a tickling on the chest wall, the urge to climb a balcony on the rope of the beloved’s hair….
-Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex)

To put it mildly, this passage doesn’t even begin to explain how I feel about peanut butter. Maybe you think I’m kidding, but please let me assure you that I’m not.

Seriously, for as long as I can remember, peanut butter has been one of my most steadfast companions. My first time in Russia, my mother mailed me a package with a 2 lb. jar of Jif Creamy. Then, in Japan, I switched allegiances and started buying Skippy because, well, what’s an addict to do? My second time in Russia, the resident director of my program kindly hooked me up with not one, but two jars of peanut butter, even though I’m more than certain both he and the others on the program didn’t understand how it was possible for one small girl to go through two normal sized jars in six weeks. Oh well. I am who I am.

Yeah, well…in times of trouble (i.e. the whole of any individual’s existence in Russia, in my humble opinion), peanut butter is my ultimate comfort food: peanut butter and apples, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter simply on its own. It’s soothing and rich and, frankly, it just tastes like home.

This taste of home–the feeling of stepping back from the world and regrouping, even if for only enough time to sneak (or openly devour) a tablespoon of peanut butter– is exactly why this past weekend I decided to try my hand at homemade peanut butter pudding. All of the preparations for my trip east have been taking a lot of time…I’ve been to the eye doctor twice, the seamstress and dry cleaner once, also to have my hair cut, as well as to meet with my writing group buddy and that’s not even counting all the trips to and from campus as I’ve attempted to finish up my library work for June and get books scanned so that I can start editing a paper for publication (the very same paper that inspired these scones last summer).

One bite of this pudding was like falling in love all over again. Maybe it was the heavy cream I decided to use so as not to waste a pint of goodness, or maybe it was the peanuts I sprinkled on top for crunch, but the smooth and salty-sweet combination of the pudding was as close to perfection as any beloved thing could ever be. I fell in love all over again.

Peanut Butter Pudding
Fills 4 ramekins with comfort

I should mention that I used natural peanut butter–Trader Joe’s is up there with JIF– which slightly complicated things because it separated while I was heating it. But the taste was so good and so right (and natural peanut butter is better for you), that I can’t help but feel that this is still the preferable option. It is possible to drain some of the peanut oil at the final stage, and, also, before eating the pudding, you can stir it thoroughly to incorporate the oil….just like when you use natural peanut butter. What can I say, people? It’s comfort food!

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
handful of salted peanuts for sprinkling
jam and/or sweetened syrup to top

-Place peanut butter in a saucepan and let it begin to melt.
-As the consistency changes, add the cream/milk (whatever you have on hand; my ingredient choices were dictated by the fact that I needed to get rid of food in the fridge) and whisk over medium heat.
-Heat milk and peanut butter until steamy and hot.
-While milk is heating, whisk together granulated sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and pinch of salt. The mixture will be thick.
-Keep whisking until it’s smooth, or as smooth as possible.
-Pour about 1/2 cup of the steaming peanut buttery milk into the sugar and egg mixture. Whisk together.
– Add another half cup of hot milk and whisk to incorporate.
-Return the milky egg mixture into the saucepan over medium heat.
-Heat pudding mixture over medium heat until thick and bubbly, whisking almost constantly.
-You might also want to use a heat-proof spatula to stir the mixture, ensuring that the sides and corners of the pan aren’t burning.
– Boil for about 1 minute, or until thickened.
-Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
-At this stage, you can try to pour out some of the excess peanut oil and/or pour the cooked pudding into a fine mesh strainer set over a medium bowl.
-Also, if you press the pudding through the strainer once you’ve removed the excess oil, this will help to ensure that any bits of cooked egg don’t make it into the finished pudding.
– Spoon into small ramekins, top with either peanuts or jam/jam-like syrup.
-Finally, place plastic wrap over the individual puddings (if the plastic touches the top of the pudding, you’ll prevent a film or skin from forming on the pudding), and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

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