Food52 in 5

A 5-Minute Peanut Butter & Jelly Mug Cake (That Happens to Be Gluten-Free)

Microwave cooking for one.

by:
February 15, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms. This week, a pantry dessert that capitalizes on the power of 5 minutes.


In my opinion, one of life's greatest pleasures is collecting mugs. I wouldn't say that this is the most interesting thing about me (but it's pretty high on the list). When I travel anywhere, I always come home with a new mug. The cheesier the lettering, the tackier the coloring, the better. They're reminders of my trips but also of the people I've met, and of the delicious coffee I've had in them.

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In my cabinet at home, above the Chemex, you'll find a rainbow of mugs I've collected over my 10 years in New York City, moving from apartment to apartment to apartment. Even the ugliest, chipped mugs I've kept because they remind me of something or someone. I love that each cup tells a story, and in their continued usage, will gather meaning and symbolism in my life as a hermetic mug hoarder who loves having people over (so he never has to go out).

I use my mugs for things other than drinking my morning coffee. Like serving soup at dinner parties. It's not uncommon on weekends for my friends to stare up at me from the tiny, flimsy fold-up table I've forced crowded them around as I open up my cabinet, smiling wide, "Pick a mug, any mug."

You'd be surprised at how much you can tell about a person from the mug they choose. Those who choose wide-rimmed mugs are usually Aquariuses. Those who seek tall, angular mugs are confident in their professional lives, but vulnerable in their personal ones. Those who reach for the fancy-schmancy mugs think very highly of themselves—as they should, because self-love.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“The big mugs comfort and warm me on cold mornings and soothe me at the end of a wretched day when they are full of soup. It always surprises me, when I think I've reached bottom, that a few more sips or spoonfuls remain below line of sight. That's taught me the delight of surprise and always gives me a renewed sense that it's okay to hope. The pbj treat sounds luscious and I am looking forward to making this for a dear friend who will be visiting me from the West coast next week. He told me I was not to cook for and fuss over him but when I asked him to name the last boyfriend who made him dinner or breakfast in bed, he relented and agreed to accept some pampering. As always, Eric, you are very dear to my heart! : ) Thanks for this recipe. ”
— Whiteantlers
Comment

As for me? I love my 12-ounce mugs. They're the perfect size for coffee—and the perfect size for cake.

One of my deepest, darkest secrets (and perhaps the greatest evidence of my self-sufficiency) is this peanut butter and jelly mug cake. I make it for myself whenever I'm in the middle of a Grey's Anatomy episode and want something sweet to tide me over until Meredith's closing monologue, which always makes me cry. It gives me that little boost of energy I need to really let it all out and just bawl. And if some of my tears go into the cake, all the better; the salt helps bring out the peanut butter flavor.

Your choice? It's simple. Her or me. And I'm sure she's really great. But Derek, I love you, in a really, really big—pretend to like your taste in music, let you eat the last piece of cheesecake, hold a radio over my head outside your window—unfortunate way that makes me hate you, love you. So pick me. Choose me. Love me.
Dr. Meredith Grey, 'Grey's Anatomy'

How to Make a Mug Cake

For these moments and more, all I do is take a 12-ounce mug and plop a handful of ingredients into it: 1/4 cup peanut butter (that's 4 tablespoons, by the way), 1 egg, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch of salt. I whisk this together until smooth, then dollop in 1 tablespoon jelly, whatever flavor I have on hand. I think grape tastes great, but I've tried sour cherry (yum) and my colleague Ella—who helped me finesse this recipe—preferred versions with raspberry.

You'll then want to swirl the jam—but don't mix it in, because the joy of this cake is that it bakes up (in just 45 to 60 seconds on high) into a light and fluffy sponge, not unlike a Japanese cheesecake, and so the pockets of jelly melt and make certain cross sections a little gooey. It's the best of both worlds, for me. But if you're like Ella, who adores peanut butter, then I'd recommend leaving out the baking powder. You'll end up with a fudgier, gooier cake with a more pronounced PB flavor, which can be very nice if you're into that.

I love this mug cake because it's the ultimate comfort dessert for one, both in the eating and in the cooking. Its small-scale nature makes it quick and easy to execute—just five minutes from start to finish, only one of which is actual cooking. Plus, cleanup is essentially nonexistent, since you're mixing up all of the ingredients in one single cup that gets thrown into the dishwasher.

There are also so many permutations here: You could try a different kind of nut butter with your favorite flavor of jelly. I imagine almond butter with raspberry would taste great, for instance. And if it doesn't, who cares? I've always felt that the greatest thing about cooking for one is that it encourages experimentation, and the risk is so low because it's just you in the kitchen. As my editor Joanna once wrote, "a mug cake is the ultimate in whimsical, riffable desserts: You can experiment without committing to the whole shebang of a recipe."

Oh, the final thing I should say is that this cake happens to be gluten-free: There's no flour. Whether this matters to you or not, I think it's an incredible thing when a recipe works even better without an ordinarily essential ingredient. There's something about peanut butter that just bakes up into a gorgeous cake with the simple help of a single egg and sugar.

If you're looking for more microwave cakes (for Grey's Anatomy binges and more), I highly recommend Marie T. Smith's Microwave Cooking for One. People can say what they will about the book's premise, but Smith's "Cakes and Frosting" chapter has some of the best recipes I've seen: from apple and blueberry streusel cakes to cornbread, banana bread, carrot cake, and even cheesecake, all adapted for the microwave. She really makes a case for self-care—after all, is there a kinder act than baking a cake just for you?

Do you watch Grey's Anatomy and love crying, too? Let us know in the comments below.

32 Comments

Bella95 February 24, 2019
Had to chuckle when l saw this. Brought back a memory from SOOO many years ago. Growing up in 1960's New Zealand many of our television shows were American and the thing that everyone seemed to eat the most were Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It took my brother and l months to convince our mother to make them for us and we were were stunned and devastated to discover that they were disgusting. We could not believe Anerican's actually liked this. It wasn't till many many years later that l discovered that what was jelly for you was jam for us and that the slices of jelly our Mother had begrudgingly made our sandwiches with was, in fact, what you call jello. Will definitely give these a try though. Who knows l may actually like the flavour this time around. (;
 
Hannah K. February 23, 2019
Happily nibbling on my PB/apple butter mug cake now! Speaking of coffee shops, have you ever been to Astro Cafe in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand? Hands down one of the best views and a great memory with a mug!
 
Bella95 February 24, 2019
Waves to Hanna from NZ. Thanks for the tip. Will look them up next time l'm off stargazing. (:
 
Glory February 23, 2019
I am sorry,I cannot find the comment some one made,in response to the mugs that I have.I do have 9ver 150.Yes,I also make a mug cake to enjoy every now and then.Glory Thomas
 
Hieu N. February 23, 2019
This sounds delicious! I will make this with my 8-year old daughter as an afternoon snack. I'll make her a snack, also! ;) Can I add almond flour for a light cake texture?
 
Jen D. February 22, 2019
Made the perfect post-workout, pre-work breakfast this morning!
 
kimikoftokyo February 22, 2019
Ha! Going to try this now !!
 
Selma February 22, 2019
Just advised to go gluten free
I am excited to try this
What about almond butter?
 
KT M. February 22, 2019
I can't wait to try this! I'm vegan, so I'll probably swap the egg for half a mashed banana.... then it will be like a pb-jelly-banana sandwich (which I love)!
 
Sonja M. March 1, 2019
Ooh, how did that work out? It sounds amazing!
 
Glory February 22, 2019
I collected every mug too,from where I travelled to,or just purchased.Collectable also.If you are really interested,I am willing to sell each mug for .40 cents a piece.I also,have mugs in unused from the 1960's.Please,let me know if you are interested.Thank You. Glory Thomas
 
Amy C. February 19, 2019
Despite (or perhaps because of?) the fact that I live in Johannesburg rather than New York, the preferred choice of jelly (jam) here is Apricot rather than Grape, and the fact that we South Africans sadly under-appreciate the virtues of peanut butter, something about this whole post resonated with me, so thanks :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 20, 2019
Too right that Americans love their peanut butter and jelly. Apricot jelly, huh? Didn't know that about Johannesburg. Thanks for sharing, Amy.
 
Linda B. February 17, 2019
I am going to make this for my alone time old lady amazon prime video bbc shows. I am v picky about which mugs I keep since our house is small and the mugs I regularly use actually just live in the dishwasher at this point. No more space.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 18, 2019
I use my dishwasher as storage, too! But more so out of laziness than space...
 
Cheryl M. February 16, 2019
Eric, your musings and recipes are always so inspiring! Makes me actually yearn to whip up something delicious and eat it alone!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 16, 2019
Good! Thank you, Cheryl.
 
Rosanne C. February 16, 2019
All my mugs have pictures on them. I have them made from pictures I take of family members members or vacations. Every day I get to remember someone or something great and so do my friends
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 16, 2019
I love that.
 
Whiteantlers February 15, 2019
*raises hand* 12 oz. mug lover here! Even though I collect flow blue ware, antique English tea sets and Chinese gong fu accoutrements for my pu erhs and high mountain oolongs, most mornings find me with a big, clunky white 12 ouncer full of brewed high end, loose tea. The big mugs comfort and warm me on cold mornings and soothe me at the end of a wretched day when they are full of soup. It always surprises me, when I think I've reached bottom, that a few more sips or spoonfuls remain below line of sight. That's taught me the delight of surprise and always gives me a renewed sense that it's okay to hope.

The pbj treat sounds luscious and I am looking forward to making this for a dear friend who will be visiting me from the West coast next week. He told me I was not to cook for and fuss over him but when I asked him to name the last boyfriend who made him dinner or breakfast in bed, he relented and agreed to accept some pampering.

As always, Eric, you are very dear to my heart! : ) Thanks for this recipe.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 15, 2019
Poetry! "It always surprises me, when I think I've reached bottom, that a few more sips or spoonfuls remain below line of sight. That's taught me the delight of surprise and always gives me a renewed sense that it's okay to hope."

It seems somehow a metaphor for life. Thanks again, dear.
 
CameronM5 February 15, 2019
I have to try this! What is your fav peanut butter for this and would it work with some kind of chocolate tossed in instead of jam? Asking for a friend.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 15, 2019
Ooh, chocolate chips or chunks would get so gooey and perfect. Great idea. And I use Jif, but any smooth commercial PB would work (not organic).
 
Harlem P. February 16, 2019
Why not organic? I use the Whole Foods brand and its actually pretty smooth. And for vegans, can you use mashed banana instead of egg?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 16, 2019
Harlem, the banana’s a great idea; bet it’d add that hint of Elvis flavor. Let me know if you try this.

By organic, I meant the all-natural ones that separate and have no added sugar. I’m sure the WF one would work fine!
 
Ella Q. February 15, 2019
Grey's! And PB mug cakes! <3
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 15, 2019
Thanks for your help on this one, Ella.
 
Lyrajayne February 15, 2019
Honest to gods - *weeping* with laughter over "And if some of my tears go into the cake, all the better; the salt helps bring out the peanut butter flavor." My team thinks I'm [finally] having that nervous breakdown. So great.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 15, 2019
Hey, everyone deserves one judgment-free nervous breakdown every now and then.
 
M February 15, 2019
How does this piece not contain one picture of your mug shelf?!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 15, 2019
Ha! I'll snap one when I get home tonight.
 
M February 16, 2019
Hope to see it! It's an interesting and awesomely idiosyncratic way to serving a bit of food love.