Pie

The No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie That Made Me Stop Hating Peanut Butter

Finally.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Food & Prop Stylist: Sarah Jampel.

For as long as I could remember, I abhorred peanut butter. To me it tasted harsh, almost metallic, and I hated the texture. Peanut butter felt more like a prank than a food. It reminded me of how my dad—a lifelong practical joker—would tell his unknowing friends that wasabi was “Japanase avocado” when they went to sushi bars.

My Texan mother really tried hard to assimilate me through food when we moved to the United States from Peru. I grew to love certain things, like fresh milk (as opposed to the more traditional canned). Others I’d merely accept or suffer starvation for the night, like her thrifty tuna casserole. But there was a select group of American food products that I just could not stomach and refused to eat. If bologna, American cheese, and Miracle Whip were like the lords of culinary hell, then peanut butter was the Dark Lord himself.

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich was, for me, the most vile manifestation of this evil. I saw it as a deception, as if my mother were trying to skimp on proper sandwich fillings by spreading two condiments onto bread, thinking I’d be none the wiser. It was gastronomic child abuse in my book. I thought: Why ruin perfectly good jelly with this sludge that tastes like dirty pennies? I also felt personally offended by people who’d add the stuff to desserts and sweets, particularly chocolate.

My passionate feelings about peanut butter probably stemmed from my frustration about what the khaki goop represented in relation to my place in the country. You see, everyone around me behaved as though peanut butter were the defining American food. To reject peanut butter was to reject the United States. Growing up I felt somehow that I had to develop a taste for it or else nobody would believe that I belonged here, that my mother was indeed an American citizen, and that, by extension, I was born a U.S. citizen.

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Top Comment:
“Even I'm not a big fan of peanut butter. But in my Indian cooking I use a lot of peanuts and roasted peanut powder. Sometimes I run out of peanut powder (I make a bottle once a month) and peanut powder is a decent substitute in Indian saucy vegetable curries. ”
— Annada R.
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My little brother adored peanut butter. He was also the one sibling who’d habitually deny his Peruvian heritage in small ways, here and there. First, he had the luxury of inheriting the auburn hair and freckles of my mom’s Irish ancestors along with receiving a Celtic first name. My first name was a dead giveaway that I wasn’t from here. Add my distaste for peanut butter to that, and it seemed as if my cultural identity were predetermined. I couldn’t identify as anything but Hispanic, which is what I did for most of my life.

As I grew older, I started to gain a better appreciation for different flavors and textures (including those of both of my parents’ countries). But peanut butter was still the exception. I’d refuse even the beloved peanut butter cookie, no matter how much I cared for whomever baked it, and I wouldn’t go near a peanut butter cup or buckeye.

When I moved in with my husband, I noticed that he always kept a jar of peanut butter in the pantry. After all, he was born in Wisconsin, raised in Kansas, and both of his parents were bona fide Americans. He wasn’t obsessed with peanut butter, but he did like to indulge in it every now and again, and considered it a pantry staple, like sugar, flour, and eggs.

If bologna, American cheese, and Miracle Whip were like the lords of culinary hell, then peanut butter was the Dark Lord himself.

I tried to develop a taste for it. At one point I thought to myself: Maybe I’d like it more if I gave it a savory treatment. I marched to the kitchen, determined to overcome my aversion. Once I tried dressing it up with Sriracha, another time spicy Haitian pickled cabbage. Nope. At its best, peanut butter was still little more than edible to me.

Little did I know then that an unexpected illness would change my relationship to this spread forever.

A year ago, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I had really disregarded my health up to that point and never exercised. I started going to the gym and cut out almost all sugars from my diet. After nearly a month of not eating any sort of sweet or dessert (not even fruit), peanut butter started to seem appealing, especially considering that the natural variety was low in sugar and high in protein and fiber.

Late one night, I decided to mix a spoonful of peanut butter with a little bit of sugar-free sweetener. It was like taking a sip of cold water on a hot day. I poured in a few tablespoons of cream and stirred vigorously to create a sort of mousse that tasted heavenly, especially after not having had dessert for months. Before too long, my husband noticed that the peanut butter in our pantry started disappearing almost as soon as he’d replenish his stash.

Thanks in part to peanut butter, I was able to stick to my low-glycemic diet and get my hemoglobin A1C and glucose levels back to normal. I was eventually allowed to go back to a regular diet—but my peanut butter habit was here to stay. The only difference was that now I could experiment with other additions that were previously off limits to me: maple syrup, honey, molasses, raisins, dates.

I found myself daydreaming of recipes for peanut butter desserts I wanted to try. But there was a problem: Too many of the recipes I encountered were a little too basic for my tastes and one-dimensional. It was hard to find an elegant take on the peanut butter dessert, one that appreciated the spread for what it was, but also transformed it. Despite my newfound love of peanut butter, I could never be content with mixing it with whipped topping and dumping the concoction on some crushed sandwich cookies.

So I decided to come up with my very own special peanut butter pie.

I still consider myself a novice baker, so I opted for an easy graham cracker crust to start. As for the filling, in all my experimenting, I found that the combination of peanut butter, molasses, raisins, and roasted nuts gave me the most pleasure, and I really wanted to incorporate those elements into this pie.


A New No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie

I tried baking a peanut butter custard filling, but found that the end result reminded me of everything I hated about peanut butter in my youth: It was dense and tasted metallic. What I did, instead, was use a panna cotta base (adding gelatin at the end to set a peanut butter cream), which kept the pie light and velvety while eliminating the need for baking.

To incorporate the raisins and nuts, I made a rum-spiked praline topping, which offered little bits of crunchiness and chewiness to offset the smoothness of the filling. The end result was a dessert that could simultaneously be served as the grand finale to an elegant meal while also enveloping you in that warm gooey hug that only peanut butter can give. Exactly what I wanted in a PB dessert.

As for feeling more American?

I suppose there will always be some barrier to me feeling fully part of the United States, even after all these years. While I no longer see peanut butter as the Dark Lord, I still can’t get behind other popular American foods like chewy chocolate chip cookies or grilled cheese with Kraft Singles. But that’s okay. I’ve got a whole slew of other American favorites I’d rather eat—like Cuban pizza in Miami, legim in Little Haiti, and now peanut butter pie.

Peanut butter: love it or hate it? Tell us in the comments below.

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I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.

14 Comments

Annada R. May 30, 2019
Another great article, Carlos! Even I'm not a big fan of peanut butter. But in my Indian cooking I use a lot of peanuts and roasted peanut powder. Sometimes I run out of peanut powder (I make a bottle once a month) and peanut powder is a decent substitute in Indian saucy vegetable curries.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. May 30, 2019
I was the same way. I love peanuts in sauces and stews. We use them a lot in Peru (in fact, peanuts are said to have originated there). It was so hard for me to understand how I could like peanuts but not peanut butter.
 
Momerly May 30, 2019
Your pie sounds wonderful. I Sam a pie lover but with summer heat am always looking for no bake recipes. Ibadmur to enjoying on but not obsessing. Perhaps that will change.
Grilled cheese is our go to meal for Sunday afternoon so. But not with "American" cheese- that isn't real cheese
We like bread with lots of seeds and texture. Then usually Colby jack or provaline or havari or some of each. Or whatever chees suits your fancy. Then stop if you are a purist or begin to continue with fillings of your choice. I love dill pickle slices or chips, sauted mushrooms, slightlycoooed tomatoes slices and sometimes a slice of ham or other meat. Add a dash of. Brown mustard or horse radish Yummy.
Put cheese on both top and bottom bread as you grill this wonderful combination of flavores. Some times I toast the bread before before starting so the bread doesn't get soggy.
I take custom orders from family members and seldom are any two sandwiches the same. Use butter, margerin, olive oil, or Mayo to cook your adventure with.
 
Susan May 28, 2019
For 40 years I have made a no bake Peanut Butter Pie that incorporates cream cheese, Cool Whip (sugar free), and peanut butter. That's it, no sugars, no brown sugar.
 
Robin B. May 28, 2019
Would love your recipe
 
Susan May 28, 2019
3/4 cup peanut butter, 4 oz cream cheese, 8 oz package of sugar free frozen whipped topping, thawed. There is a version out there that uses regular Cool Whip and then adds a cup of confectioner's sugar to this. I've added a quarter to half cup of confectioner's sugar a time or two but it makes the pie so rich that even a small sliver is something too much. Combine the cream cheese and the peanut butter until smooth and thoroughly mixed. Fold in the whipped topping and make sure it is mixed well. Pour into a ready made pie crust (I use a plain crust so I'm not adding calories with graham crackers), and chill. I usually make sure I have time to keep it in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours. If you use the sugar, keep it under half a cup. I have a girlfriend who adds peanut butter chips to this when she's ready to put into the crust. Makes for a crunchy pie.
 
Crystal May 27, 2019
i absolutely love peanut butter, so i find any excuse to use it. in this recipe though, is it possible to skip or substitute the gelatin?
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. May 29, 2019
Hi Crystal. Unfortunately, gelatin is required for this recipe. You may try to find a suitable equivalent of agar for this, but agar tends to give things a firmer texture which can make the filling almost crunchy.
 
Lea J. May 27, 2019
You must live in Ohio or be familiar with people from there. I've never heard anyone outside of my home state know what a buckeye was without an pan
Ohioan explaining or sharing it with them. Do you enjoy them now? It also sounds like your crust can be interchangeable with a chocolate cookie crust.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. May 29, 2019
Hi. I am not from Ohio but I've been there and have a lot of friends from Ohio, so I know about them. I actually haven't tried them since I converted to peanut butter, but I'll have to give them another shot next time I'm in the Buckeye State.

You can also replace the graham crackers for any other type of cookie. A lot of times, I use Maria cookies because they are ubiquitous where I live and a fraction of the price of graham crackers.
 
Kym June 1, 2019
I was coming to comment about the buckeyes, too ;)
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. June 3, 2019
I guess I'm surrounded by a lot of Ohioans. I made another Ohio reference (to Cleveland) in another article.
 
Dana May 27, 2019
The first paragraph of this article made me feel like I’d finally found my long lost twin. As a lifelong peanut butter hater, my poor mother was bewildered by my complete aversion to the stuff when I was a child, and still shakes her head in disbelief to this day. I also hate bologna, tuna casserole, American cheese, and popcorn. How un-American of me!
I might consider this pie for guests, because most of the ingredients sound delicious (minus the PB), but I don’t know if I could try it myself.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. May 27, 2019
You can always try it with almond butter or cashew butter