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.
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.
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 need 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.
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, and a few others in the test kitchen, 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 any 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?
Peanut Butter & Jelly Mug Cake
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder (see Note below)
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon grape jelly (or whatever you have on hand)
Click here to read the full recipe.