Chef Katie Button trained at some of the world’s top restaurants, spinning through the kitchens of El Bulli in Spain, Jean-Georges in New York, and José Andrés’s Washington, D.C., mainstays. Which is why it’s all the more delightful that the Conway, South Carolina, native still enjoys eating peanut butter straight from the jar, with a spoon. “I am a creamy peanut butter loyalist,” she says. “Peanuts are very near and dear to me and my Southern past.”
Though Button was raised mostly in New Jersey, while growing up she often came back to visit her grandparents in South Carolina. And the draw to return to the South was so strong that in 2010 she, her parents, and her Spanish-born husband, Felix Meana, moved to Asheville, North Carolina, to open Cúrate, which approximates a Spanish tapas bar better than many places in Spain. Button also runs the nearby Nightbell, which merges local food with the kind of culinary precision that comes from mixing an advanced degree in biomedical engineering with world-class training in temples of molecular gastronomy.
Still, Button is always looking for opportunities to use her beloved Southern peanut when she cooks. Her molten peanut butter cake is a perfect example. Sized for sharing and modeled after the warm chocolate cake with an oozy center popularized by the New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the dessert is a bit of pastry chef pyrotechnics—a warm, salty, peanut praline center encased inside a quivering sheath of cake.
Like a baked Alaska or a perfect panna cotta, the dish is a showstopper. And though it may seem like a culinary challenge, the only real trick is to bake it just long enough. “What you are looking for is the moment when the top of the batter has really started browning and has puffed up a bit,” Button says. “If you open your oven and the top still has those wrinkles in the center, you want to give it another couple of minutes.”
Button’s cake takes the immediate, delicious comfort of peanut butter on a spoon and dresses it up for company. For true peanut devotees like her, there is a time and a place for each.