Monday, July 17, 2017

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake


Sometimes one needs a reason to make a cake. Or rather I need a reason to make a cake. Mine range from simply having a craving for cake, to wondering what a cake I had never made before tastes like, to honoring a special occasion with cake. If I acted on the craving cake reason as often as I had a yearning for one, a significant amount of my time would be spent in the kitchen making them. Fortunately there are other things competing for time in my life, so cake baking doesn't usually make it to the top of the daily list of things I need or want to do. If I baked a cake every time I came across a new recipe peeking my taste interests, there would be at least one new cake made weekly. In spite of a strong desire to master 'on the first try' a new recipe, I am pretty certain my family and friends would either soon lose their appetites for cake or start avoiding me. Which leaves baking for special occasions or rather I should say special people having a special occasion as my favorite reason for baking a cake. Especially when those special occasions are birthdays. 


Store bought cakes may work for some occasions, but birthdays call for homemade ones. And a friend's birthday this past week was the inspiration behind the making of this Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. For as often as I have made chocolate cakes, I have never made one with Peanut Butter Icing. Seriously. Even I wondered how it was possible I had never combined two of my most favorite flavors together in a cake before.This hard to believe oversight may have actually been a blessing in disguise as this cake is one I could easily find a way to justify making for no good reason at all. It's absolutely wickedly delicious.

Deciding which chocolate cake and which peanut butter icing recipes to combine was an easy decision. Julia Turshen's Everyday Chocolate Cake now ranks high on my list of the best chocolate cakes ever.  Not only does it have a deep chocolate flavor and moist texture, it is surprisingly easy to make. I immediately knew the peanut butter icing used to top the Banana Cupcakes would elevate this chocolate cake to an even higher level of celebratory decadence. 

The peanut butter icing has an ethereal quality to it. Butter, cream cheese, peanut butter and confectionary sugar are whipped together to create the creamiest of icings. The taste of peanut butter is discernible without being either overwhelming or overpowering. 


When I first decided to make this Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake as a birthday cake for a friend, I toyed with the idea of making it a four layer cake. But after it was iced and decorated with some peanut butter cups, the two layer cake turned out to be perfect.


There are any number of ways you could ice and decorate this cake. Use of a pastry bag is optional. Adorning it with or without peanut butter cups, sprinkles and/or nuts/peanuts is purely dependent on the occasion and/or your imagination. 


Celebrating a birthday with a cake, especially one homemade, can often transport us back in time. Just having a single slice of cake can enable us to reconnect with our inner youthful selves. A birthday cake not only helps to mark the day, it can also be a powerful reminder of how much there is to celebrate in our lives. There are so many reasons why we need to have a cake on our birthday. Feeling like a kid again and being reminded of what friends have brought to our lives may be only two of them. 


Whatever it is that you wish for your next birthday, may it always include a homemade cake shared with friends. It is more than possible you will decide every one of your birthdays should include this two layer homemade with love cake, particularly after you take a bite of it. 

Having a homemade cake that combines chocolate and peanut butter may be the proverbial 'icing on the cake' reason for making this one. Because honestly, you don't need or shouldn't wait for a special occasion to make this cake. Really, you shouldn't. 

Recipe
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (minor changes to Julia Turshen's Happy Wife, Happy Life Chocolate Cake recipe as shared in her cookbook "Small Victories: Recipes, Advice, and Hundreds of Ideas for Home-Cooking Triumphs" and  s slight adaptation to the Matt Lewis/Renato Poliafito recipe for icing created for Bon Appetit)

Serves 8-12 people, depending on how you slice it

Ingredients
Cake
1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour 
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (75 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 Tablespoons (120 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup strong black coffee cooled or 1 rounded teaspoon espresso powder mixed into 1 cup boiling water then cooled
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

Icing
3 cups confectionary sugar, sifted
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (16 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup smooth, creamy peanut butter, recommend JIF (do not use old-fashioned, freshly ground or natural)
generous pinch of sea salt
Optional: Garnish with Peanut Butter Cups, sprinkles, chopped peanuts, etc.

Directions
Cake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Butter and parchment paper line two 8" baking pans. Lightly butter top of parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. Add melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk until batter is thick and smooth.
4. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the cake pans to remove any air bubbles. Note: Using a digital scale helps to ensure each pan has equal amounts of batter.
5. Bake until tops of cake spring back when lightly pressed and edges begin to come away from the pan. Approximately 30 minutes of baking time.
6. Transfer cakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. 

Icing and Assembly
1. In a medium sized bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and peanut butter until smooth and creamy.
2. Add in sifted confectionary sugar, beat until well blended.
3. Using a pastry bag, pipe frosting onto cupcakes. Or spread frosting using an offset spatula.
4. Place one of the cakes upside-down on your serving platter or cake stand. Spoon slightly more than 1/3 of the frosting on the cake. Spread evenly over cake.
5. Place the second cake layer (again upside-down) on the frosted layer. Top cake with a light coat of the icing. Use a pastry bag to decorate top of cake. Will be using a little more than 1/3 of the icing.
6. Use the remaining frosting to frost the sides of the cake. If using, add cake garnishes.
7. Serve immediately or cover cake and chill in the refrigerator before serving. Take cake out at least 30 minutes before serving to soften the icing. The cake itself will remain sightly chilled.

Notes: (1) I used two different sizes of the milk chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's to garnish the cake. (2) Cake can be made a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Hiking trail on Whidbey Island; forest fairy chair along a path in Snoqualmie (WA); and lupines at the base of Mount Si (Western Cascade Range in Washington).




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