So, my Dad’s 82nd birthday was this past Saturday, so of course I made a cake. Now, his tastes have changed a bit as he’s gotten older: he prefers sweeter, less intensely chocolate desserts than he used to. And he likes peanut butter. So this cake was made to suit his tastes and is a little sweet for me.
It’s based on a cake from the January 2009 issue of Bon Appétit magazine (yes, I index promising-looking recipes from my magazine before I file them). Of course I didn’t exactly follow the recipe, which makes a two-layer cake and involves making peanut brittle to break up and add between the layers. That sounds like a fine idea, but I calculated ingredients for a three-layer cake and then took the cake in a somewhat different direction that didn’t involve peanut brittle. Here’s the cake I made:
Greg J Neumeier’s Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
4½ C all-purpose flour
3 C sugar
1 C cocoa powder
3 tsp baking soda
1¼ tsp salt
2 C water
1 C vegetable oil
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp vanilla
6 oz peanut butter cups, rather finely chopped, or I might use Reese’s Pieces if I were making this cake again
8 oz good quality milk chocolate, chopped
10 Tbsp heavy cream
1½ C powdered sugar
1 C heavy cream
½ C creamy peanut butter
½ C cream cheese
Now, this is, as you can see, an oil cake rather than an eggs-and-butter cake. This gives you a cake with a nice moist crumb, and it also means that it’s going to get all its loft from the baking soda and vinegar rather than from you beating and beating and beating the butter with the sugar and then beating in the eggs one at a time and so on. So mixing the batter is very easy, like so:
Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a very large mixing bowl.
Whisk together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla in another bowl.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and don’t proceed until the oven is preheated. While you wait, you can line three nine-inch cake pans with parchment paper and spray the paper and sides of the pans with cooking spray. Or use three eight-inch cake pans and make six cupcakes.
Now, it says gradually add the oil mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients, but I wasn’t as gradual as all that. I basically just poured the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisked the heck out of it. This is a lot of cake batter, but it wasn’t hard even with just a whisk rather than an electric mixer.
Now, divide the cake batter evenly into the prepared pans, sprinkle and bake for something on the order of 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Because of the chopped peanut butter cups, it might be a little hard to tell if the cakes are done with the standard toothpick test. Touch the top of a cake and it’s probably done if it feels springy. The peanut butter cups may cause one or more of the cakes to fall a little in the center, especially if you didn’t chop them finely enough as, ahem, I didn’t. This is nothing to worry about, though. Imperfections will be disguised with the frosting.
Cool the cakes on racks for ten minutes, run a knife around the edge of the pan, and turn out. If the peanut butter cups settled too much to the bottom of the cakes, you may want to cool them upside down because the top may wind up firmer than the bottom. It’s fine either way.
Make the milk chocolate ganache: Put the milk chocolate in a small bowl, pour over the cream, and heat in the microwave for a minute or two, stirring once or twice and then stirring until smooth. Put the ganache in the fridge to thicken. It’ll probably still be rather thin when you’re ready to assemble the cake. That’s fine.
Make the frosting: Beat together the powdered sugar, heavy cream (unwhipped), peanut butter, and cream cheese. My stand mixer made this look super easy with the wire whisk attachment, so if you have a stand mixer, you might want to use it here.
Assemble the cake: Put the first cake layer on a platter and spread half the ganache over it. I put it on the platter upside down. If the ganache is a bit runny, pipe or spoon a rim of frosting around the cake layer to hold it. I find it easier to frost the sides of the cake a layer at a time, so you might want to frost the sides of the first layer now. Top with the second layer, rightside up or upside down, whatever looks like it will work better. Repeat with the milk chocolate ganache and frosting. Top with the third layer and frost generously, touching up the sides.
Chill one hour. Scatter a few chopped peanut butter cups over the top and serve.
Now, obviously, if you’d like to cut the sweetness of this cake a bit, nothing stops you from using bittersweet chocolate in the ganache rather than milk chocolate. That would be the quickest and easiest way to change the overall flavor profile of the cake. On the other hand, if you don’t think a cake can possibly be too sweet, then you can do what the original recipe suggests and spread peanut butter frosting AND milk chocolate ganache between the layers. And sprinkle crushed peanut brittle between the layers, too. Whatever you like!