Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
Some people have a love of peanut butter. I am not one of those people. My interest in it waxes and wanes. I enjoy peanut butter when I have it, but I will almost never choose it over a good, pure vanilla or dark chocolate or cinnamon or lemon or berry. I feel sorry for Alex when we share a dessert, because peanut butter is usually in his top three choices of desserts/ice cream/what-have-you to order, and I veto it 9 times out of 10 in favor of something else.
However, today is Alex’s birthday. (Happy birthday, Alex!) He knew I was going to make him a cake, but I kept the flavor a surprise. I let it leak that it was chocolate when I debated buying a replacement bar of baking chocolate at Trader Joe’s, and I even made the chocolate layer cakes while he watched TV on Saturday morning. But when it was time to make the peanut butter cream cheese frosting, and chocolate peanut butter ganache, I banished him to the basement, where he willingly went to listen to music and do some organizing he’d wanted to do for a while. I covered my tracks relatively successfully by making a curried Chex Mix to mask the rich smell of peanut butter in the kitchen, and stored the cake in the fridge, which Alex avoided to keep the flavor of the cake a surprise.
The Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake was a hit. It was incredibly easy to make, and well worth the time spent making it. Half of this cake fed 8 people, and could have fed even more if I could have cut slices smaller.
I made the ganache right after frosting the cake, and left it to cool while the cake chilled. This was a mistake, because it made the ganache thicker and less pretty. After the cake chilled for 30 minutes, I poured the ganache over the cake, spreading it down the sides of the cake. The ganache spread okay, but my spatula left swipe marks in the ganache. Not that anyone minded. I chilled the cake, removing it from the fridge about 45 minutes before serving.
This recipe had a few steps – cake baking, assembly with frosting, frosting with ganache – but was incredibly easy to make. The cake took only a large bowl and a whisk, and took no longer than 45 minutes to mix and bake. The frosting was very quick to make – just a few minutes in a stand mixer. Assembly was unfussy: the cake layers were very flat, so I didn’t have to trim them before frosting. The ganache is the only potentially difficult thing, because there’s a possibility you could scorch the chocolate. If you’re worried about that, use a double boiler like Deb at Smitten Kitchen originally wrote into the instructions, or heat in the microwave, stirring every 15-30 seconds until the chocolate is melted. You could skip the ganache entirely, although I recommend against it if you’ve got an extra 30 minutes to let the cake cool after you top it. It’s definitely worth making.
As I said before, the cake was incredibly rich. The chocolate cake was rich and moist on its own. The peanut butter frosting was sweet and peanuty; I used every excuse I could to eat some of it while I frosted the cake. The same is true of the chocolate peanut butter ganache; it was dark and chocolatey, and I would actually consider using a less dark chocolate (chocolate chips or 60% chocolate, perhaps) for it next time. All the components of the cake were good separately, but they were amazing together.
Eight of us ate half of the cake, but some people couldn’t finish their cake. I’d say you could probably feed 20+ people with this cake. Not bad for a few hours of work! Honestly, I think this cake is incredibly presentable, and seems much more difficult to make than it was. This cake will make a peanut butter lover incredibly happy. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Two layers of moist, rich chocolate cake. Cream cheese in the peanut butter frosting cuts through some of the richness. Topped with a peanut butter fudge ganache.
- 1 cup flour (150 grams)
- 1 1/4 cups sugar (275 grams)
- 6 tablespoons cocoa powder (36 grams)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil (112 grams)
- 1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream (112 grams)
- 1 egg (lightly beaten)
- 3/4 cups water (170 grams)
- 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 5 ounces cream cheese (at room temperature)
- 4 tablespoons butter (at room temperature)
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (300 grams)
- 1/3 cup peanut butter (85 grams)
- 4 ounces semisweet chocolate (in pieces)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter (48 grams)
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup (19.5 grams)
- 1/4 cup half and half (55 grams)
Grease two 8- or 9-inch (metal) round cake pans (or use cooking spray). Sprinkle a little flour or cocoa powder in each pan, and tap the pan so that all of the grease has been coated. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add vegetable oil, yogurt, and egg, and use a whisk to combine.
Whisk in water, vinegar, and vanilla.
Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake on the same rack in the middle of your oven, for about 18 minutes at 350F. Check a few minutes early; a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Let cakes cool completely before assembling the cake.
Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until well combined.
Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping the bottom occasionally. Beat until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add peanut butter and mix until well combined.
Freeze the cooled cakes for 30 minutes before assembling the cake. This helps keep the very tender cake together better as you frost it.
Take a cake layer from the freezer. Turn it out onto your cake plate. Take strips of waxed paper (or foil if necessary) and nestle them between the cake and the plate so that they cover your cake plate; this keeps your plate cleaner while you frost it.
Place about 2/3 cup of frosting on the layer and spread to almost, but not quite, the edge. Turn out the second cake layer onto your hand or a cooling rack, then place (or invert, either one) onto the frosted layer.
Two options: place a very thin coat of frosting (a crumb coat) on the top and sides of the cake, then chill the cake for 15 minutes to make frosting the rest of it easier. This will catch and (kind of) seal the crumbs, meaning that a top layer of frosting will be cleaner.
However, you're putting ganache on this cake, so I don't find the crumbs such a big deal. Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake, being sure to go all the way to the waxed paper protecting your plate. Chill the cake while you make the ganache.
Combine 4 ounces chocolate, 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 1/4 cup half and half in a saucepan or on a double burner. Melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Adjust heat if necessary so the chocolate doesn't scorch.
Mix until chocolate melts and ganache is thick and smooth. Pour on chilled cake while ganache is warm.
Frosting recipe makes just enough frosting to coat a 2-layer 9 inch cake. I'm not a frosting fan; if you are, you may want to increase the frosting quantities by 50%.
This recipe makes a 2 layer cake, instead of a 3 layer cake as originally written.
This cake recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes