Considering the relationships that many people have with their mother-in-law, I have to say I have it pretty good. But if there is one area I have to pick in life in which my mother-in-law and I get along the best, it would be desserts. Because as far as desserts go, we are just alike. We like things rich and gooey and full of chocolate. And peanut butter if possible.
She introduced me to the concept of melting peanut butter and chocolate chips together in the microwave to create a quick snack/dessert dip to have with graham crackers, a concept that I most often try to forget I know because otherwise it is how I would spend my afternoons. I can always count on her for a good brownie trifle (which if even better of course when it’s a peanut butter brownie trifle), and there is never a lack of peanut butter balls in her freezer at Christmas time (not that there’s ever a lack in mine either, just, you know, the more the merrier).
So I guess what I’m saying is there was little question about what kind of cake to make for her birthday the other weekend.
And this cake. Oh wow. You know my favorite peanut butter pie? The one my mom has been making for as long as I can remember and I used to request for my birthday instead of a cake? Well, basically the filling of this cake is the base of that peanut butter pie. Cream cheese and powdered sugar and peanut butter. Oh my. I told Gerrit I didn’t want to ice the cake because I knew I would eat way to much frosting. His solution was that I should just eat some frosting every other time I thought about it. I tried, and for awhile it worked, but this stuff just sucks you in.
And the actual cake layers themselves are amazing as well. So light and moist and crumbly. And they were cinch to make. The batter mixed together in one bowl. One bowl! For a cake! I made the cakes several days ahead of time, wrapped them in plastic and stuck them in the freezer, a trick I use for almost every cake I bake these days and one that I think is especially necessary here because the cake layers are so delicate. But in this case delicate also means insanely delicious, because as much as a love a good dense cake, this one isn’t dense enough to compete with the flavor of all that lovely icing.
Then we get the topping that drips down the sides of the cake in beautiful richness. It is mostly chocolate and peanut butter melted together, aka that snack food I try to avoid, and it is a perfect addition to the cake.
One more note: cake freezes wonderfully. I don’t think I’ve thought about this fact much until recently. But it makes sense, considering our whole tradition of freezing wedding cakes for a year. But even though we had eight people sharing this cake, and I gave some away to my parents, and I left some with Gerrit’s family, there was still a good bit left over. And something this precious? I can’t bear to let it go to waste. So my tip: wrap it in plastic wrap, then in tinfoil, stick it in the freezer, and in a couple of months when you find it again, you’ll be super happy you did.
Prep Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Bake Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Wait Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
For the frosting:
10 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
For the glaze:
8 oz. (1 1/4 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half and half
1. Begin by making the cakes (preferably a day or two before, after which you can store them in the freezer until frosting). Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8 or 9 inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and then butter the parchment paper. Set pans aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt (if you’d like, you can sift them together for a smoother texture, but it’s not necessary). Whisk to combine well. Add the vegetable oil and sour cream, whisking to combine, or beating on low speed with an electric mixer. Gradually add the water while beating on low speed with an electric mixer. Stir in the vinegar and vanilla. Then at the eggs and beat until blended. Use a rubber spatula scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure the batter is completely blended. Divide the batter evenly among the three cake pans, and make sure the batter spreads out evenly in each pan.
3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and set on wire racks to cool for about 20 minutes. Then remove the cakes from the pans, peel off the parchment paper, and let them continue to cool on wire racks (about 1 hour). After they are cooled, wrap in plastic and store in the freezer until you are ready to frost (even if you want to frost the same day, sticking them in the freezer for at least a bit, about 30 minutes, would help them hold together in assembly).
4. To make the frosting combine the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing each cup in well before adding the next cup. Then, add the peanut butter and beat until well blended.
5. Put together the cake and frost it next. On a cake plate place one cake layer, flat side up (preferably over strips of wax or parchment paper that form a triangle underneath the cake and stick out the sides to catch messes–these can be pulled out from under the cake easily later). Spread about 2/3 cup of the frosting over the top of the cake. Then top with the next cake layer, another layer of frosting, and then the last cake layer. Then frost the top and the sides of the cake. It helps to frost first with a very thin layer (a crumb coat) and then chill the cake slightly before frosting it with a final full layer of frosting.
6. To make the glaze, combine the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and corn syrup in a small heat proof bowl or in the top of a double boiler. Heat over simmering water until melted and smooth. Then remove from heat and add the half and half, beating until smooth.
7. To glaze the cake, pour the glaze over the top of the cake. Then use an offset spatula or small butter knife to spread the glaze out evenly just to the edge of the cake, letting it run down the sides of the cake in a few places.
8. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes before serving. Remove about an hour before serving (although I think it is also fine straight out of the fridge).