Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Ganache

I have a confession to make. I don’t usually like cake. Cookies, yes; brownies, absolutely; ice cream, of course. But cake? Cake is usually dry and bland and the only part that’s worth anything is the frosting. Assuming of course that it’s not the typical bakery frosting which tastes of plastic and leaves that nasty greasy slick on the roof of my mouth.

So, cake. Not my favorite. Why then would I want to participate in a new event Layers of Cake?

Because I WANT to like cake. Cake is what you fix to celebrate something – cake is what gets WOWS of admiration – cake can and should be delicious. This event would be motivation to try new cakes and find the cakes of my dreams!

And get some practice frosting them so they don’t look like they were done by 5-year-olds. Or decorators featured on Cake Wrecks.

August is not my favorite time to bake – it’s so hot and humid that turning on my oven seems criminal, but I wasn’t going to skirt the rules by trying to substitute an ice cream cake or something equally cheating-like. It was to be cake, so cake it would be.

After much internal debate, I decided on a chocolate cake with a peanut butter-cream cheese frosting, topped with a layer of chocolate-peanut butter ganache. Ages ago I saw a picture of a cake that had those frostings and it looked so amazing that I wanted to replicate it. Well, I don’t know that the peanut butter frosting was a cream cheese one or that there was peanut butter in the ganache. I just remember the picture and went from there.

For the cake, I used the Moist Chocolate Cake recipe from Reiman Publications, chosen because it fits into an 8-inch baking dish. I could use my toaster oven that way and avoid turning on the big oven!

The cake was super simple to mix, and didn’t even require softening butter as it uses vegetable oil instead. After cooking, I lifted it from the pan by the parchement paper sling I’d fashioned, and let it cool completely. After cooling, I sliced it in half horizontally in order to get some layers to make it a layer cake.

Trouble. I couldn’t figure out how to get the top layer to come up without the bottom layer as well – I know this is done regularly with round cakes, but what’s the secret???

I ended up having to cut the cake in half (making each layer into an 8×4 rectangle), which was then easy enough to handle. Because of my poor halving job initially, I stacked the two bottom halves on top of each other and called them a layer.

The peanut butter-cream cheese frosting was simply creamy peanut butter (Jif) added to a basic cream cheese frosting, tasting until it tasted peanutty-enough. Oh, and I always add some vanilla to my cream cheese frostings.

Bottom layer of cake + layer of frosting + one of the top halves (upside down) + layer of frosting + other top half (right side up) + a thin crumb coat. Then into the fridge to chill and hopefully make it easier to get a pretty coat of frosting.

While the cake chilled, I made up the peanut butter ganache. Again, I just added some creamy peanut butter to my basic ganache recipe, tasting until it was peanutty-enough.

Here’s the cake after the final coat of frosting. Yes, it’s a log. Yes, my frosting skills are still lacking.

Frosted with peanut butter cream cheese frosting

After frosting, I topped it with the ganache layer, but it had apparently set up too much and didn’t really pour over the top like I’d envisioned. I shouldn’t have taken such a long break in between making the ganache and pouring it. What can I say, it was a good book.

It kind of looks like a big eclaire to me. And that’s not a bad thing.

Bittersweet chocolate peanut butter ganache layer added

After slicing, the layers are clearly visible and while it’s not the prettiest cake in the world, I’m kind of pleased with myself. Both for managing to layer it (somewhat) and for adapting some recipes (not my strong-suit).

First slice shows off the delicious layers

And the taste?

I now have a chocolate cake recipe I love. Ok, maybe it’s not the cake so much as the double frostings but still. IT IS FABULOUS. I think I need to hide it from all my usual taste-testers so I can keep it for myself. I do not want to share.

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Sautéed Strawberries

A visit to Oh Yumm opened my eyes to how delicious sautéed strawberries could be, and I knew I’d have to try and recreate the dish at home.

I found a recipe from Terra Restaurant, and used it with slight modifications. Specifically, the wine – I’ve never like Cabernet (too oaky) and so I used some spicy Zinfandel I had unopened. I’m actually not much of a red wine drinker but I usually have a bottle or two around for cooking.

I combined the wine, sugar, and vanilla bean in a saucepan and let it simmer for awhile before adding the pepper. The smell was amazing!

Once the sauce was simmering, I sautéed the strawberries in a little butter briefly then added the sauce and brought everything to a boil.

Served over ice cream, it was very tasty, though it didn’t have anywhere near the depth of flavor of Oh Yumm’s version.

Nigella’s Cream Cheese Brownies

I love reading Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks. Yes, I said “reading” – for whatever reason her writing just delights me and I can curl up with the cookbooks quite happily and slip into a contented state.

I just had never bothered making any of her recipes before, but finally decided that I had to give some a try. Brownies are a real favorite of mine and I’m always on the hunt for another great brownie recipe, so I thought I’d try with that. She had a few options, but I settled on the cream cheese brownies – the sliced layer of cream cheese in the middle of the brownie won me over.

Unfortunately the brownies themselves didn’t do much for me. Dense and somewhat greasy, the cream cheese layer didn’t provide the promised contrast and instead had an unpleasant rubbery texture to go along with its disagreeable tang. Perhaps the light cream cheese I used wasn’t a good choice, but it couldn’t have affected the brownie layer itself which still suffered from the already mentioned density and greasiness.

Sorry Nigella, I still love you and will try another recipe but so far I’m not a fan of the recipes themselves.

Banana Cake

If you pay any attention at all to food blogs (or at least those on baking), you’ve most likely heard of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours book. There’s even a group dedicated to working their way through the book. How could I not check out the book and see what all the fuss is about?

Since I always like to test-run cookbooks, I borrowed this one from the library first. If I like a book enough, next up is an Amazon order.

There were a number of tempting recipes, but I started with the index, looking for banana recipes since 1. I had a batch blackening on my counter, and 2. My husband is the world’s biggest banana bread fan.

I didn’t spot a banana bread recipe, but the banana cake one caught my eye. It sounded awfully like a banana bread, just baked in a bundt pan instead of a loaf pan.

The recipe was very easy to follow, and the batter was tasty (yes, I sampled). The cake baked up beautifully (much prettier than my picture would indicate). I thought the flavor was nice and the cake itself was very delicate and tender.

The real verdict was from Rob, since he was the reason for baking the cake in the first place. He thought it was delicious and especially appreciated the large yield – one bundt cake is way bigger than one loaf of bread.

Even with his super-sized treat I had to sneak a piece away to bring to Jennifer to taste. She thought it quite tasty, and appreciated the delicate crumb.

Dorie’s first for me was a real winner, enough so that the book got nudged onto my Amazon wish list.

Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

For birthdays, our department at work always provides treats for the celebrant. This year, I requested cupcakes from a specialty store that opened not all that long ago. They posted a menu with some of the flavors that they offered, and I shared some that sounded good, expecting one or two types to be selected and brought in.

I underestimated my boss however, because she bought several of the five flavors I mentioned, and then still bought some more of one that caught her eye. It was cupcake heaven!

And since I firmly believe that birthdays should always allow the birthday girl (i.e, me) to act like a supreme princess (I really try not to the rest of the year), I immediately announced to Jennifer that she would be splitting cupcakes with me in order to maximize tasting opportunities. Fortunately for me she readily agreed and I didn’t have to smack her with my royal scepter or tiara.

Wouldn’t it be great if I did have a royal scepter that I could use to smack people and get my way? It’s a good thing I don’t because I would abuse that privilege to no end.

Back to the cupcakes. We tried coconut, ho-ho, strawberry, and black bottom. The black bottom was really dense, and the ho-hos were surprisingly bland. The strawberry was tasty, but it was the coconut that blew us away with its fantasticness.

So I promptly went home and whipped up a batch of them.

Or, I thought about it but I had recently found a recipe for supposedly-famous strawberry cupcakes and even had a pint of strawberries crying out to be turned into something with only a passing nod at healthiness. It was meant to be.

Strawberry cupcakes it is!

In a word, these were FABULOUS. Way better than the store-bought ones, in my not-unbiased opinion. The frosting, of cream cheese with lots of strawberry flavor, was amazing – cream cheese frosting is always good but the strawberries in it just pushed it over the top.

I even managed to get myself to bring in cupcakes to share at work. They were extremely well-received (understatement of the year there) – Jennifer 2 gave them a “standing ovation and a gold clap for the scrumptious strawberry cupcake” and called them “ten times better than from the cupcake store!!! Yummmmmmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” T even shared her thoughts, saying they were “absolutely, unbelievably, heavenly delicious!!!!!! ”

Sadly for my coworkers, the majority had to stay at home. Rob was not all that happy at losing any of them to my cohorts so I didn’t have the heart to take in more than just a tasting. And this from a guy who doesn’t like strawberries. I guess anything turned into a cupcake is more tempting.

All packed up and ready to store.

Mmmmm, frosting.

Next time, it’ll be coconut. I’ve got a couple of versions to try and surely I can at least match those others. Thank you Good Things Catered for the fantastic recipe! You wouldn’t happen to have a great coconut version, would you?

Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge

The title isn’t mine. I’m just repeating the title Cookie Baker Lynn gives this delight. I suppose you-will-never-fit-into-your-old-pants-again peanut butter fudge was just a little too long.

I’ve never really made fudge before (I have made a microwave “fudge” with condensed milk but that’s as close as I’ve come), so I have no idea how traditional or not this recipe is. And after tasting it I don’t care at all – the recipe could be the most bastardized thing of all time and I’d still want to make it again and again. Yes, it’s really that good. The texture is AMAZING.

Isn’t it pretty in the pan?

I sacrificed my favorite scraper to the cause. It was in poor shape, but the fudge did it in. Just like it did in any shred of self-control I thought I might have.

Pretty, isn’t it? I don’t usually bother with presentation like this, but we had company. Which is a good thing because I hate to think how quickly we would have finished off this batch of fudge. Just between the two of us.

I’m kinda scared to make this again, but I’m also having to restrain myself from dashing to the kitchen to make another batch. I’m alone in the house so no one would have to know – it could be all mine.

Thanks for the recipe Cookie Baker Lynn. I think. I’ve got my eye on several other of your recipes, but I’m a little scared to try them.

Ginger Cake

So I’m going to go ahead and admit my baking disaster. Ginger cake did me in.

The recipe came from Baking Boot Camp: Five Days of Basic Training at the Culinary Institute of America. The book was very interesting, although I did have some real complaints about it. But the baked goods sounded wonderful, so I started with a quick bread/cake.

The recipe was easy, although my batter was never as smooth as it claimed it should be, but I knew that I’d creamed the butter and sugar well so that wasn’t the problem. I gave up on getting it very smooth, not wanting to overmix it once the flour was added.

But that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem is that either my loaf pan isn’t really 9-inches like I thought, or else the recipe doesn’t really fit in a 9-inch loaf pan because it overflowed a LOT. And in my defense, other recipes that I thought called for a 9-inch pan have worked just fine, although I will admit to not carefully checking, and maybe all my previous quick bread recipes have needed an 8-inch pan and that’s what I’ve got. Lesson learned. Measure the pan unless you’re absolutely certain. And pay attention when you pour the batter in and think “wow, that’s really full.” Perhaps that should be a little nudge to verify pan size and/or pull some batter out and make muffins with it or something. Sheesh, you’d think I was a blonde or something.

Behold, the evidence once it finally seemed to be mostly cooked.

A closeup of the side of the pan.

I didn’t think to photo the overflow in the oven. Fortunately I always keep a rimmed cookie sheet on the bottom shelf to catch spills like that.

It’s not going to win any beauty contests, that’s for sure, but the more important thing is the taste, and in that I again thought the recipe fell short. It had a half cup of molasses and it was just almost overwhelmingly strong.

I’ve got a couple more recipes I want to try from the cookbook but it’s strike one against it so far.