Firstly, let me admit that I had never before in my life made a layer cake. I have tried, once, and the top layer crumbled as it flipped into my hands… I was slightly weepy for about 5 seconds and then just threw it into a box for my siblings to munch on and dealt with the one layer I had by adorning it with raspberries and chocolate whipped icing.
Then for the next… 2 years, I was afraid. Afraid generally, of cakes. It’s rather horrible to be disappointed each time you make an egg-less batter, to watch it rise in the oven and then plummet right back down to the bottom, like some thick, unhealthy pancake. So I cheated, mainly, and stuck to the boxed mixes (I know, I know… a tad shameful, but true), replacing the water with milk and the eggs with a tablespoon of ground flax seeds. This works fine. But every cake pretty much ended up tasting the same. Yes one was yellow and one was chocolate and another had sprinkles in it… but there was no real JOY (well, for me anyway) in eating cake.
Enter Smitten Kitchen. If you haven’t visited her site, you’ve been deprived. Her pictures lure you, if not dare you, to try and replicate her amazing recipes. This cake happened to be waiting for me to test.
It resulted in a magnificent dessert.
If you try this cake, let me know how it went. I’d love to hear about it.
Makes a double layer, 9 inch cake, plus a small square cake (see below) OR a triple layer 8 inch cake.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim should all work)
2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp plain yogurt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use margarine or butter to butter cake pans all over, including the bottom. Then, line the bottom only with wax paper (or parchment) and butter the top of the wax paper. Don’t skip this step… it’s crucial for smooth flip-overs.
Using a sifter, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl (or if you’re lucky enough to have a Kitchen Aid, the bowl is perfect). With a large whisk, mix ingredients well.
In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, yogurt and oil. Whisk gently until you have a homogeneous mixture. Add mixture to large mixing bowl and whisk it all together.
Add milk gradually, whisking continuously. Blend in vinegar and vanilla, whisking until everything is well mixed.
Scrape down bowl and pour the batter into pans, filling it about 3/4 of the way up. If you have leftover batter, like I did, pour it into an oiled bread pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 30 t0 35 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes up dry. Let cakes cool for about 10 mins in pans, then place pans in the freezer. Yes, you read right: freezer. Soft cakes are prone to crumble, but if you FREEZE them, magically, they turn over perfectly.
After about 20 minutes in the freezer, flip the pans over on wax paper lined surfaces. Slowly peel off the wax paper on top of the cake (which was once on the bottom of the pan). Let the cakes freeze for another 30 mins.
Meanwhile, whip up the creamy Peanut Butter icing.
Makes about 5 cups
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, at room temperature
7 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and cream cream cheese with an electric mixture (or your Kitchen Aid) until smooth and fluffy.
Add sugar 1 cup at a time, beating all the while. Whip for about 4 more minutes after all the sugar is added. Then add peanut butter, and slowly beat it in, increasing the speed gradually until everything is well blended.
ICING THE CAKE
Dark cakes and light icings often hate each other. Cake crumbs always want to smuggle out into the icing, which, if you are like me and care a little more than usual about aesthetics, is highly frustrating. BUT, there is a trick!
Take the bottom layer of the cake off the wax paper and on to the dish you plan to serve it on. Take strips of wax paper and tuck it around the cake so that it protects the dish from being dirtied. Ice it thinly so that everything is covered with icing, but it’s more than messy. On the top of that cake, however, ice it thickly to create a layer of creaminess between the two layers. Add the second layer on top (this should be fairly easy since the cakes are frozen), and apply a thin layer on that too. Stick it in the fridge for about 15 mins.
Add another layer of icing carefully, preferable with a cake knife (something I wish I had… I used a tiny butter spreader). No crumbs should escape if you’ve secured them properly with the first thin layer. Chill in refrigerator for 5 mins, and gently remove wax strips.
Let the cake chill in the fridge while you do the last step: Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp light corn syrup OR (like I did) 2 tbsp chocolate syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half
I don’t have a double boiler. I could easily make one… small pot in a larger pot of water… but I admit I am lazy about this with glazes. I used a simple non-stick saucepan for this, at low heat. I stress again, LOW heat. If it’s too high, it will burn.
Add chocolate chips to pan and let them melt.
Add syrup and peanut butter, and stir with a whisk. At low heat, it will all become a thick ball of chocolate and peanut butter. Don’t worry. It won’t stay this way because you’ll then
Add the half-and-half slowly, whisking the ball into the liquid until it all dissolves into a perfect glaze.
Pour this hot glaze over cake and with cake knife/butter knife, spread it to the edges until some of the glaze dribbles over the edge.
And voila, your cake is done.
I mentioned above that I also made a square cake with the leftover batter. I simply cut the cake in half and layered the halves. It was like a personalized dessert.