Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Sea Salt

Monday, May 14, 2012

There's the espisode of Dora the Explorer where Dora makes her "madre" a special chocolate cake with nuts and bananas. Fast forward to this past weekend, the kids are hell bent on making me the same cake. Only one problem: I kinda don't love bananas and the only hazlenuts I really love are via Nutella. So, with a little creative and culinary direction, we tweeked Ina Garten's recipe for Aunt Betty's Chocolate Cake into something so incredibly tasty, it's now officially my new favorite cake. And the best part -- the kids and I baked it together on Mother's Day, giving me a new cherished memory to associate with the day from now on with this cake I'll make now every single year.

The buttermilk based cake is super moist and delicious, and the frosting is light and slightly sweetened. Good quality Dutch-processed cocoa is a necessity for this cake; don't bother making it without some. You can find some excellent options at Whole Foods. Ina loves to use bittersweet chocolate for her desserts which I think is fine, but my heart personally falls with milk chocolate, so I subbed out good quality European milk chocolate for her bittersweet in the frosting. Some fresh creamy peanut butter added to the filling added just enough peanut butter goodness to the cake without overpowering it. And a sprinkling of course sea salt added delightful crunchy texture as well as flavor to the filling that made each bite surprising and irresistable. Please try her recipe with these two small but significant changes; you will love it!

The cake is done extremely quickly and easily, and is very kid-friendly so it's perfect for a project if you're looking for something to do with the kiddos. It keeps very well and carries well to parties or parks. Enjoy it and happy mother's day to all the mamas out there!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Sea Salt
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups dutch process cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk (at room temperature)
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup brewed coffee
3 Tbsp fresh creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp course sea salt
chocolate frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8x2 inch round cake pans (or simply spray with baking PAM).

Sift together the "dry ingredients" -- flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt -- in the bowl of a standing mixer. In a seperate bowl (or large measuring cup), combine the "wet ingredients" -- buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and eggs. Turn the mixer on low, and while mixing slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix on low until incorporated. With the mixer still on, slowly add the coffee and mix until well combined, scraping down the sides a few times. The mixer will be quite thin and almost watery; this is fine.

Divide the batter evenly among the two pans and bake in oven 25-40 minutes or until set and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling off.

While the cakes cool make the frosting:

Milk Chocolate Frosting with Sea Salt
1/2 lb good chocolate milk
2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp course sea salt

Melt the chocolate -- either set over a double-boiler or place in microwave-safe bowl and with 30 second intervals, melt the chocolate. Set aside. Using a handheld electric mixture, beat the butter on medium speed until pale yellow in color and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat another minute or two until combined. Add the sugar 1/4 cup at a time and mix in at low speed until fully incorporated. Srape down the sides of the bowl occasionally as you do this. Add half of the melted chocolate and mix to combine. Add the salt and the rest of the chocolate and mix again until well blended. Be careful not to overwhip the frosting because then it'll be too stiff to spread! You want the consistency to be nice and soft and spreadable!

To assemble the cake, take one of the cake pieces and place on a cake stand you plan to serve the cake on. Take about 1/3 of the frosting and place a dollop in the middle, then spread it out evenly over the top of this first layer. Then taking the peanut butter and place the dollop in the middle on top of the frosting. Then taking a knife or wooden skewer, drag the peanut butter through the frosting to incorproate it. You don't want to mix it in fully, but rather create pockets of peanut butter and of chocolate for optimal taste. Then sprinkle the salt evenly on top. Add the next layer of cake carefully on top, then frost the rest of the cake on top and the sides until fully covered.

At this point you can serve the cake, refrigerate it, or serve it later. The cake can stay out a while but should be refrigerated overnight and brought back up to room temperature before serving. Enjoy!

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