Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chocolate Espresso Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

Yes, you read that correctly. Chocolate espresso and peanut butter cake with chocolate cinammom swiss meringue frosting and peanut butter frosting.

My niece, Lavada's birthday is August 27th. My husband, Bud's, is August 31st. In our family we always celebrate their birthdays together on the same day.  Last year my niece asked if I could make her a chocolate cake with peanut butter.

I started asking questions. "Do you want chocolate cake mixed with peanut butter cake so it's all marbled? Or do you just want straight peanut butter frosting on plain chocolate cake? Or oooooh do you want lots of chocolate cake and peanut butter cake layers with chocolate and peanut butter frosting?"

About the 5th suggestion in the eight, about to be nine-year-old girl was standing staring at me blankly like I'd lost it. In general I think she thinks I'm a few megs short of a full gigabyte as it is, but this day she just stared vacantly at me and then somewhat questioned, "Ummm, yes?"

So I began planning the structural ascent up Reese mountain. That heavenly chocolate-peanut butter flavor combination mecca that has lead the charge in one of the last century's greatest debates: Did the chocolate get in the peanut butter or did the peanut butter get in the chocolate?  Hey - It's right up there with how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

Both cakes bake at 350º.



1 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup raw sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil or unsalted butter
1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/2 cup whole milk - divided
1/4 cup beaten eggs (2 smaller eggs or 1 extra large)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour 1 round 8-inch cake pan. Cut out a parchment circle to line the bottom of the pan.

Sift and stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then add 2/3 of the milk. Mix together on the slow-medium setting of your mixer for 2 minutes, scraping the sides frequently. Add the shortening, peanut butter, remaining milk and eggs. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.

Pour evenly into the cake pan, then bake for 30-35 minutes.  Let stand in the pan for 5 minutes then turn out on a rack and cool completely.



3/4 cups + 2 TBLS whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup raw sugar or 1/2 cup honey (if using honey, add when mixing wet ingredients)
1/3 cup + 1 TBLS dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup coconut oil melted
1 extra-large egg
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup fresh hot strong coffee /espresso

Grease and flour one 8-inch cake pan.  Cut out a parchment circle for the bottom of the pan.

Sift together all dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients separately except for the coffee.  Gently mix together wet into dry.  If using an electric mixer,  mix on low while slowly pouring in wet ingredients. Once incorporated,  mix in hot coffee all at once. 

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Let the cake cool for 30 minutes in the pan. Turn out on a rack and let cool completely.



2 cups natural peanut butter (creamy or chunky - your call, but for piping purposes, creamy would work better)
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup honey (I prefer raw tupelo)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Blend all ingredients together and keep cool. If using any of the peanut butter frosting for decoration or piping I recommend adding powdered sugar to that portion 1 tbls at a time till of a stiffer consistency.



5 egg whites
1 cup and 2 TBLS raw sugar or 1/2 cup honey
2 cups of unsalted butter at room temp (4 sticks or 1lb)
3 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 oz dark chocolate melted or 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder

Temper egg whites in a double boiler with sugar or honey,  mixing gently with a whisk till sugar is dissolved or honey is blended.

Remove from heat and whisk or use stand mixer to beat till stiff peaks form. 

Add butter in fourths,  a chunk at a time to whisking bowl till incorporated.  It will go from a cottage cheese looking state to suddenly a beautiful frosting consistency.

Blend in cocoa powder,  cinnamon and vanilla extract. 

For piping,  add in powdered sugar till stiff enough to pipe.

Alright,  frosting waiting,  cakes cooled -  ya ready?  This is where it gets fun!

Take your chocolate cake, slice it in half.
Take your peanut butter cake and slice it in half horizontally.  Yep,  we're going for 4 thin layers.

Now we're going to make a staggered pattern so when you cut into the cake you have variations of color between the chocolate and peanut butter,  but also this way,  you truly experience the consistent chocolate-peanut butter taste combination. Is it necessary?  No, of course not,  you could just alternate the newly cut cake layers,  but it was fun for a child's cake.

I find this easiest done with circles or triangular wedges (see bottom of post for triangular instructions). If you have circle cutters or stackable bowls in graduated sizes,  choose sizes so each cake circle created is equal.  We baked 8" cakes here so for ease:

2" circle starting at the center of a cake layer
4" circle
6" circle

Now you should have a cake layer cut into 4 rings with a 2" center and each ring 1" in width.

If you do not have circle cutters or bowls to trace around with a paring or cake knife (let's be honest,  we all know a standard cheap kitchen knife works just fine on a cake),  you can take a piece of string,  tie one end to the knife blade,  the end to a thin dowel,  skewer or toothpick,  measure off 1" from center and rotate the taut string with the knife.  Voila,  first circle cut.  Measure out another inch of string length and you have another ring. 

I'm always amazed by people who buy things to make a cake or dish just to do it one time or rarely,  when quite frankly you can improvise most any tool with what you already have on hand.  Just use a little ingenuity. 

The question I'm asked by people baking cakes in my kitchen,  which always amuses me is,  “Do you have a  cake leveler or layer cutter?" 

No.  First,  the pan it was baked in was already level.  Cut it before turning it out by keeping the blade flush with the pan. 

Second,  people have been making cake even and level with a piece of thin string for centuries.  I still find it to be cleaner,  faster,  more accurate and cheaper.  Wrap the string or thread around the cake at your desired cut point,  cross the ends and pull.  Yeah,  it's that easy.


Continue cutting circles till all layers have uniform rings. 

Now - take the center cut out of either kind of cake,  place it in the middle of your final cake board or serving plate.  Take the next size ring of the other cake and place it over the center piece on your cake board or plate.  Continue interchanging the cake rings till you have rebuilt an 8" cake layer with rings alternating from chocolate to peanut butter.

Thinly (you have three layers of frosting here so you do not need to be heavy-handed with it,  lest your guests go into a diabetic coma after eating one slice), frost the top of the layer with either chocolate or peanut butter frosting.

2nd Layer: This time start with the outer ring so you can ensure the layer will be centered over the bottom layer. Alternate the ring in cake flavor from what you used on the outer ring of the bottom layer .  So if your first layer had a chocolate outer ring, Layer No. 2 will be peanut butter.  Alternate the ring types again inserting until you have reconstructed another layer.  Your center piece of cake on this layer should be the opposite of what you used on the first layer if you started correctly.

Thinly top frost this 2nd layer with the other frosting from what you started with.  If you chose chocolate for the first layer,  now use peanut butter.

3rd Layer: Begin the same as the 2nd Layer,  starting from the outside to ensure it's centered over the bottom and then build in.  This time your outer ring should be the same as the one on the 1st bottom layer,  alternating again as you build inward to the final circle.

Again, thinly top frost with the frosting you used on the first layer. Your layers should now be frosted: chocolate,  peanut butter,  chocolate,  or vise versa,  which ever order you chose.

4th Layer: Starting with your remaining outer ring and centering on bottom layers,  begin constructing inward.

How you choose to frost this cake is completely up to you.  For my niece's cake I frosted in sixths. Piping a chocolate line across the center,  then crossing and so on till the cake was evenly divided.  I then filled each section with alternating frosting so it resembled a sort of circus tent.

I used stars and scroll work for the piping and piped large royal icing letters on floral wire and seals (her favorite animal at the time),  letting them harden on parchment paper while the cakes were baked and assembled.

After the piping was completed,  I inserted the hardened decorations by their wire so they stood up off the cake.

Have fun!!


Cut each layer into strips at a 45 degree angle,  changing the lean of the blade at each cut.  Each layer's final cut should resemble teeth/triangles.  When building the layers,  alternate the strips of cake.

Lay down the bottom layer's center strip and build outward on either side, alternating between triangular strips of chocolate and peanut butter cake.

Thinly top frost.

Start the 2nd layer with an edge strip to ensure it'd flush with the bottom layer and make sure the side strip you start with is different than the strip below it on the first layer. If the bottom strip is chocolate,  use a peanut butter cake strip in the 2nd layer.  Build sideways,  alternating cake type strips.

Thinly top frost.

Start the 3rd and 4th layers the same as the 2nd  to ensure edges are flush with bottom layers so the cake is centered.  Always alternating cake type from the layer below it.

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