Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cake: Perfect Imperfection

mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting

I prefer a life lived in. Real perfection is necessarily imperfect: it’s polymorphous, in flux, crooked, and warm, cluttered and lopsided. You won’t find it in a catalogue. That contrived, mechanical sort of perfection is impossibly dull. Rather, you’ll find it in spiraling cells, in organisms multiplying, unfurling, evolving, wilting, copulating, decomposing, and dying. Seas and mall courts alike teem with it. Prime numbers self-contain it. It is things as they are. For me perfection is to live in the imperfect now, a now that is populated by mad curls, cast iron, cracked tea cups, whole milk, scars, asymmetry, dirty dishes, anxiety, crow’s feet, four letter words, chicken hearts, finger nail clippings, and, in this particular instance, a homely cake on an upended beer glass cake stand.

 

This roughly hewn cake was my very first cake, peanut butter layers with a ganache-like dark chocolate frosting and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. Nothing ground breaking here, just peanut butter and chocolate. It was a baby cake, 4″ across, and perfect in its imperfection. I’ve baked flourless chocolate cakes in bain-maries, angel food, and cupcakes before. But never a real cake, which is, as every southerner knows, a layer cake.

mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting

This attempt was, as you can see, far from pristine. Some of the icing seeped into the center through what I assume was a crack in one of my layers and not some frosting worm hole in space-time, but as far as outlines and rough drafts go, this was a stalwart little cake. A small slice went a long way, a good thing for a confection of diminutive size. Its size lead me the d.i.y. Pabst Blue Ribbon chalice cake stand because my actual cake stand dwarfed it. So I upended an old PBR glass, stuck a plate on top and declared it a cake stand by the powers invested in me.

I think I’d never made a layer cake before because they seemed to require a reason, an occasion, une fête, and I’d never found any such occasion previously. Birthday cakes growing up were the province of Sugar, my grandmother, and for the majority of my twenties birthdays were celebrated with copious amounts of booze and bad decisions making, not cheerful afternoon cake baking. Thankfully I no longer celebrate the passage of time with death knells and banshee wails, and I baked this tiny cake as a test in my search for the inimitable peanut butter & chocolate cake for Patrick’s birthday this weekend. He made an off-handed comment about peanut butter & chocolate being awesome (probably in the form of calling people who don’t like said combination “awful philistines…”) which I took to heart, leading me on this quest for the perfect peanut butter & chocolate cake.

mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting

Being a virgin to layer cake baking, it seemed best to do a few experiments before the final cake, which I plan on being three eight inch layers. The need to test led me to tiny cake making, which was an epiphany in and of itself because there really needn’t be any special occasion for a tiny cake. It’s a Tuesday afternoon sort of cake. We had small slices of it after dinner and with coffee for a few days. It proved to be the perfect size for a household of two with a penchant for sweets in moderate moderation. Tiny layer cakes shall henceforth be a part of my “no special occasion required” baking repertoire.

mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting
mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting

I was very fortunate to find, on my first attempt, my ideal chocolate frosting. It’s fudgelike, bittersweet, and reminiscent of a good truffle. It would play nice with cayenne pepper. The salt? Critical. That detail takes what would otherwise be a rather rote cake and renders it bright & interesting. My next experiment will involve peanut butter cake batter with peanut butter frosting between the layers and this chocolate frosting on the outside so as to achieve even more peanut butteryness. My hope is that this will be the keen little cro-magnon cake in what will be an evolution of a great many cakes to come.

mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting

 

 

mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting
 
mini peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting
 

 

Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Layer Cake, with fleur de sel

Print Recipe
Course Dessert
Keyword cake, chocolate, peanut butter
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

for the cake

  • 1/4 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk

for the frosting

  • 5 oz 142 gr unsweetened chocolate
  • 8 Tbspn butter
  • 1 cup + 1 Tbspn 215 gr sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  • flaked finishing salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 and grease two four inch round cake pans or one eight inch round. Set aside. Line bottom with parchment circles if desired.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl. In another bowl, beat together the butter, peanut butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.
  • Add the buttermilk and dry ingredients alternately, beating well after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pan filling it three-quarters full and bake for 25 minutes, or until the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the pan and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Turn over onto a large plate and let cool while you make the frosting.
  • Make the frosting. Chop the chocolate and butter and set aside.
  • In a saucepan, bring the sugar and heavy cream to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6 minutes. Do not let the saucepan overflow.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and butter until melted.
  • Stir in the vanilla extract. Let the frosting cool completely, whisking occasionally during cooling. Once completely cool at room temperature, the frosting will be spreadable. {note: I chilled my frosting in the refrigerator, whisking frequently, to speed up the cooling.}
  • If making a mini layer cake, slice each layer in half horizontally (a good trick, that I did not know about, is to stick toothpicks all around the cake as markers to help you cut evenly). I’ve also read that a cake chilled in the freezer is easier to slice.
  • Frost cake. Sprinkle the frosted cake with finishing salt. Transfer cake to serving plate using a spatula. Turn a beer chalice upside down. Set plate on top.
  • Stay classy.