Monday, January 31, 2011

chocolate peanut butter cake

Sixty is a big birthday, and it deserves a big cake. Though my dad mainly wanted his family gathered together and would have been happy with a tub of Blue Bell or a repeat of the delicious chocolate blob my family requests all the time, I wanted him to have something special to slice into when we celebrated his birthday last month.

Once again — thank you, Deb. I picked her chocolate peanut butter cake because a) it's a combo Dad loves and b) a cake like that will always be a hit.

Photo by Miguel. Beyond the flowing chocolate is my breakfast taco and
a library book on apple pie that I'm hoping to bake from soon.

As far as baking goes, it was nothing too complicated — just lots of bowls to separately mix up the cake batter, peanut butter frosting and the chocolate-peanut butter glaze. I found that I really liked making a three-layer, 8-inch cake that's nice and tall. A birthday cake must have presence! I also felt like this was the first time I'd mastered the technique of slathering on a crumb coat, which was good because the chocolate cake crumbs could have been really noticeable under such a pale-colored frosting. On the other hand, it didn't matter too much in the end because of the dousing of shiny chocolate that goes over the whole thing. Maybe this is a trick I should keep up my sleeve next time a cake's frosting turns out to be less than immaculate. In other words, this could top every cake I make from now on.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Via Smitten Kitchen and originally from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup neutral vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

Handful of honey roasted peanuts or coarsely chopped peanut brittle for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl and whisk to combine them. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the three prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners and let cool completely. Let the layers sit in the freezer for 30 minutes so they're easier to handle.

Peanut Butter Frosting

Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup cup of the frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting and stick it in the freezer for a while — 10 minutes or so. Then frost with the remaining frosting and put the whole thing back in to chill while making the glaze.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

In a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

To decorate with the chocolate-peanut butter glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

three to one

Gelato, my favorite walking dessert.

That's the current ratio of sweet to savory recipes you'll find in the Belly Bulletin recipe archive I just created. Want to find some cookies and cakes I liked? The archive's to the right!

happy new year!

I am a big believer in eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year's Day for good luck in the year to come. I believe in the power of these prosperity-bringers so much that I'm pretty sure they will work their magic just as well if I finally get around to cooking them for dinner on Jan. 3 (and leftovers today). It's a good thing I didn't resolve to stop procrastinating.

So I made kale according to a fast 101 Cookbooks recipe for Garlicky Greens and opened a can of 365 brand black-eyed peas because I'm going to say that passes for following the tradition/superstition of counting and eating precisely 365 peas for good luck each day of the year.

Something with corn feels like just the right match for this Southern combo, so I usually eat it with cornbread. But then! Last week I tried some cheesy grits from the prepared food bar at Whole Foods. (I should say, I like eating there but I'm not crazy about the idea of paying for my lunch by the pound. If cost didn't have me considering the actual weight of my food, I'd definitely be adding more to my plate. I'm not sure this is a lesson I want you to teach me, Whole Foods.) Anyway, the cheese grits were super creamy and tasted of corn more than any other grits I've had. So why not make them at home, where I don't weigh my food or myself?

I assumed Homesick Texan would have a simple grits recipe, and it didn't fail me. But it's really a bit too simple because I wasn't sure what I should look for to know when grits are done. So I combined the elements for extra flavor from that recipe with instruction on basic preparation from a Lee Bros. recipe. And, ta-da! Here's how I make grits...

Cheesy, spicy grits

A combination of recipes from Homesick Texan and The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 1/2 cups stone-ground grits

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 cups water

2 pinches kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 jalapeño, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups of white Cheddar cheese, grated

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Stir the grits into a bowl of cold water and allow to settle. If you see any corn hulls that float to the surface, skim off the hulls and drain the grits. (I had no hulls.)

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and the 3 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the grits and stir. Reduce the heat to medium, add the salt and cook, stirring occasionally.

Once the grits thicken in about 10 minutes, reduce the heat and continue cooking, stirring frequently and adding water if the grits become too stiff. Cook until the grits are fluffy and creamy, about 35 to 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the jalapeño and garlic in butter until soft. Once the grits are done, stir in the cheese, jalapenos, garlic, salt and pepper and stir until cheese is melted.

* I haven't tried this yet, but someone named Jim on Chowhound recommends slicing cold leftover grits and frying them in butter. I'll follow up if I do some frying.