Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Famous Cake

Why is the famous Smitten Kitchen chocolate peanut butter cake famous? Well sure it was featured on the Martha Stewart Show, but it was well known to me and my friend far sooner than that. I think this is a case where fantastic food photography combined with the words chocolate, peanut butter, and cake just became something magical. I remember I was out with my friend a few weeks ago and she mentioned a recipe for a chocolate peanut butter cake she really wanted to try. "SMITTEN KITCHEN!" I shouted at her. "YES!" she yelled back. And we made a pact to make the cake together, which we finally got around to last weekend.

This cake takes a long time to make. Clear you schedule for the afternoon folks. Not only do you have to make 3 layers of cake, frosting, and glaze, but you have to chill the cake in all three of those steps. Bake the cake, then freeze it; Frost the cake then refrigerate it; Glaze the cake then refrigerate it some more. It took us four freaking hours!

I have to say, as much as it bums me out, I have some major issues with the recipe for this chocolate peanut butter cake.
  • The recipe says to use 8 inch round cake pans. Now I'm new to baking so maybe someone can help me out. I went to two different stores (three if you count the grocery store), and as far as I can tell there is no such thing as 8 inch round cake pans. They're all 9 inches!
  • The cake batter is super watery. We read the recipe over 3 times in disbelief because 1 1/2 cups of water just seemed like too much. The batter looked too watered down after only 1 cup, so we were nervous about that.
  • The layers are way too thin. I would actually just do two layers. I get that you get more frosting for your buck with three small layers, but they were a pain to work with (do not skip the step of freezing the cake layers after they bake!)...but maybe that's just because I wasn't wild about the frosting (I'll get to that).
  • The cake itself is...not that great. I was expecting something dark and rich based on the picture. Maybe it was photoshoped, but I followed the recipe to a T and what I got was a cake that was light (as in the color was not a rich dark brown at all) and not very flavorful. I felt my Schargenberger cocoa powder was wasted!
  • The frosting is way too sweet and kind of nasty. The frosting alone has 5 frakking cups of sugar. The peanut butter makes it a bit heavy, which combined with the sickeningly sweet sugar content makes it a bit unpleasant.
  • Frosting this cake was a total pain. Since it was so watery, it crumbled and fell apart at the slightest touch. I ended up just globbing on the frosting because I had better success that way, but I ran out of frosting pretty quickly. There were definitely pretty spots and not so pretty spots.
My tips:
  1. As I said above, don't skip the steps to chill the cake at the various stages. It really makes a difference. It would have been impossible to work with the ultra thin cake layers if they had not been frozen first. In fact, only take out one layer at a time, otherwise the others will warm back up while you're frosting the first one.
  2. Make this cake the day before you actually want to eat it. We tried the cake just an hour or two after we made it and the flavors just didn't seem to mesh as well as I would have liked. But when I tried another piece the next day I thought it tasted a lot better (though still way too sickeningly sweet).
One thing I will rave about is the chocolate glaze. It is freaking good. I wouldn't mind modifying this recipe in every way except the glaze. I would like to first off ditch the chocolate cake recipe in favor of my go-to chocolate cake recipe my sister gave me. Not sure who originated it, so I hope I'm not breaking any rules by posting it, but this is my favorite chocolate cake recipe I've come across so far:

Amazon Chocolate Cake:

3 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (mmmm...Schargenberger...)
2 tsp baking sode
2 cups sugar
2 cups cold water
1/2 cup + 2 Tb corn or vegetable oil
1 Tb vanilla
2 Tb white vinegar or strained lemon juice

Mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Sift. In separate bowl, mix together water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar/lemon juice. Whisk together wet and dry mixtures. Pour through strainer into a bowl, breaking up lumps and pressing them through. Mix again, and pour into 2 greased 9-inch round cake pans or one greased 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan. Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to floor several times to pop air bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

I'm thinking if I can figure out how to make a raspberry frosting (with way less sugar of course), and if I take the peanut butter out of the chocolate glaze, and I use the above cake recipe, this could be a pretty freaking sweet cake (er, that's sweet as in awesome, not sweet as in the opposite of sour).

All that said, I am so proud of myself for making this cake. This was definitely not a beginner's recipe, and I think I managed to execute the recipe pretty darn well! And Deb does give a lot of good tips, which I always appreciate. I think that's why I like food blogs so much better than cook books. There's always little tricks and nuances that never make it into the book, but are so essential to whatever your making coming out right.

Oh and one more tip: if you do decide to make this recipe, make sure you have a tall glass of milk on hand. Even if you don't like milk you're going to need it. 7 cups of sugar will do that to a person. Enjoy!

Afterthought: I tried another piece of the cake last night and I'm very undecided.  The first couple of bites are delicious, and then the flavors just seem to compound and that's when it gets too overwhelmingly sweet.  I think serving it cold makes a big difference.  I know that Deb suggested serving only very small pieces, and now I think I understand why.  It's not because it's so rich that people won't be able to handle more, it's because the first few bites taste delicious, so you might as well only serve a couple of bites.  


Puglette said...

your rasberry version sounds much better...drizzled in that chocolate sauce? mmmmmm

JuLo said...

Ok, I just might be on a mission now because it sounds really good to me too. Hehe.

Spectater said...

it's from the Cafe Beaujolais cookbook (I forget which one) -- Margaret Fox. there, now we've given credit. plus, the recipe is all over the interwebs already anyway, WITHOUT credit (lame!).

if you want to do a raspberry frosting, just do a plain white frosting and mix in some quality raspberry jam or preserves. should work out.

JuLo said...

Well how do I do a plain white frosting oh wise one?

Spectater said...

that's basically what martha does in this recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/strawberry-meringue-buttercream?autonomy_kw=frosting&rsc=header_10

JuLo said...

OOooh, yeah! That looks good! Ok, next time I have all day to make a cake, I'm going to try that one. Oh, I might get to make my own recipe kind of!