Here it is: the last (and best?) part of Sunday's dinner. I wanted to make something but had limited ingredients in the house and didn't want to go to the store since the snow was coming down hard. I also wanted something rich and gooey. I had very little butter and only three squares of Baker's chocolate (no cocoa powder), so I couldn't make my usual chocolate cake. After searching for recipes online and scouring my cookbooks, I finally came across a recipe that would work with what I had.
I found the recipe in All About Baking, a 1935 publication from the Consumer Service Department of General Foods Corporation, the producers of Swan's Down Cake Flour, Calumet Baking Powder, and other brands. It's a great little book containing about 100 recipes. What I like most about it is the concept: twenty-three "picture lessons" use a recipe to demonstrate a technique, while several related recipes for each lesson follow. For example, after the Lady Baltimore Cake recipe, there are three recipes for different cakes made using the same basic method. For this cake, I used the caramel devil's food cake recipe, transcribed below. The biggest difference between this and other devil's food recipes I have used is that this one calls for brown sugar, which I imagine works nicely with the caramel frosting.
I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle caramel frosting without a candy thermometer, and I'd pretty much decided on making peanut butter frosting anyway. I had a bit of peanut butter from two jars left (salted and unsalted). I only use natural peanut butter, and I usually get the Teddie brand since it is tasty, cheap, and made right here in New England. I started using natural peanut butter a few years ago when I realized how much junk they put in the processed brands: corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and all kinds of unpronounceable chemical compounds. By contrast, Teddie contains peanuts and, if you get the salted version, salt. That's it. Since I grew up eating Skippy, it took a while for my taste buds to adjust, but now natural peanut butter tastes better to me.
Anyway, for this peanut butter frosting, I scraped out the two jars and ended up with about 2/3 cup of peanut butter. Normally for a peanut-butter frosting I would use some butter, but I'd used the last of my butter in the cake. So I just added powdered sugar and milk, alternately, beating well between each addition, until I found a consistency that I liked. I stopped when the frosting had a thick but gooey texture, similar to caramel, and I didn't so much spread the frosting on the cake as drop it on there, the frosting falling in a lazy drape from the spatula and, upon contact with the cake top, oozing to a smooth finish. After some time, the frosting firmed up, and the end result looked somewhat like fondant. To finish the cake, I dusted the top with sifted chocolate malt powder (Ovaltine) and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Some people have asked me about the salt; I think salt intensifies the taste of the chocolate, and injects the rather soft taste of the peanut butter frosting with more spunk. It was a risk, but one I was pretty sure Amanda and Gordie wouldn't mind, since I knew that Amanda likes chocolate with pretzels.
The end result: really good stuff. So good that we each had a small second serving while playing Yahtzee after our guests left. Thankfully Dan took the rest in to work the next morning so we didn't have to face temptation again. And if you were reading last week, you know that I said I was avoiding sweets. For the most part, I have been. But I decided before I made it that I would have a piece (or two) of this cake, and I'm glad I did. So worth it! But don't take my word for it. Try it yourseldf.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
Caramel Devil's Food Cake
adapted from All About Home Baking
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter or other shorting
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs, unbeaten
3 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour and baking soda. In a separate bowl, cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add chocolate and blend. Add flour, alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add vanilla. Bake in two deep greased 9-inch layer pans for 25 minutes.*
*My cake passed the toothpick test after only 19 minutes, so I took it out then and it was done. I would suggest checking on your cake around the 20-minute mark just in case.
Gooey Peanut Butter Frosting
2/3 cup natural peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
Beat peanut butter at medium speed with about 1 cup powdered sugar. Alternately add milk and remaining powdered sugar, beating well after each addition. Adjust amounts until desired consistency is reached.