Peanut Butter Cake With Caramel-Milk Chocolate Frosting

My daughter Jenn is a thoughtful and generous person, always going out of her way to help out others. She’s generous with her time and love for the little ones in the family, and “Auntie Jenn” is a phrase I hear often from Little Miss. We can tell the Littler Miss has the same adoration for her Auntie, even though she can’t talk yet.

So to express my gratitude and love, for Jenn’s birthday I wanted to create a birthday cake that would be as special as she is. It had to have flavours that she (and the rest of the family) would enjoy, and look impressive. Everyone likes chocolate cake, but I’d recently made one for the Little Miss’s birthday and wanted something different.

I found the peanut butter cake recipe at Sweetapolita. If you haven’t visited there yet, go right now! (Well, maybe you could finish reading this first.) Rosie, the creative genius behind Sweetapolita, makes beautiful, professional-quality cakes, cupcakes and other confections. Her peanut butter cake pulls out all the stops: three layers of cake, topped with peanut butter frosting, chocolate fudge frosting and salted caramel popcorn. Oh my, bring it on. Only two things stopped me from going all the way with her cake: my daughter Meredith doesn’t care for cream cheese, which is in the peanut butter frosting; and, I think the Little Miss is too young to eat popcorn so I didn’t want to tempt her with it.

Not to worry, I had a frosting on my mind since August when I spent some vacation time exploring another beautiful dessert blog, Grace’s Sweet Life. Grace, who also blogs from London, Ontario, recently had her first cookbook published. How exciting is that!? What captivated my attention was a caramel-milk chocolate frosting. I kept going back; it looked so luscious and delicious that I knew I’d be making it before long.

So, when it came time to decide on the birthday cake, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with the combination of peanut butter, caramel and chocolate.

As it turns out, I was right. The cake had a delicate peanut butter flavour, with bursts of chocolatey love via the chips in the batter. And the frosting? You want to know about the frosting? Nirvana. Homemade caramel combined with two kinds of chocolate, then whipped until it was light and creamy. Did you really need to ask? When Jenn arrived, I gave her a dollop on a spoon, not telling her what it was. Her eyes opened wide and a dreamy expression came over her face. “Oh,” she said, “it tastes like a [certain popular caramel chocolate] bar!”

The combination of the cake and frosting was, well, decadent, delicious and quite possibly divine. One of the guests later said that it reminded him of my peanut butter chocolate chip brownies, a perennial hit around here. Everyone enjoyed the cake, and seeing how rich it was and how little I needed to be tempted by the remains, all three of the offspring went home with the leftovers. Hey guys, I want my containers back!

Is there anything I would have done differently? I baked the cake about five minutes too long (it’s a long story) and it was a tad dry, but not noticeably so. It did look a bit raggedy after slicing (maybe I should have used a hot knife?), so the photos are less attractive than I’d hoped. But that’s real life in the kitchen, isn’t it? I also could have let the frosting sit longer at room temperature and maybe added some more cream so it would have been a little easier to work with. Lessons for next time! Due to my end-of-workday time crunch, when I realized the frosting was too sticky to swirl I just applied it quite plainly.

And in the final analysis, those things weren’t issues at all. The cake looked good, it tasted incredible, and most importantly, everyone could tell it had been made with love.

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cake

You can find the original recipe on the Sweetapolita site, here. Rosie notes that she found the recipe in the book Make, Bake & Celebrate! by Annie Rigg. She shared it with permission and as written. I’m sharing the recipe for the cake layers as presented by Sweetapolita, with some adaptation of the instructions.

Pre-heat the oven to 180º C (350ºF). Prepare three 20-cm (8-inch) round cake pans by rubbing them with butter and lining with parchment paper and then buttering it. I also lightly floured the pans for extra protection against sticking.

  • 350 g or 2-2/3 cups plain/all-purpose flour (I always use unbleached)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of/baking soda
  • 150 g or 10 tbsp butter, soft
  • 100 g or 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 350 g or 1-3/4 cups (caster) sugar (i.e., granulated sugar)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250 ml or 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 125 g or 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar until pale and light (about 3 – 4 minutes in the bowl of a stand mixer). Gradually add the beaten eggs in 4 or 5 additions, mixing well between each addition and scraping down the bowl periodically with a spatula. Mix in the vanilla.

Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Mix until smooth and then fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide the mixture among the three prepared cake pans. I weighed mine to ensure even distribution. Then smooth the top of the batter with a palette knife.

Bake on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a rack for 3 or 4 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment paper and let cool completely.

I baked the cake the day before the party, and once the layers were cool wrapped them in plastic wrap, leaving them on the counter until I was ready for assembly the next day.

Caramel-Milk Chocolate Frosting

I adapted this frosting recipe from Grace’s Sweet Life, here, where it’s paired with a sumptuous looking chocolate cake. The milk chocolate brands specified were cost-prohibitive in the quantity required (24 ounces!). While I was standing in the grocery store aisle debating what to purchase and possibly taking out a second mortgage, the Culinary Enthusiast found a large bag of milk chocolate chips. They were from a Canadian brand I trust, and the cost was about half of the higher-end chocolate I was looking at. Dilemma resolved!

This recipe calls for the mixture to chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and then to stand at room temperature for an hour before beating it. I refrigerated mine for about 24 hours and, as mentioned above, should probably have let it sit out for an hour and a half to two hours before beating it. 

  • 678 g or 24 ounces good quality milk chocolate (e.g., Lindt, Ghirardelli), finely chopped (or use good quality milk chocolate chips)
  • 85 g or 3 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used semisweet)
  • 338 g or 1-1/2 cups superfine granulated sugar
  • 118 ml or 4 ounces or 1/2 cup water
  • 532 ml or 18 ounces or 2-1/4 cups heavy (35%) cream, at room temperature

Place the milk chocolate and bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside. (I used my stand mixer bowl so I wouldn’t have to transfer it later.)

In a medium-sized saucepan with a heavy bottom set over medium heat, stir the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring until the syrup is a deep amber colour. Occasionally brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush and carefully swirl the pan. This takes about 10 minutes.

When the mixture has reached the deep amber colour, turn the heat to low and cautiously and slowly add the heavy cream (the mixture will bubble vigourously). Stir over low heat until the caramel is smooth and any hard bits are dissolved.

Pour the caramel over the chocolate. Let it sit a couple of minutes to allow the chocolate to soften. Then whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours or overnight. Then remove from the fridge and let sit at room temperature from 1 to 2 hours, depending on how long you chilled it.

Using your stand mixer with the beater attachment, beat at low speed for a minute or so to loosen the frosting up, then beat at medium speed until the colour resembles milk chocolate and it’s easily spreadable. Do not overbeat, or the frosting will become stiff and grainy. If it does, set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water for 10-second intervals, whisking just until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.

If you find the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon of heavy cream at a time, beating in between additions until it reaches the desired consistency.

To Assemble the Cake

Place 3 strips of parchment paper about 3 inches wide around the edges of the cake plate or stand. Place the first layer atop this, flat side up. Spread 1 cup of frosting over it, using an offset spatula. Place the second layer on top, also flat side up, pressing down slightly. Spread a cup of frosting on it. Top with the third layer of cake, rounded side up, again pressing down slightly. Spread a fairly thin layer of the remaining frosting over the top and sides as a crumb coat, then slather on the rest, swirling decoratively or applying smoothly. Pull out the parchment paper, and you have a lovely cake sitting on a clean plate.

I had about a cup or so of leftover frosting that I saved in a sealed container for ‘another use.’ To be perfectly honest, I furtively ate spoonsful of it when I thought no one was looking (after all, the baker needs their reward!). It sure would have been nice on cupcakes, though, or sandwiched between cookies. Maybe next time …

9 comments

  1. Such a great post, Mar. Well, OK. Any post that begins and ends with a beautiful chocolate cake is bound to get my attention. And your cake is definitely an attention getter. The “birthday girl” sounds like a wonderful young woman. I guess that nut didn’t fall far from the tree, eh? 😉

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