I’ve been trying to behave. While everyone and their grandmother is Instagramming homemade sourdough or who-knows-what, I’ve been squelching my urge to bake, because how many cookies do I need to eat, seriously? I’m not saying I miss going into the office, but I miss having an outlet for all that baking.
I had to give in, though, when I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Cupcakes were required, and immediately. How could I say “No” to chocolate and peanut butter? Besides, I reasoned, I could share these with my parents – there was no way my dad was going to complain about that combination.
I started out with my usual chocolate cupcake recipe, which I can almost make in my sleep. How good are they? The cat thought she needed to try them.
Why, kitty, why???
The frosting recipe was simple enough to follow, but made a way bigger batch than I’d usually use. Naturally this meant I had to go nuts piling it on, right? I mean, if I’m going to bake something utterly unnecessary, I might as well go whole-hog.
It was also really stiff, and I realized after piping the first couple that I should have added a touch more milk to it in order to soften it up. Normally, I hold a cupcake in one hand and rotate it as I pipe with the other; this stuff was a two-hand job. My hands were shaking so badly trying to get enough pressure on the piping bag that a casual observer might have thought I have some sort of neurological problem.
Despite the stiffness, the frosting wasn’t at all dry or hard, even after a couple of days. And its firmness may have been beneficial when one of them toppled off its plate onto the floor; it flattened a little bit but didn’t make a huge mess the way a softer frosting would have. In any case, they went over really well and were the perfect excuse to bake something.
Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional baker, I’m a relatively experienced one. I understand how to not overmix, how to check for doneness, and how to fold in the cheese. And while I accept that there are some things I will likely never have the inclination to attempt (croquembouche, anyone?), my Moby Dick white whale continues to be vanilla cupcakes.
It should be such a simple thing, right? But nearly every recipe I’ve tried has left me underwhelmed: they’re either dense, or dry, or some combination of the two. Maybe it’s because my chocolate cupcakes are fail-proof and so moist-moist-moist that vanilla pales (and fails) by comparison, but it still drives me nuts. My go-to cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, has a vanilla recipe that’s really similar to the chocolate, but with two tablespoons of cornstarch (and no cocoa, obviously). Was that what made it not-perfect? I’ve tried varieties that call for cake flour rather than all-purpose, to no avail. (I’ve also since read tips that recommend adding cornstarch to your A.P. if cake flour is unavailable, which really makes me think there’s a connection there somehow.)
Recently I came across this recipe, and was hopeful. Straight-up all-purpose flour, no separating of eggs (not that I inherently dislike separating eggs, but anything that calls for just the yolk or just the white invariably leads to wasting the unwanted part, unless you have an excellent recipe-stacking strategy to use up those leftover yolks or whites, which I do not), nothing funny.
And…they weren’t bad.
They came out a little browner around the edges than I would have liked, but all things considered…not bad. The batter was thicker than pretty much all of my other scratch recipes, and I think I overfilled them a bit because of this, which in turn necessitated baking them a minute or two longer than might otherwise be prudent. Whether because of bake time or simple batter composition, they were just a wee bit on the dry side, too. I could see making them again, but filling the cups less full – and mayyyybe adding an extra tablespoon of oil to the batter for moisture?
I topped them with a root beer buttercream icing, which paired so perfectly with the vanilla cake, like having a root beer float. Oh, and because you’ve probably noticed the liners by now…
Yep, those are absolutely Christmas liners. Everyone’s socially distancing – who was going to see these anyway? But look how pretty they are!
After my underwhelming success with vanilla, I went back to my old standby – chocolate – for a Father’s Day treat. There was pretty much no doubt in my mind that they had to be topped with peanut butter frosting.
To add a bit of texture and interest, I put a few Reese’s Pieces in a baggie and smashed them with a rolling pin before sprinkling the aftermath on top of the frosting.
This is the best combination…
They’re practically moist enough for themselves and the vanilla cupcakes, if cupcakes worked that way.
Light and moist and perfect, no crumbling at all.
Has anyone had tremendous success with light, moist vanilla cupcakes? Or am I better off box-mixing it?
My dad’s got a bit of a thing for cookies. If you were to drop him into the middle of a bakery (or heck, even the kitchen at home), he will see past all the other treats and head straight for the cookies, irrespective of type. When I asked him back in June what type of dessert he wanted for Father’s Day, he asked for – and got – cookies. They were “fancy” ones, a chocolate cookie filled with a peanut butter fondant, but still.
A while ago, I had seen this post on Craftster…and then I went back and looked at it a few more times for good measure. It was a really neat looking cake, and I knew I had to try one like it. I normally prefer cupcakes to a cake for a birthday or other festive occasion since they’re less of a pain to store if you have leftovers, but I had already done Cookie Monster cupcakes once, and besides, the idea of the cake being his whole head was too good to pass up.
I didn’t want a giant cake, since I wasn’t really baking for a crowd, and I knew my 6″ pans would be perfect Bonus: one 12-cupcake recipe’s worth of batter divides perfectly between the two pans. Plus, the slightly smaller circumference/diameter meant the ping-pong balls I bought to use as eyes would be perfectly proportionate.
I started with my usual most famous dark-chocolate cake (because, um, have you met my family?) and made a small batch of peanut butter frosting to smear between the layers. For the crumb coat and fur, I made what was possibly the largest batch of blue-tinted vanilla buttercream ever, because this was not going to be one of those cakes whose frosting technique could change in the event of a blue-icing shortage. In all my remarkable foresight, I kept it just a little less stiff than I normally like my frosting – I didn’t want to have to force it through the grass tip like some sort of Play-Doh extrusion.
A quick image search for “Cookie Monster cake” shows a lot of cakes whose entire mouth area (that’s a very specific medical term) consists of cookies, like CM just couldn’t help himself. I didn’t want to do that because a) I don’t love the aesthetic of it, and b) unless you eat the cookies immediately upon serving, they’re going to get either soggy or stale, and that’s a waste of perfectly good cookies. I had toyed with the idea of tinting some of my frosting black to draw in a mouth, or even leaving the mouth as negative space (like I did here), since the cake is pretty dark. But! I’m so happy with the solution I hit on: after applying my crumb coat (ironic foreshadowing/nominative determinism alert!), I used a toothpick to trace a mouth shape and then filled it in with chocolate cookie crumbs. They kept the space from drying out and don’t have the ick factor of black frosting. And then…presto, pipe the fur around it like usual. Of course, I couldn’t leave him completely cookie-less…
I learned some valuable frosting tips, too. When piping at a 90° angle to cover the sides, start at the bottom and work up, and gravity will let the “fur” fall into place. And if your buttercream is on the soft side and prone to softening further just from holding the piping bag in your hot little hands, don’t overfill the bag – some of the frosting will commit hari-kari and throw itself onto the kitchen floor from the top of the bag, and you will, repeatedly and with increasing frustration, have to shoo away with your foot the cat, who will look at the overpriced and specially formulated food in his bowl like it’s poison but who will enthusiastically eat dust bunnies and flecks of dirt, and now unnaturally-blue frosting, from the floor. Who needs to explain that to the vet? You’ve been warned.
Cat-herding issues and all, I’m so happy with how this turned out:
The peanut butter centre was the perfect compliment to the dark chocolate cake, and not as sweet as more blue vanilla buttercream would have been.
As birthday cakes go, this was a pretty good one. He definitely didn’t see it coming, and that made it so much more fun. But, whoosh, I don’t know that I want to see blue frosting again for a while. 😉
A confession: for years, I thought that all recipes everywhere were part of a giant conspiracy theory to prevent others from replicating the originator’s success. Who were these weirdos baking cookies at 375 for 10 minutes? The only thing that was a recipe for was failure, and burned cookies galore. Now, admittedly, I knew for years that my oven ran hot, thanks to an oven thermometer (the best six bucks I ever spent!) as recommended by Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. If I wanted 350, I set it for 325. I also adjusted baking times downward, because the times called for in recipes were generally far too long, and although you can certainly add to baking time once something’s in the oven, you cannot take it away. It was a system that served me well for oh, ages and ages.
Sometime in January or February, I gradually came to the realization that all was not well with the oven. The 25-degree window I had come to know and tolerate was failing me. If the dial was set for 325, I was seeing 375; if I cranked it down to 300, I got 315 or so. What I didn’t quite twig to for a while was that I now had the kitchen-appliance equivalent of a traditional Greek song: it would start at a manageable tempo (or temperature) before stepping on the metaphorical gas to the point where your feet can’t keep up or putting frozen “chicken” strips in for longer than ten minutes required one person to fan the smoke alarm to keep it from going off and one to hold the back door of the house open to clear out the resulting haze.
New stove? Oh, yes, new stove. Only now, recipes looked like a foreign language to me. Is that really 350, or just “bake in a moderate oven”, like old-time recipe books like to say? When I finally screwed up my courage to take the plunge and try baking something, it made sense to try a recipe I’ve baked dozens of times before, right? Instead, I tried my hand at a new-to-me variety of mini cheesecakes. The chocolate-peanut butter people in my life won this round.
I compared making cheesecake to a baking trust fall before, but I’m honestly not sure which time was more stressful: when the oven was running even hotter than I realized and I didn’t know what I was doing, or when I was worried that somehow the new oven wouldn’t run hot enough.
I shouldn’t have worried, because these came out beautifully. In fact, I suspect the ones I made for my mom’s birthday got just a tiny bit overdone – this batch was smooth, creamy, and not the least bit dense.
Rather than make the chocolate whipped cream called for in the recipe, I used my remaining 4 oz. of cream cheese to make a half-batch of the cream cheese-whipped cream frosting from the pumpkin spice latte cupcakes I made last fall, sifting in 1/4 cup of cocoa before beating the cream cheese. It generated the perfect amount to pipe generous-but-not-mountainous swirls on top of each cheesecake, with enough left over for my taste testers to lick out the bowl and not fight over it. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and I think I have the perfect Father’s Day dessert figured out.
Thanks for looking – and remember, always use your oven thermometer! 🙂
It’s been well-documented in my years of blogging (and even more years baking and not putting it out there on the interweb) that chocolate and peanut butter is a flavour combination that rates very highly with my test audience. Frankly, I think that the very best cookies contain lots of peanut butter and little to no chocolate, but hey, give the people what they want, right?
I grabbed my Baking Buddy and told him we were going to try the Buckeye Brownies as published on the Brown Eyed Baker. Even though I don’t typically like having someone else around when I’m baking (seriously, this towel has my name all over it), it was actually a really ingenious if kind of Marxist solution: by splitting the cost of ingredients, each person is only out half the cash, and each person gets half a pan to eat rather then try to work through an entire 9 x 13 pan alone. Plus, it’s a fairly inexpensive way to spend an afternoon, and feels productive. That’s what, win-win-win-win? I can’t argue with that kind of logic.
Although I’ve got a totally kickin’, never-fail brownie recipe of my own, I took a leap of faith and followed the recipe to the letter. My devil-may-care attitude was rewarded; those brownies – a.k.a. the ultra-important foundation of this entire endeavour – turned out perfectly.
A lovely, slightly cracked top – what a sight to behold! Baking Buddy’s mind was blown when I demanded the aluminum foil to line the pan: he had never done that before, and marveled at the ridiculously easy clean-up that followed (eventually). Waiting the recommended time for these to cool enough to add the next layer was the longest part of the entire process, so if you’re going to try these, make sure you can find some way to amuse yourself for a while.
Buckeyes require peanut butter, right?
Action shot! (And clearly, we don’t believe in putting our groceries away during brownie-cooling downtime; sorry.)
This part was a lot like the peanut butter frosting I use on cupcakes, only…more. Lots more.
Only here did I deviate from the recipe. The recipe called for milk chocolate chips in the ganache/glaze, a thought which immediately made my teeth hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I love milk chocolate, particularly if it’s got peanuts, caramel, or nougat in it. But the thought of it smeared on top of a thick sweet layer of peanut butter? Shudder. I used semi-sweet instead, a twist heartily supported by Baking Buddy.
As we cut them, my first, stomach-dropping thought was, “They look like Nanaimo bars!” (Something I would likely never make because they’re far too sweet and rich.) “Hey, they kinda look like Nanaimo bars,” remarked Baking Buddy cheerfully. It’s all about agreeing on the important things, folks.
These brownies are lovely, and the layers showed perfectly, and…holy crow, are they ever rich! I can’t begin to imagine what milk chocolate chips would have brought to the party. If you’re going to make ’em and eat ’em like this, a cup of coffee or glass of milk (depending on your preference) is strongly recommended…but during the postmortem, we discussed ways to make them better. Halving the peanut butter mixture? Halving the peanut butter mixture and omitting the chocolate glaze? The top two layers almost ruin a wonderfully chewy brownie that stands up well on its own – but on the bright side, I now have a second basic brownie recipe in my arsenal.
I try very hard to adhere to my Birthday Cake Rule (longtime readers, you know what I’m talking about!), but every so often, a wrench gets thrown into the works. Take my dad’s July birthday; the first thought that popped into my head was, “Ugh, it’s too darned hot to bake!”
(In all fairness, I had that same thought last year and took what I thought was an easy out by ordering an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. Their regular decorator was on vacation – though no one told us this when we special-ordered it a week in advance – and the resulting dessert fell firmly into the “can’t-sleep-clown-will-eat-me” nightmare category. But hey, all cats are grey in the dark, right?)
To my credit, I had a plan this year. I had made the Peanut Butter Cup Icebox Cake from the Brown Eyed Baker for Father’s Day, and it was a resounding success. Chocolate and peanut butter appear to be the way to his heart – so why not make it again?
I’ve started to think of this as my “cardio cake” (which is really stretching to make something sound far healthier than it really is): because the instructions indicate that each layer needs to chill in the fridge while the next one is prepared, and because there’s never a 9 x 13″ chunk of spare real estate in the upstairs fridge, I had to keep running it down to the basement fridge for its solitary confinement and then back down to retrieve it when I was ready to proceed.
But was it worth it? Just look at those layers of chocolate-peanut butter-y goodness!
It does generate a lot of dishes – and necessitates the dirtying of that clunky monster, the food processor – but for a cool and creamy finish to your meal, you could do a lot worse!
Last year, it was Oreo cheesecake cookies, and now…this!
(OK, to be fair, I did inhale a wedge of key lime pie last night. It was one of those two-in-one belated Pi Day/early St. Patrick’s Day dealies. Even so…)
I think I’m going to call these “Favourite Daughter Cupcakes” because I’ve managed to cram my dad’s favourite things into one convenient package.
If you’re a regular reader, you probably know which cookbook – and likely which recipe, too – I used for the cake. If you’re an irregular reader (wait…what?), check out some of the other cupcake posts. Therein lies the secret.
To summarize: chocolate cupcake, cored and filled with peanut butter buttercream, covered with a rich chocolate ganache that’s been spiked with peanut butter, and topped with a swirl of the filling. Favourite daughter, indeed!
These are blissfully chocolate-peanut buttery, and can almost make me forget that there are fat snowflakes falling from the sky as I type.
…is like pillaging without burning? No, that can’t be right…
But I do have a theory that if I don’t make somebody a birthday cake (note: cupcakes, cheesecakes, and pies are all perfectly acceptable alternatives), I don’t truly care about them. So for my dad’s birthday a few days ago, I made him the Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream Cake from Kris Holechek’s Have Your Cake and Vegan Too.
It’s a fairly standard chocolate cake with a peanut butter filling in between the layers and topped off with a chocolate-peanut butter ganache – garnish as desired. The recipe was easy to follow, and the cake easy to assemble; if and when I do it again, the only thing I’ll do differently is grease-and-cocoa the pans instead of greasing-and-flouring them, to avoid that flour residue (since it’s not frosted all over, it does kinda show).
And yes, I probably will make it again. Not only did the birthday boy love it, but it went over extremely well with my omnivorous coworkers, too. Such is the power of chocolate and peanut butter together.