Mango Charlotte Cake

Do you have a cooking or baking bucket list? On my ever-growing one is gourmet pasta, multiple types of dim sum, and French entremets. Admittedly most of the things left on my list are a tad complicated and/or time consuming, so I’ve resigned myself to the reality that I probably won’t get to them for another decade or so (i.e. when the littles are more self-sufficient, at least).

While 7-layer entremets may have to wait, I’ve been able to tackle a couple other “fancy” cakes that are a little less complicated. The latest was this mango charlotte, which featured alternating layers of sponge cake and mango mousse surrounded by ladyfingers and topped with a mango glaze. The result was a beautifully light, sophisticated cake bursting with mango flavor. I’m eager to try this again with different fruits (raspberries? blackberries?); as it is definitely a nice alternative to a typical American-style layer cake.

Most charlottes call for a classic genoise as the cake portion. I used a Japanese genoise, which is a little sweeter and more m-m-moist than its European counterpart. To be honest, sponge cakes aren’t my forte but I’ve had good success with this one. The keys, I’ve found, are to whisk the eggs for a long time on a low speed (to build structure) and to fold in the flour with a slotted spoon (it’s faster and more efficient than a spatula). I tend to err on the side of undermixing, but don’t be like me unless you want failed batches of genoise with a) rubbery bottoms (from not mixing in the fats evenly) or b) flour bits (self-explanatory).

The star of the show is the fruit, though; I think I used about 7 medium-sized whole mangoes to make this cake! So you really do need to find very ripe, flavorful mangoes for this cake. Look for ones that have a little give when you gently squeeze them; and smell strongly of mango when you give them a sniff. If anything, err on the side of over-ripe!

While the mousse and glaze should be prepared right before using, the cake and ladyfingers can be baked in advance (freeze if you’re not using the same day). If you’re pressed for time, store-bought ladyfingers will do just fine as well.

Mango Charlotte Cake

Makes one 9-inch cake

Ingredients

For the ladyfingers
Makes about 3 dozen; freeze the extras or snack on them! | Adapted from The Cake Bible

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 10g vanilla
  • 1 T warm water
  • 150g sifted cake flour
  • 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • Icing sugar, for sifting

For the Japanese Genoise
Adapted from Natalie Eng

  • 173g cake flour, sifted
  • 255g eggs (approx. 5 large), at room temperature
  • 195g caster sugar
  • 23g glucose
  • 45g unsalted butter
  • 68g whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Mango Mousse
Adapted from Joe Pastry

  • 567g (20 oz., about 4 medium-large) ripe fresh mangoes, cut into chunks (note: you will need additional mango (some pureed, some cut into chunks for the mirror glaze and filling; I recommend cutting up a couple extra mangoes and setting aside for that purpose)
  • 85g sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 1/2 tsp. powdered gelatin
  • 2 c heavy cream, chilled

For the Mango Mirror Glaze
Adapted from The Little Epicurean

  • 57g mango puree
  • 57g water
  • 28g sugar
  • 1 1/2 gelatin sheets (silver strength), bloomed

To assemble

  • 2 to 2 1/2 dozen ladyfingers (4-inch tall), bottoms trimmed
  • Simple syrup
  • ~1 c fresh mango chunks
  • Fresh berries for garnish (optional)
  • White chocolate curls for garnish (optional)
  • 9×3 cake ring (or springform pan)
  • 9-inch cake board
  • Acetate (can also use parchment paper or plastic wrap)

Method

Make the ladyfingers

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (you may need 3 if your pans are small).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the yolks and 1/2 c sugar on high for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is very thick and ribbons when dropped from the beater. Lower the speed and beat in the vanilla and water. Increase the speed to high and beat for another 30 seconds, or until thick again. Sift the flour over the yolk mixture without mixing in and set aside
    In another large bowl, beat the whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and beat until soft peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 c sugar, beating until very stiff peaks.
  3. Add 1/3 of the whites to the yolk mixture and use a slotted spoon or spatula to fold until all the flour is incorporated. Gently fold in the remaining whites.
  4. Transfer some of the batter to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe 4 inch lines (“fingers”), leaving about 1/4 inch between each. (They will bake into each other, forming continuous strips.) Continue piping until you have used all the batter.
  5. Sift powdered sugar completely over the fingers. Once the sugar has dissolved, sift a second coat on.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until light golden brown and springy to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove from the sheets while still a little warm (to prevent cracking) using a long, thin spatula or pancake turner. Cool completely on racks before using or store in an airtight container. (Note: If you aren’t using that day, I recommend freezing the fingers for longer storage as they do stale. They defrost quickly, so just pull them out about an hour before you want to assemble the cake.)

Make the Japanese Genoise Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottoms of two 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pans and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, heat the eggs, sugar and glucose, whisking constantly, over a bain marie until the mixture reaches 45-50C. Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and mix on high speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and keep whisking for an additional 7 minutes. This allows the air bubbles to be even and small hence making it more stable so you will not knock so much air out when you fold in the flour.
  3. In a saucepan (or in the microwave), heat the milk, butter and vanilla essence until the butter has melted and the mixture is warm. Mix about 1 cup of the egg mixture into the butter mixture and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  4. Sift the flour in three parts into the egg mixture, folding each part in with a large slotted spoon (my preferred tool) or a silicone spatula before adding more flour. You want to fold gently but also ensure the flour is completely mixed in; otherwise you will have lumps in your cake. Once the flour is well incorporated, pour the butter mixture into the egg batter and fold it in until it is well incorporated. Do not overmix, but again make sure the butter mixture is well incorporated; otherwise the bottom of your cake will be rubbery. The batter should still be fluffy and almost as if it’s heaving.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top, the cake springs back when lightly pressed, and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Rotate the pans after about 20 minutes for even baking (don’t open the oven sooner or your cakes may collapse). Transfer the finished cakes to a wire rack. Cool for about 10 minutes in the pan; then turn the cakes out and finish cooling them completely on the rack.

Prepare the cake pan

  • Line your cake ring with acetate and place a cake board on the bottom. Trim the tops and bottoms of the cakes. Place one cake round in the center of the cake ring and brush liberally with simple syrup. Place the ladyfingers around the edge, fitting them in tightly to ensure there are no gaps (you may have to trim the edge of the last one to fit neatly). Set aside while you prepare the mousse.

Make the Mango Mousse

  1. Whip the cream to soft peaks and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
  2. Combine the mango chunks, sugar, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until smooth. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a medium bowl. You should have ~2 cups of puree.
  3. Heat about one third of the mixture in a small saucepan or in the microwave until warm but not boiling. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface and stir to combine completely. Stir the warmed mixture back into the rest of the puree. Cool the mixture back to room temperature, stirring occasionally. When the mango is cooled, whip the cream to stiff peaks. Gently but thoroughly fold the mango mixture into the cream. Use immediately.

Continue assembling the cake

  • Evenly spread about a cup of mousse over the first cake layer, making sure to go right to the edges. Sprinkle the mango chunks evenly over the mousse. Spread on another ~1/2 cup of mousse (or enough to cover the mango chunks). Place the second cake layer on top and press down to ensure it’s level. Brush liberally with simple syrup. Evenly spread on another cup of mousse, leaving about an inch from the top for the mirror glaze and garnish. Refrigerate until mousse is set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Make the Mango Mirror Glaze

  • Heat the water, sugar, and puree in a small saucepan until warm but not boiling. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the bloomed gelatin. Transfer mixture to a glass measuring cup (preferably with a spout for easy pouring) and cool until just slightly warm, stirring occasionally. Use immediately.

Glaze and finish cake

  1. Remove the chilled cake from the fridge. Pour the glaze evenly over the top of the cake. Return the cake to the fridge to set completely (about 1/2 an hour).
  2. Remove the cake ring and acetate. Garnish top with fresh berries and white chocolate curls, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Confession: I’ve never had a “real” hot cross bun. The only hot cross buns I grew up with were the ones mentioned in the children’s song. My husband, on the other hand, has bad memories of overly-spiced, dense hot cross buns riddled with candied peel and wasn’t very enthusiastic when I mentioned I wanted to make some. Mission: make a sourdough hot cross bun my husband would eat happily, not just because he’s married to an experimental baker.

I started out trying to stay true to the idea of a traditional HCB: spiced dough with a hint of citrus (but no peel, please and thank you). I soaked dried figs and raisins in warmed orange juice and added some orange zest and my two favorite spices: cinnamon and cardamom. Personally I loved this combo — for my tastes, this was the perfect amount of spice and touch of citrus. However, DH is more of a raisins-only kind of guy; so I’ve included adjustments if you / your family prefers less spice in their bun. Of course, feel free to play around with your own favorite mix-ins. I think cranberries or dried sour cherries would be lovely, as would some toasted walnuts or pecans!

The base recipe for these buns is my trusty sourdough Hokkaido milk bread dough. When mixed properly, this dough produces beautifully fluffy, soft bread and is mild enough to adapt to many flavor combinations. I’ve been experimenting a tad with this recipe, and here are a few tips for handling this versatile dough:

  • When using a stiff starter you have some leeway in when you can use it (the peak/ripe stage is longer than with a liquid levain), but when making a sweet bread I like to use it as soon as it has reached peak and has just started to flatten (for me this is about 5-6 hours). I find there is no discernible sourdough tang in the final product, provided the seed starter is fresh. I’ve used the starter 10-12 hours after making and it’s still fine, but I do notice more of a tang.
  • In the past I’ve mixed this dough by hand, but recently I’ve had the use of the stand mixer and have been testing it out with this dough. Bottom line: it’s much faster and neater to mix this in a stand mixer (I’ve included some approximate timings below). However, it’s definitely helpful to know how to mix enriched doughs like this by hand, and it can teach you a lot about dough development. (It’s also oddly therapeutic.) So if you don’t have a stand mixer, don’t let it stop you — try it by hand!
  • The final proof time is long, no getting around it. Typically it takes me a minimum of 5 hours, more often 6+, at normal room temperature. Don’t rush this step or your bread will not be as fluffy as it could be, trust me! (Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever over-proofed this dough…) However, the long final proof actually works out pretty well for shaping before bed and baking off fresh buns in the morning — just put your shaped buns in a cooler area of your house if you’re going to be leaving them for more than 6 hours.

If you want to make these to bake off Easter (or any other) morning, I recommend the following schedule:

Day One:

  • 7:00am: Mix stiff starter
  • 1:00pm: Start mixing final dough
  • 4:30pm: Put dough in fridge to finish bulk proofing
  • 10:30pm: Remove dough from fridge, shape, give first coat of egg wash; proof at room temperature overnight

Day Two:

  • 6:30am: Preheat oven, make topping
  • 7:00am: Egg wash buns again, pipe topping, bake
  • 7:05am: Watch 24 hours of work get devoured in 2 minutes

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Makes 12

Levain

  • 18g starter (100% hydration)
  • 31g milk
  • 57g bread flour
  • Mix and ferment at room temperature for about 6 hours, or until puffed and with a slightly flattened dome. You should see large bubbles if you pull back the top. When using a stiff starter you have a bit more leeway in when you can use it (the peak stage is longer than with a liquid levain), but when making a sweet bread I like to use it as soon as it has reached peak and has just started to flatten. I find there is no discernible sourdough tang in the final product, provided the seed starter is fresh.

Final dough

  • All of the starter
  • 284g bread/AP flour
  • 46g sugar
  • 52g butter, room temperature
  • 21g milk powder
  • 53g egg (about 1 large), room temperature
  • 7g salt
  • 104g milk, room temperature
  • 88g cream, room temperature
  • 90g raisins and/or figs, soaked for at least one hour in the juice of one orange OR hot water + 1 tsp vanilla, drained, and patted dry
  • Zest of one orange (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional, preferably freshly ground) or freshly grated nutmeg

Topping

  • 53g cake flour
  • 60g butter, room temperature
  • 30 gm caster sugar
  • 1 egg, whisked with a splash of milk
  • Simple syrup or warm honey, for glazing

Method:

  1. Mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt, butter, fruit, zest, and spices until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 60 minutes.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough until gluten is moderately developed (3-5 minutes on speed 3 in a stand mixer). The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Add butter a tablespoon at a time, making sure each tablespoon is incorporated before adding the next. Continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand (it generally takes about 10-15 minutes at speed 3 in a stand mixer). Consider it your arm workout for the day!
  3. Gently fold in the dried fruit, zest (if using), and spices until just incorporated (I prefer to do this by hand, even if mixing the dough with a stand mixer).
  4. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover, and bulk rise at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough will be noticeably expanded, but not doubled. Fold, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (or for at least 6 hours).
  5. Take the dough out and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces (roughly 70g each) and rest for about 30 minutes, covered by lightly oiled plastic, to take off the chill.
  6. Shape into buns. You can form each piece into a tight round; or use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll each piece into an oval shape, roll up like a jelly roll, then roll along the seam and roll up again like a jelly roll (I prefer the latter method). Place formed buns on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet about an inch apart. (It’s fine if they grow into each other slightly as this will make piping the crosses easier.) Brush the buns lightly with egg wash, then cover the pan with lightly oiled plastic and allow to rise at room temperature until puffed and about doubled in size (this usually takes 5-8 hours, depending on the temperature — see notes above).
  7. When the buns are almost done proofing, preheat the oven to 400F. Prepare the topping by mixing together the beating together the butter and sugar until well combined, then sifting in the cake flour and mixing until it forms a paste. Transfer to a piping bag or small Ziplock bag with the tip snipped off.
  8. Brush the top of each bun with a second coat of egg wash. Pipe crosses on the top of each bun (if they’ve grown into each other, just pipe long lines instead of individual crosses).
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway, or until nicely browned and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. About 5 minutes before the buns are done, brush with a coat of simple syrup or warmed honey; then return to the oven until finished. Brush with a second coat of glaze once the buns are finished but still warm.

So you want to bake with sourdough

Ever since seriously starting my sourdough journey about nine months ago and quasi-journaling my progress on Instagram (and on this site), I’ve gotten a number of questions about how to get started as a home sourdough baker. I’ve listed some tips along with several of my favorite books and sites in a previous blog entry, but I wanted to follow up with a few more ideas now that I have a few more loaves under my belt, in hopes that it’ll help all the hopeful sourdough bakers out there.

Commit to baking with sourdough at least once a week.

If you’re really serious about wanting to learn how to use sourdough in your baking, there is no substitute for just doing it. I had my starter lurking in the fridge for a couple of years before I really started using it; and it wasn’t until I started baking with it regularly that I saw any improvement in my breads. This sounds stupidly simple; but if you’ve ever tried to start exercising or learn any new skill, you know it’s harder than it sounds. So do what you need to do — make a goal, start a journal, have someone ping you once a week to ask what you’re making — and just start doing it. (One of the benefits of this is that you’ll be forced to feed your starter; and a fed starter = happy starter = better end product, so everyone wins.)

Invest in a few tools, but don’t break the bank.

One of the joys of bread baking is that, at the core, it’s very simple. The only ingredients you really need are flour, water, salt, and yeast (in our case, wild). When you’re first starting out, you don’t need fancy equipment or flours. There are a few essentials, for sure: a good bench scraper, a digital scale, and a working oven. If you’re wanting to make crusty hearth breads, a pizza stone or dutch oven is super handy. Beyond that, you can survive for awhile. As you get more experienced, you’ll learn the aspects of your bread you want to improve and can invest in the tools needed for that (i.e. a lame, a digital thermometer, and bannetons). But I’d encourage anyone just beginning to start simple and work on fundamentals like proper fermentation/dough development and shaping, because all the fancy equipment in the world won’t improve your bread if you’re not working on these skills (I still feel like I have a long ways to go in these areas!).

Ask lots of questions.

If you start getting even the tiniest bit into sourdough you will quickly learn that you’ve entered what can be a very nerdy world. It’s also an extremely welcoming world where bakers are generally quite happy to share the knowledge they’ve spent hours acquiring. You’ll find plenty of forums and websites online (I’ve listed some of my favorites here), as well as many Instagram accounts where people are quite detailed about their baking philosophies and thought processes. Do your due diligence and try to figure out the answers through your own research and experimentation, but also don’t be shy — ask if you really don’t understand something or can’t figure out what’s going wrong.

Work sourdough into your schedule — not the other way around.

While I recommend following recipes closely the first several times (particularly when it comes to fermentation times, always knowing that your environment can affect timings greatly), there will undoubtedly come a time when you want to make bread according to your schedule, not a recipe’s. This is where you’ll have to sit down and figure out when you want your bread to be ready and how to get there. Sometimes it’s as simple as leaving your shaped loaf in the fridge until you want to bake it, but often you will have to be a little more nuanced than that. Learning your starter’s behavior is a big step towards scheduling freedom, so I recommend starting there. Then get to know the “sweet spots” in your environment (usually a nice warm corner or your turned-off oven with the pilot light on) and make note of the approximate fermentation times for your loaves. Once you have a baseline, you can manipulate your temperatures (to a certain degree) to speed/slow the process down. This takes considerable trial and error, but once you get a hang of manipulating times and temperatures to bake when you want, you’ll be much more likely to make sourdough a regular part of your life.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few recipes on this site to get you going!

Happy baking!

Auditioning for the Great Canadian Baking Show

great canadian baking show sign
At the Great Canadian Baking Show audition!

If you had told me three years ago that I would spend last Saturday auditioning for the Great Canadian Baking Show, I would have thought you were ridiculous. Three years ago I had never made a layer cake, much less a loaf of sourdough bread. But life can take some funny twists.

How it all started

Thanks to getting married, immigrating to Canada, and the subsequent funemployment while waiting for my work eligibility to kick in, I decided to delve into something I enjoyed but had little experience doing: baking. At that point I didn’t have any specific goals or recipes I wanted to master; I just needed to keep my hands and brain busy learning. And since it was gobsmack in the middle of a bad Canadian winter, staying inside next to a warm oven seemed like a good hobby to pursue. So I started checking out books from the library, perusing a few food blogs, and trying recipes that looked good.

Eventually I started gravitating towards certain types of baking: notably pies, cakes, and bread. I have a tendency to get slightly obsessive, especially if something doesn’t turn out the way I planned (read: I can be a perfectionist and generally don’t believe in half-assing things). So for example, if I made a bad pie crust, you’d better believe a bunch more pies would show up in the next few weeks (after an appropriate amount of internet research on how to fix pie crusts and comparison of dozens of recipes). It sounds a little crazy and it probably is; but that’s how I learned: I made mistakes and tried to fix them. I read a lot and bugged baker friends with questions / advice / requests for recipes. And I just baked a lot, typically 3+ times a week. And somewhere in there I started this little blog to keep track of recipes. (Writing things down has always helped me understand processes better, so even if I use a recipe from somewhere else I usually rewrite them to include steps and tips that make sense to me.)

The Application

Fast forward to earlier this year. A couple months ago, my husband forwarded me an article about a casting call for the first season of the Great Canadian Baking Show. I didn’t think much of it except, “Oh cool, the Great British Bake Off is the best and I’m glad they’re bringing it to Canada.” Within a day a couple other friends had sent me the same link with encouragement to apply. I figured I had nothing to lose; so one evening I sat on the sofa in my sweatpants and filled out the online application.

I didn’t think about it at all, really, until a few weeks ago when someone from the network called me for a phone interview. I was honestly just thrilled to know I’d made it past the first cut. When an email came a couple days later with an invitation to a live audition, I was shocked (and super excited)!

The Great Canadian Baking Show Audition

The chocolate raspberry cake I almost brought to my audition.
The next few weeks were spent preparing for the audition. Not much information was given, except that we were to bring a “signature bake” and would be asked to bake an undisclosed recipe using the equipment and ingredients provided. I focused my efforts on practicing techniques I wasn’t familiar with (to get used to being uncomfortable); and on deciding what to bring as my signature bake. It was a toss-up between a layer cake or a loaf of sourdough bread (the two things I like making the most); so I decided I’d make both and see which one turned out better. The week of the audition I prepped the ingredients for the cake (chocolate raspberry, of course) and made the same loaf of bread multiple times so that I’d have the best chance of success when it counted.

The morning of the audition I still hadn’t determined what to bring as both bakes had turned out as well as I could have hoped. My first instinct was the cake, because it had more immediate visual impact. But my husband nudged me to bring the bread, pointing out, “This is your recipe and a true signature bake; if you’re proud of it, you should win or lose with that.” (Have I mentioned my husband is the best? Taste-tester, child-wrangler, ingredient-buyer, soundboard, voice of reason — I’m truly blessed.) So in the end, I packed up my humble loaf of bread and a jar of homemade cultured butter and drove off to the audition site.

sourdough bread signature bake
My “signature bake” — a loaf of sourdough bread.
Due to NDAs I can’t divulge much about the actual audition itself (sorry, you’ll have to audition yourself to get the full scoop!), except to say I had a blast! I had imagined myself in front of a scary panel of judges, trying to slice my bread without shaking or cutting myself and hoping I wouldn’t make dumb mistake like mixing up the sugar and the salt. In reality it was more like hanging out with a bunch of other baking nerds, whipping up delicious things and eating really good food (yes, we got to try each others’ stuff!). I felt totally relaxed throughout the whole process, and in the end I believe bringing the bread was the better choice (thanks again, husband!). It was well received and stood out in its simplicity (and lack of sugar).

I don’t know if I’ll make it any further in the Great Canadian Baking Show process, but I certainly have no regrets about trying. At the end of the day I was more inspired than ever to keep baking, learning, and improving. It was refreshing to meet a variety of other people — from engineers to students to salespeople — who bake just for the love of it. And I was reminded of the joy of creativity. Whether you cook, bake, sew, write, build — what a vital and refreshing part of the human experience. I’m thankful that I can make my cake…and eat it too.

audition group shot
A big happy (and maybe slightly sugared-out) baking family

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cake

peanut butter chocolate cake
I love making birthday cakes. While I don’t have a problem with having a little dessert every day, I do think there’s unique joy in having something made just for you on your special day — hopefully with your tastes and preferences in mind.

This cake was for my father-in-law’s birthday. He’s one of the most non-picky eaters I know; but while he eats everything, he especially likes chocolate and nuts. This was for a small family celebration, so the cake is quite small: two 6-inch layers. If you want to make it into a double layer 8-inch cake, refer to the original chocolate cake recipe and make 1.5-2x the frosting (this recipe makes a generous amount; I gave this cake a fairly thick layer and still had enough leftover to frost 20 mini cupcakes).

Some notes on the frosting: I’ve had mixed experiences with Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC); although I’ve made it sort of successfully in the past, to be honest I didn’t really like the flavor of it before — it just tasted like sweet butter. (Which I guess it is.) This time was different, for a couple of big reasons:

  • I borrowed my sister-in-law’s stand mixer. It still took awhile to make the frosting, but my hand didn’t feel dead at the end. My previous attempts at SMBC were with a hand mixer; it’s possible that way, but the stand mixer really does make the process way easier and more enjoyable, IMO.
  • Peanut butter and cream cheese. They go so well together, and in this case they combine to make the fluffiest, silkiest, and most tasty peanut butter icing I’ve ever had. I’m generally not a huge icing person, but I could have eaten it straight with a spoon. The brown sugar added a little something something too; a nice depth of flavor that reminded me of honey roasted peanuts. Yum.

I’ve read a lot of SMBC tutorials and recipes (see here, here, and here just for starters), and they vary pretty widely on the ratio of egg whites to sugar to butter. I aimed somewhere in the middle, and chose to be conservative in the sugar amount since I prefer my icings not too sweet. There also seem to be varying opinions on how much cream cheese works in this type of icing, and I know some people have trouble with cream cheese SMBC breaking because of the water content of the cream cheese. I went for a half-butter, half-cream cheese ratio, and kept a couple extra tablespoons of butter on the side in case I needed it to help emulsify the mixture. In the end, I did end up using the extra butter. I also refrigerated the icing for about 10 minutes during that scary curdling stage, then just kept whipping at a low speed and it eventually came together. My advice is to just be patient and not panic; read a few tutorials on how to fix broken buttercream ahead of time so you know what to do if and when your icing reaches that stage. This is honestly one of the tasiest frostings I’ve ever made so I do hope you give it a try!

To add a little texture, I made some peanut brittle for garnish. This was my first time making peanut brittle, which was exciting because I got to use my brand-spanking-new candy thermometer! Last year I attempted making soft caramel candies a couple of times and failed; later I realized it was because my thermometer was a good 15 degrees off…basically the difference between delicious and burnt. The lesson here is: check your thermometer’s calibration by putting it in a pot of water and bringing it to a boil. It should register 212F / 100C when the water boils. Hopefully that’ll save you a few burned batches of sugar!

peanut butter chocolate cake from above

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake with Maple Peanut Brittle

Makes one 2-layer, 6-inch cake

Ingredients

For the Midnight Chocolate Cake

A half batch of this recipe, baked in two 6-inch pans, with the following changes:

  • Use half all purpose, half cake flour
  • Use black cocoa for the cocoa powder
  • Start checking for doneness around 25 minutes

For the Maple Peanut Brittle

Recipe adapted from Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes

  • 55g / 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 110g brown sugar / 1/2 c (I used light)
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c light corn syrup
  • Heaped 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 150g / 1 c roasted, unsalted peanuts

For the Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • 135g egg whites, room temperature
  • 220g light brown sugar
  • 150-180g butter, cut into cubes, at cool room temperature
  • 150g cream cheese, cut into cubes, cool room temperature
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • Smooth creamy peanut butter, such as Skippy or Jif, to taste (I used three large spoonfuls)
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

To finish

  • Chopped roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • Various chocolate candies (I used bite sized Snickers and some white chocolate covered almonds)

Method

Make the Maple Peanut Brittle:

  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat and set aside.
  2. Combine the baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Have your peanuts measured and ready to go as well.
  3. Combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 298F / 149C on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda and salt. Fold in the peanuts and pour the mixture evenly onto the prepared baking sheet (work quickly as it does harden rather fast).
  4. Let the brittle cool completely (about an hour) before breaking in pieces to use for decoration. Store leftovers, layered between pieces of parchment paper, in an airtight container.
  5. Note: To easily clean your sugar work pans, fill with water, cover, and bring to a boil for several minutes. It’ll melt the sugar right off.

Make the Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  1. Place egg whites and brown sugar in a heatproof bowl (such as the bowl of your stand mixer) and whisk to combine. Set bowl over a pot of just simmering water to create a double boiler and whisk until mixture reaches 140-160F. Don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water.
  2. Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the egg white-sugar mixture on low for a couple of minutes and gradually increase the speed to medium high. Continue whisking until the meringue reaches glossy stiff peaks and both the meringue and the bowl are at room temperature (about 10 minutes).
  3. Switch out the whisk for the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, add the butter one cube at a time. Wait until the butter is completely incorporated before adding the next cube. When the butter is incorporated, repeat with the cream cheese.
  4. Continue mixing on low until the mixture is smooth, then add the vanilla, a pinch of salt, and peanut butter a spoonful at a time (to taste). Taste and add a touch more salt if the mixture tastes too sweet. Mix on medium speed for a couple minutes, or until the buttercream is smooth, silky, and fluffy.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Level your cakes if desired. (Note that this chocolate cake is very tender and moist, so I highly recommend working with them chilled.) Set your first cake round on a cake board and spread a generous amount buttercream evenly over the top, followed by a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. Set the second cake round on top and spread a thin coat of buttercream over the top and sides to trap all the crumbs. Refrigerate until buttercream is firm, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add a thicker layer of buttercream over the top and sides, using an offset spatula and icing scraper for evenness.
  3. To get the “rustic” look, use an offset spatula or back of a spoon to create random swoops.
  4. Top with chopped peanuts and peanut brittle if desired. If you’re not serving the cake right away, store in the refrigerator but bring to room temperature before serving. Just before serving, garnish with peanut brittle and candies. (Don’t put the brittle on too soon or it may soften and weep.)