Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sour Cream Fudge Cake w/ Peanut Butter Frosting

Chocolate Cake w/ Peanut Butter Frosting

Chocolate Cake w/ Peanut Butter Frosting

What makes a good birthday cake?

When I was a kid, I didn’t want a fancy, elaborate layer cake. I wanted a cake with Gumby on it. I wanted my mother to make the same lemon and german chocolate cake recipes over and over again. I ogled grocery store cakes adorned with neon-colored sugar roses and ballerinas, and I obsessed over a Cinderella cake complete with tired looking buttercream pumpkins and delicate figurines.

The mid-twenties birthday lacks the magic of a childhood birthday. In fact, if you live alone and far from home, birthdays can seem quite selfish. Casual mention your own birthday at work or in public can be misinterpreted as a scheme for free food, swag, and personal validation. Consequently, you get in the habit of either hiding your birth date, or telling anyone who will listen that you want NO gifts, NO parties, and certainly NO cake.

I rarely get cake these days. I’ve had my share of practically non-existent birthdays- the sort of birthday where you’re too busy reheating leftovers and rushing out the door for a five hour rehearsal to think about cakes and singing.

A good birthday cake doesn’t have to look or taste good (though it’s certainly a bonus if it does). In my opinion, birthday cake success is dependent on how, where, when, and with whom the cake is eaten. I asked a number of my friends to recall their favorite birthday cakes, and most of them said the majority of their cakes had been "average." So what makes an average cake spectacular?

My friend Anusha said: I like when it's something that is special for me...I love oreos, so an oreo anything cake is AWESOME. I also like when there's some deep tradition in it-like we got the same cake for YEARS for my sister's birthday."

My friend Peter said while he was on the Atkins Diet, his wife made him a cake out of frozen blueberries and cream. It wasn't exactly a cake, but it was "so completely insane" that he loved it.

One of my best friends turned 25 last week, and since he is worth celebrating I made him a cake. I picked out this Sour Cream Fudge Cake with Peanut Butter frosting from The Cake Book because it looked simple and good. We lit candles, sang, and ate huge, sprinkle-topped slices from the pan. The frosting consistency was a little strange, but nobody noticed.

For me, a good cake should rekindle memories of candles, singing, tradition, family, friends, and childhood wishes. It should reflect its recipient, and be given with the best intentions. I’ll turn a blind eye to stray eggshells, neon-colored frosting, or lopsided layers if a friend takes the time to make me a cake.

Sour Cream Fudge Cake
adapted from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup hot water

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 pan and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.

3. Put the chocolate in a medium stainless steel bowl and place over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside to cool until tepid.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium high speed until well blended and light. At medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract until blended. Add the chocolate in two additions, mixing until blended. At low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the sour cream in 2 additions and mixing until blended. Add the hot water 1/3 at a time, mixing until blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, stir the batter a few times to ensure it is blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

5. Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack.

6. Frost the top of the cake with peanut butter frosting. Serve the cake from the pan, cutting it into squares and sprinkling with sugared peanuts (or chocolate sprinkles). Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural or low sugar.)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup whole milk

1. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the peanut butter and butter at medium speed until well blended and smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and mix until blended. At low speed, gradually add the confectioners' sugar in 3 additions, alternating it with the milk in 2 additions. Beat at low speed until creamy, about 1 minute.

2. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree - cake makes sense if you have the people you want around you...and yes post-school, you kind of become wary of mentioning your birthday to anyone!
My brother and I have the "ordering the same cake from the same shop" birthday tradition....

pRiyA said...

i enjoyed reading this post. (i think you write really well - simple, elegant writing without fuss and hype). most of all, this post made me think of how many birthdays its been since i've had cake at all. i think i'll definitely make one for my 40th next year!

Louise Wyers said...

That is just sooo cute. I am going to do that for "Big Bear's" birthday.

Artie Eff said...

This cake reminded me of another PB/chocolate recipe on your blog: the one for not-at-all-greasy brownies with peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache. I doubled the recipe for my fiancee's sister's wedding dessert and it killed! Thanks for creating such a great blog.

Amanda said...

The problem with those storebought excessively decorated cakes is that they taste like crap. Literally. Poo in cake form. I used to love the really creative ones with Winnie the Pooh or Sleeping Beauty on top, but they weren't that great tastewise. But I didn't care because I was a kid. Nowadays, I am ten times more picky. If it's chocolate, it has to be moist, rich, and full of chocolate flavor, not just sugar. And I might pick an ice cream cake because ice cream is my weakness :)

Irene said...

So true, a cake should be made with love. It sound so cheesy, but it's so true. A birthday is all about indulgence, and the best indulgence is people who love you showing their love in different ways to make you happy.

Gretchen Noelle said...

I love that..."he is worth celerbating"...this cake looks delicious!!

Lori said...

This sounds yummy. Cant go wrong with PB, no matter what the texture is like.

Carly said...

I don't know what you mean by "strange texture"... it was divine!

I had a really good time, even though I am bad at Gloom, it was a fun game. Nice little write-up.

I always asked my mom to make cheesecake for my birthday growing up, but now that I am lactose intolerant, I'm a little bummed, because I doubt there is truly a GREAT vegan cheesecake recipe... :(

Anonymous said...

Please send me your Butternut pumpkin
pie asap!!!!

Can't wait to taste it.