Chocolate cake is topped with a light, airy peanut butter frosting, rich chocolate ganache and chopped peanut butter cups in this Peanut Butter Lovers Chocolate Cake recipe.
Cake, candles, singing, presents, love, family, joy, relaxation … that’s what comes to mind when I think of birthdays.
Growing up — and even into adulthood, birthdays were special in my family. We gathered for every single one, celebrating with dinner and cake and presents. We sang, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. And usually, we got to choose what we ate that night.
See, I share my birthday with my cousin Whitney. I always have — she was born before me. And for years and years, we celebrated together. So, for our family, it was a juggling act of making us both feel special while not driving everyone else crazy. They indulged our desire for separate cakes — both ice cream from Carvel, but mine an all-vanilla layer cake and hers a Fudgie the Whale ice cream cake. But they also, as I remember it, encouraged us to choose dinner together. But I digress.
Are you familiar with Carvel? Carvel is an ice cream franchise that was started in 1929 by Tom Carvel. But at first, it was just an ice cream truck — one he got started with thanks to a $15 loan from his future wife. But several years later, after a flat tire inspired him, Carvel opened his first storefront ice cream shop — and also created soft serve ice cream. I thank goodness for that, because Carvel sparked many happy childhood memories.
At its peak, Carvel had nearly 900 franchised locations — including the one in my hometown in New York, where Whitney’s and my family would get cakes for our birthdays. In addition to cakes and soft serve ice cream, Carvel was (and is) known for other treats like Flying Saucers — two chocolate wafer cookies with ice cream sandwiched between then … a favorite of my grandmothers.
To me though, Carvel was special because it was the cake I grew up with. The one that my family special ordered with whatever color combination I wanted, and always all-vanilla ice cream with chocolate crunchies in the center. Mmm.
Birthday cakes don’t have to be store bought to be special though. A cake made with love and care is a delight for the recipient, and worth the effort. For the right birthday boy or girl, this Peanut Butter Lovers Chocolate Cake recipe is just that.
Now, I often share easy, quick and simple recipes here on Sarah’s Cucina Bella. But this is none of those, and I don’t want to mislead you. This cake takes planning, time and patience to create. You really have to take time on each step, give ample time between the making of the cake and the making of the frosting and slow down as you work. The more carefully you work, the better the results will be.
And while this is far from quick and easy, it is absolutely delicious and delightful. It’s the kind of special dessert perfect for celebrating.
Start with the cake. This chocolate cake is more along the lines of the cake in a Devil Dog, which is to say that it’s a little on the drier side. But it works perfectly with all the peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache so the cake is indulgent without being too much. That said, if you want a moister crumb, you can simply swap out the cake portion of this recipe for another one.
Once the cake is cooled, it will need to cool completely before you can move onto the next steps. Give it a few hours.
The frosting is a creamy, light, buttery peanut butter frosting. It’s simply heavenly and so easy to make — just whip it all together (following the instructions, of course), and it’s ready to go. Try not to eat it all before you frost the cake.
As for the ganache, it’s so simple and easy. Just stir together chocolate and heavy cream until smooth. Then chill in the freezer to rapidly cool it and allow it to thicken slightly. The ganache can (and should) be still warm when you top the cake with it, but it shouldn’t be super hot.
Once all that’s done, you assemble the cake. Start by leveling the tops of the cakes. You do this by slicing off the domed parts. Go slow, and be careful.
Then you take one of those cakes, put it on a plate or a cake round and frost the top for the filling. I like a nice, thick layer of peanut butter frosting in the center of the cake. Top it with the other cake round and then apply a thin layer of frosting all around. This is called the crumb coat and will ensure that the cake crumbs don’t infiltrate the top layer of the frosting. It will help you make this look more professional.
Next, frost the cake with all of the remaining peanut butter frosting. Focus on spreading it evenly all over the top and sides of the cake. I also like to make sure the edges have a precise angle to them. Finally, spread that cooled, thickened, but still warm ganache all over the top. Push it to the edges and let a little drip down the sides. Oooh. Those drops.
Top the cake with chopped peanut butter cups. Then chill it until you’re ready to serve. The ganache will set. The cake will look pristine. And the guests will ooh and aah over your cake making skills.
This is best eaten within a day or two. So indulge, enjoy and share.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, , softened
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 oz dark chocolate
- 1 cup unsalted butter, , softened (2 sticks)
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 3 oz chopped dark chocolate
- 4 peanut butter cups, , chopped
Make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Using the paddle attachment, beat until well-combined. Add the eggs, milk and vanilla extract and beat again until combined.
- With the stand mixer running on its lowest setting, add the flour mixture a little at a time until fully combined. Be sure to scrap down the sides as you do.
- Melt the chocolate -- You can do this on the top of a double boiler or in the microwave in a small bowl heating for 30-second intervals, stirring well after each one. It takes me about 1 minute to get the chocolate smoothly melted. Beware though: over cooking will ruin the chocolate.
- With the mixer running, add the chocolate to the batter until fully combined.
- Divide the cake mixture evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and place the pans on a cooling rack. Cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely. The cake cannot be warm at all when you move to the next step.
Prepare the frosting:
- Combine the softened butter and the peanut butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat until fully combined -- it will be a light tan color.
- With the mixer running on its lowest setting, add the powdered sugar a little at a time to the mixer, until combined.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the heavy cream. Mix for two minutes on medium speed. The frosting should be fluffy. It's now ready to use.
Make the ganache:
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir together the chopped chocolate and heavy cream until smooth. Remove from the heat.
- Let cool for a few minutes so the pan isn't so hot, then place in the freezer while you move to the next step.
Assemble the cake:
- Using a cake leveler or a serrated knife, carefully slice the domed tops off the cakes.
- Place one cake on a cake round or a plate. Top with a thick layer of peanut butter frosting, spreading to make it even. Top with the second cake.
- Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cakes and down the sides. This is called a crumb coat and will insure that crumbs won't get mixed in with the top layer of frosting.
- Now, frost the cake. Spread an even layer of peanut butter frosting all over the cake and sides, taking care to make it smooth. When completed, you should have used all the frosting.
- Remove the ganache from the freezer and stir. It should be cooled and slightly thickened. If it's still very hot and liquid-y, return to the freezer and allow to cool for another 15-20 minutes.
- Spoon the cooled (it can be warm, but it's most important that it's thickened and not super hot) ganache onto the center of the top of the cake. Spread gently to the edges, allowing just a little to drip down the sides.
- Sprinkle the chopped peanut butter cups on top of the cake, all over.
- Chill the cake in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This will allow the ganache to set.
Nope, this one isn’t sponsored. I just like Carvel a lot.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.