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Cooking Through "The Baker's Man": Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

When it comes to baking, there are victories and there are failures. Sometimes the cakes don’t rise, and sometimes they rise like lopsided mountains. Sometimes cakes stick so badly to the pan they have to be eaten with a fork and never make it to the cake plate. Being a baker means accepting that your recipes (and you) will never be 100% perfect every time.

New years and new months and even new days bring resolutions to be better, stronger, kinder, thinner, happier, etc. People strive to start over and be a newer version of themselves, perhaps a more perfect version. But we’ll never be perfect, and that’s okay. John Steinback said, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

So, Anna—and all of Mystic Water—raises a slice of cake, saying, “Here’s to not being perfect, but to being good. Here’s to cakes that are lopsided, pretzels that break, frosting that isn’t smooth, and recipes that are flawed but taste like victories.”

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Serves: 12

Level of Difficulty: Average


For the cake:

3 c cake flour

¾ c unsweetened natural cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp instant espresso powder

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ c packed light brown sugar

1 ½ c white sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tbsp butter vanilla extract (or pure vanilla)

2 c buttermilk

For the salted peanut butter buttercream frosting:

2 c (4 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature)

1 ½ c smooth, all-natural peanut butter

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp butter vanilla extract (or pure vanilla)

4 c confectioners’ sugar

1 c heavy cream (or more as needed)

For decoration:

1 c pretzels, coarsely chopped

6 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

a handful of dry roasted peanuts

a few handfuls of whole mini pretzel twists

How to Make

For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 3 8-inch baking pans.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder.

  3. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until butter is fluffy, 5-7 minutes.

  4. Add the eggs, one at time, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next one.

  5. Beat in vanilla.

  6. With the mixer on low, add half of the flour mixture. Mix until combined.

  7. Add the buttermilk in a slow steady stream until mixed.

  8. Add the remaining flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Remove bowl from mixer and stir a few times with a spatula.

  9. Divide the batter into the three cake pans.

  10. Bake for 25–30 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean) on the upper middle third rack of the oven.

  11. Allow cakes to cool for at least 20 minutes. Invert onto cooling racks for another half an hour.

  12. Frost cake.

For the frosting:

  1. In an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until softened.

  2. Add peanut butter, salt, and vanilla, and beat until combined.

  3. Add 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar, and beat on low until combined. Beat on medium for two minutes.

  4. Add ½ c of heavy cream, and beat on low.

  5. Add the remaining 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar, and beat on low. Once combined, beat on medium until complete combined and fluffy.

  6. Add remaining ½ c of heavy cream, and beat on low until combined. Then beat on medium for five minutes. Add more cream if necessary.

To decorate cake:

  1. Frost bottom layer. Add 2 oz of chopped chocolate and ½ c of chopped pretzels to the top of the layer.

  2. Frost middle layer. Add 2 oz of chopped chocolate and the remaining chopped pretzels to the top of the layer.

  3. Add the final layer. Frost the top and the side of the cake. Smooth the frosting. To the top of the cake, add the remaining chopped chocolate, and decorate with the roasted peanuts.

The Baker's Man is available in paperback through Amazon and is also available as an ebook for Kindle, NOOK, KOBO, iBook, and other major retailers.

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