Happy Weekend! First off, before we talk cake, I want to let you know that the crazy website problems I’ve been having the last few days should hopefully be officially better now, so you should no longer have any issues getting onto my site. My current website server has really let me down (I think a switcheroo is in order!), but it seems that things are back in action and working smoothly. If for some reason you ever do have trouble getting to the site, just know that you can always google “sweetapolita printables” + the recipe you’re looking for, and you should find the printable version (but fingers crossed that won’t be an issue ever again).
Now, onto cake! When I was pondering what type of creation would make the ultimate back-to-school cake for our cakelet Reese, I kept thinking about what ingredients make kids happiest–particularly my kids. My littlest cakelet, Neve, is turning three next week so she’s still home with me for another year, but Reese is starting Senior Kindergarten at a new school and she takes her most favourite snacks at home very seriously: peanut butter, mini pastel marshmallows, popcorn, chocolate and cake. I wanted to make her a back-to-school confection that was as comforting as it was playful, and then I remembered an incredibly inspirational book I received awhile back called Make, Bake & Celebrate! by Annie Rigg. This book boasts unique and delightful cakes, including Rose & Strawberry Cake with Crystallized Roses, Chocolate Dazzle Drop Cake, Chocolate Polka Dot Tower, and of course the cake I decided to make and that answers every child’s sweet dreams: Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Popcorn.
The cake was surprisingly quick to make, even with all of the different elements, and what I found hard to believe was that I had never thought to make a peanut butter layer cake before–with the simple addition of peanut butter to a fairly classic butter cake, it gives it a unique decadence and nutty twist. Paired with two types of rich frosting and the ultimate sweet & salty topper, it’s a wonder I didn’t give this one a make & bake the moment I received the book a few months ago.
I love this cake for many reasons, but most of all I love its irresistible call to childhood on all counts: peanut butter & chocolate chip layer cake, peanut butter & cream cheese frosting (with a hint of maple!), chocolate fudge frosting, and homemade caramel corn tossed with mini pastel marshmallows and peanuts (which, I might add, is an amazing little treat on its own).
My cakelets were able to help me with so many of the steps in making this cake: Reese made most of the chocolate fudge frosting herself, Neve helped me make the cake layers and peanut butter frosting, and they both helped me mix the popcorn. As Annie mentions in the book, this cake with all of its components tastes much like a Snickers chocolate bar and makes for the perfect celebration cake for kids. And what better reason to celebrate than the start of a new school year? Not only does the cake taste as decadent as it looks, but I find great joy in creating a dessert that has several elements all combined for one show-stopping finale–particularly when one of the components is as unexpected as it is tasty, as with this whimsical pile of caramel popcorn heaped atop the cake.
Imagine coming home from school to this? I made this prior to Reese’s first day, but I may have to make it again (or in cupcake form–wouldn’t that be fun?) next week while she’s at school for the first day. She’s been counting down the days until school starts, and not only starts school next week but ballet–she can barely stand the anticipation.
We went back to school shopping, and it was a Hello Kitty extravaganza (dresses, pants, ear muffs, lunch bag, school bag, hair clips, sweaters . . . ). Since Hello Kitty was one of my favourites as a child (incidentally, she made her first appearance in 1974, the year I was born), I can’t help but feel the same connection to it as Reese does–between little cakelet Neve, myself and Reese, we’re pretty much like kids in a candy shoppe when we walk into stores with Hello Kitty clothing and accessories. It’s really hard for me to believe that she’s 5 years old and already in her second year of school. At this point I find myself holding on a little tighter and little longer when I hug her, perhaps with hopes of making the time stand still. ♥
peanut butter & chocolate cake with salted caramel popcorn
350 g/2-2/3 cups plain/all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of/baking soda
150 g/10 tablespoons butter, soft
100 g/1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
350 g/1-3/4 cups (caster) sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 ml/1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
125 g/3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 quantity Chocolate Fudge Frosting
peanut butter frosting
200 g/6-1/2 oz. cream cheese
50 g/3-1/2 tablespoons butter, soft
75 g/1/3 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons maple syrup
salted caramel popcorn
50 g/1/4 cup (caster) sugar
25 g/2 tablespoons butter
50 g/2 cups plain popcorn (popped weight)
50 g/1/3 cup roasted peanuts
50 g/1/3 cup chocolate chips
50 g/2/3 cup mini marshmallows
three 20-cm/8-inch round cake pans, greased and baselined with greased baking parchment
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas 4.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate/baking soda.
Cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until really pale and light–at least 3-4 minutes. Gradually add the beaten eggs to the creamed butter in 4 or 5 additions, mixing well between each addition and scraping down the bowl from time to time with a rubber spatula. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.
Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients to the cake mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Mix until smooth, then fold in the chocolate chips. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared cake pans, scraping the mixture from the bowl using a rubber spatula. Spread level with a palette knife and bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 3-4 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the peanut butter frosting, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the butter, peanut butter, vanilla and maple syrup and beat again until creamy.
To make the salted caramel popcorn, put the sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small, heavy-based saucepan over low heat and dissolve the sugar without stirring. Once dissolved, increase the heat and continue to cook until the syrup turns into an amber-coloured caramel. Take the pan off the heat and add the butter, swirling to make a smooth butterscotch. Quickly pour the butterscotch over the popcorn and stir well so that it starts to stick together in clumps. Add the peanuts (chopped, if you prefer), chocolate chips and marshmallows.
Place one of the cake layers on a serving dish and spread half the peanut butter frosting over it. Carefully spread one-third of the Chocolate Fudge Frosting over that. Cover with a second cake layer. Repeat this process, finishing with the last cake layer and the remaining chocolate fudge frosting on top of that. Pile the salted caramel popcorn on top just before serving.
chocolate fudge frosting
350 g/12 oz. dark/semisweet chocolate, chopped
225 g/15 tablespoons butter, diced
175 ml/2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
350 g/3 cups icing/confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over pan of barely simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Stir until smooth and thoroughly combined. Removed from the heat and cool slightly.
In another bowl whisk together the milk, vanilla and sugar until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and butter and stir until smooth. Let thicken to the desired consistency before using.
- Annie’s recipe calls for chocolate chips in the Salted Caramel Popcorn mixture, but I opted to omit them, mostly because I was assembling the popcorn and ready to photograph the cake while the caramel was still a little warm–this would have melted the chocolate chips into kind of a yucky mess. Next time if I was adding the chocolate chips, I would simply wait until the caramel corn was completely cool.
- I used vanilla sugar (as I did here) when making the caramel for the popcorn–yum!
- You can make the caramel popcorn ahead of time, but be sure to add it only before you are serving the cake, otherwise it will become a bit soggy.
- I made the cake layers day 1, wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and left them at room temperature, made the frosting, made the popcorn and assembled the cake all on day 2.
Good luck & enjoy!