As you may have noticed, every year for my husband’s birthday I try out another recipe featuring peanut butter and chocolate– his favorite flavor combination! This year is no exception! Not content with a simple cake with frosting, I decided to go in a slightly different direction and make a chocolate-peanut-butter cheesecake– but not just any cheesecake! A layered cheesecake, with a chocolate wafer crust and a shiny ganache glaze, adapted from my favorite food blogger, Deb at Smitten Kitchen.
Granted, her recipe was a chocolate/coffee cheesecake, but it was simple to adapt by replacing the espresso with a few tablespoons of peanut butter, making for rich and decadent dessert. Annoyingly, my layers tended to separate at one or two spots when sliced– I’m betting my filling was just slightly overbaked, making it too dry to adhere easily– but the finished cake was still very impressive, and very delicious! Warning: the cake looks small on a serving platter, but even very thin slices can be tough to finish due to their richness!
Having made one fancy entremet, I was eager to try another one– this time, I decided to forego the silicone mold and restrict myself to a plain round shape, which would hopefully lend itself well to a dark chocolate mirror glaze. Finding myself with an extra jar of marmalade, I thought I’d combine it with dark chocolate and some chocolate-hazelnut spread.
This entremet has a base layer of chocolate brownie (cakey, not fudgy, to keep the dessert from being too dense), a thin layer of Nutella-coated cornflakes (a substitute for feutilline), and a layer of orange marmalade, all encased in a chocolate-hazelnut mousse and covered in chocolate mirror glaze. I decorated with some candied orange slices, chocolate ganache truffles, and some edible paint made from gold luster dust and vodka.
The finished dessert was excellent– the mousse was light yet rich, the cornflakes added some much-appreciated crunch (though the chilled nutella was slightly hard to cut through– next time I might add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to soften it a bit), and the marmalade was a nice contrast in flavor. And of course, it was one of the most gorgeous desserts I’ve ever made, so there’s that…
“Didn’t you already make peanut butter blondies?” you might ask. Why, yes… yes, I did. But I forgot about that until I’d already started melting the butter for these, and figured that you can never have too many peanut butter blondie recipes, so I proceeded on.
These blondies are slightly different from my previous recipe– you melt the butter and sugar instead of creaming it, there’s a bit less butter and sugar, and it doesn’t need the extra egg yolk. Plus there’s the added bonus of a peanut butter swirl right through the middle, which– come on– can only be a good thing!
I underbaked these, which made them very soft at room temperature but amazing when frozen, so I highly recommend that you do the same. And be generous with the sprinkling of salt on top– it really pops.
This cake (I call it my Un-Party Cake because I didn’t have a specific occasion to make it for) is the result of a bunch of different situations– first (of course), we’re stuck inside due to coronavirus, so grocery shopping isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Second, the other day I was making egg salad and realized that we were out of mayonnaise, so I made some from scratch (fun!). However, that left me with a bunch of extra mayo on hand that I had no immediate use for, and to keep it from going bad I decided to use it to make a cake. It had to be chocolate, because I’d used a touch of mustard in making the mayonnaise to help it emulsify, and I was worried that the flavor might come through in a vanilla cake.
Third, I had plenty of random stuff available to garnish this cake– half a can of chocolate frosting left in the refrigerator that I could use as the base for a larger batch, some seedless raspberry jam I wanted to use up (because I prefer the flavor of the seeded kind), and the dregs of various packages of cookies and candy that had been pushed to the back of our pantry over time. So we got to work.
Lately I’ve been searching for a favorite store-bought orange marmalade– one that’s got the perfect balance of bitterness, sweetness, and orange flavor. Of course, marmalades that don’t turn out to be perfect have to go somewhere, and rather than waste my buttered toast on sub-par marmalade, I’ve been trying to figure out creative uses for the extras.
This cake (made from Bonne Maman marmalade, which had too much jelly and not enough peel for me) combined the idea of a cake with jam swirled into the batter, with the ricotta/chocolate/orange flavor profile of my favorite cupcakes in the world. I was kind of going for a cannoli flavor– heavy on the ricotta with a kiss of chocolate and orange to make it interesting.
Let me just say from the beginning that these are the chocolatiest (most chocolate-y?) cookies that I’ve ever baked. That alone should get you excited. But they’re also easy to make (no creaming butter required) and– for me at least– use standard pantry ingredients. And did I mention they use three kinds of chocolate?
I adapted the recipe slightly from Smitten Kitchen, just because I never have unsweetened chocolate on hand but *always* have a Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar of 72% bittersweet chocolate. Also, because my cookie scoop was slightly larger than her recommended cookie size, mine ended up bigger than hers– something I can only approve of!
These are rich, delicious, and packed full of chocolate– perfect for eating with a cold glass of milk. I am absolutely adding them to my “make again whenever possible” list!
This past Christmas I received something I’ve had on my wish list for a while– a silicone baking mat specially made for macarons. It has raised circles all over it that you pipe your batter into, and the tiny ridge around the edge helps contain the batter and direct it upwards to make perfect “feet” on your identical circular macarons. I admit to being a little skeptical at how well it would work, but it ended up being amazing! I was able to pipe 48 small (okay, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than I’d ordinarily want) macarons onto a single baking sheet without worrying about them oozing into each other, and they turned out beautifully!
I’m absolutely going to get a second mat so I can bake up a 4-egg-white batch of macarons all at once (I had exactly enough batter to fill the sheet twice).
Yet another treat I served at my daughter’s woodland creature party was a selection of woodland creature cookies– foxes, hedgehogs, and squirrels. I used my classic chocolate cutout recipe for the cookies, and frosted them with a 3/4-sized batch of a hybrid glaze/royal icing that I picked up online from Baking Sweet Hope. It’s a nice combination of the best of both icing worlds, and I had just about the right amount of icing to cover my cookies in several different colors without worrying about running short.
The original icing tutorial and recipe are both so good that I’m not going to try to summarize them here– just go check out her page!
I did make a few mistakes in the icing process– first, I think I thinned the icing too much, which prevented me from getting quite the amount of detail I’d wanted. I also tried to do too many cookies at once (at least on the foxes), assembly-line style, which messed with my details a bit as well. But in general I think the animals turned out well, and they tasted great! I admit that the hedgehogs were my favorite of the lot– which ones are your favorites?
For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.
For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.
I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.
I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!
So for her birthday party this year, my daughter chose “Woodland Creatures” as her theme. I admit to nudging her a bit in the right direction a few months ago because I thought it would provide an opportunity for lots of cute themed food, but she really got into it, even giving me a list of things she wanted to include. I’ll give details of how I made things in the next few posts, but take a look at the resulting dessert table…
Included above are a tree stump cake, meringue mushrooms, decorated animal cookies, white chocolate fudge rocks, moss-covered cupcakes, candy acorns, and pads of “moss” made of green-dyed sugar cookies. (Also edible pinecones but they didn’t turn out all that well so I’ll forego posting a recipe until I get it right).
I had *so* much fun putting this party together. I raided the 80% off Christmas decoration section at my local craft store to get the artificial greenery, but aside from that all of the decorations on the table were edible– my version of the infamous Willy Wonka chocolate room. Honestly, I think this is one of the best dessert tables I’ve ever done!