I have said before that I was a baker before I ever got interested in cooking. Partly this is because I have a seemingly insatiable sweet tooth (I always thought you were supposed to outgrow those sorts of things, but my appetite for all things sweet seems to only be growing stronger), but mostly it’s because I love making something delicious for people I care about. Sure, I could make something savory to tell someone I love them, but there’s just something about a baked good that is guaranteed to make people smile.
I would say this idea was probably instilled in by my mother who, though she will tell you she is not much of a baker, is well aware of the power of sweets. Every year my sister and I were the most excited kids on the block on the first day of school, because we knew that when we got home my mom would have a big cake shaped like a school bus waiting for us. I’m guessing it wasn’t really too much of a challenge for her – a chocolate sheet cake from a mix, cut into the shape of a bus and covered with canned vanilla frosting dyed yellow, with Hershey bars for windows and chocolate donuts for wheels – but to this day the idea of her doing that every year impresses me to no end, and of course as kids we went nuts for it.
Later on, when I was running on my university’s cross country and track team, my mom managed to endear herself to all of my teammates by baking enormous batches of cookies (almost always chocolate chip and peanut butter oatmeal) and bringing them to our meets. She and my dad were the only parents who showed up to almost every meet (even the year our conference championships were held in Maine, a full day’s drive for them), and definitely the only ones bearing baked goods enough to share. I passed them out on the bus on the way home and always made sure everyone got at least one cookie, usually more, and still there was plenty left for me to hoard for myself. No wonder my mom can bang out a batch of cookies in about ten minutes flat; she’s had ample practice.
So I figured after all this time, since I am now old enough to work the oven on my own, I owed the woman some cookies.
Instead, I made her some cakes. Tasty Kakes, to be precise. Mom’s recently become obsessed with their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, these little circular white cakes with a layer peanut butter on top, enrobed in a thin shell of dark chocolate. I was perusing the archives of the blog Baking Bites a while ago when I came upon a recipe, originally from Epicurious, for these very same cakes, and I knew I had to give them a try.
I’m happy to report that according to my mom, these are far and away better than the store-bought ones. Light and fluffy cake (not circular and not completely coated in chocolate like the originals, but hey, they’re homemade!) with nice thick layers of peanut butter and chocolate – what could be better than that?
Here you go, Mom – thanks for all the cookies.
Homemade Peanut Butter Tasty Kakes
Adapted from Baking Bites
The only change I made to this recipe was to swap dark chocolate for the milk chocolate called for; I used 1 ounce unsweetened (all I had left in the cupboard) plus 15 ounces semisweet Nestle chocolate chips. Supposedly those aren’t very good quality but it’s what was in my parent’s house and what my mom always swore by; they worked fine, and it was a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a pound of better quality stuff. Of course if that’s what you’d prefer go for it, and also feel free to use milk chocolate instead.
Also, I cut the bars smaller than the original recipe called for; one pan was supposed to yield 30 bars, I got more like 48, but to us that was a nice size.
1 cup milk [any fat content; I used skim because it’s what we have in the house]
2 tablespoons butter
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cups creamy peanut butter (not natural) [I think next time I'll go up to 2 cups for a slightly thicker layer]
1 pound dark or milk chocolate, chopped
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour an 17 x 11 ½ x 1 inch jelly-roll pan [I used parchment, which kept the cakes from sticking but made cutting them out of the pan later slightly more challenging].
Heat milk and butter in small saucepan or in microwave until butter has just melted and milk is steaming but not boiling. Set aside.
In large bowl using electric mixer [I used a handheld], beat eggs and sugar until thick and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract.
Sift flour and baking powder into beaten egg mixture [I almost always skip sifting dry ingredients, but I think in this case it’s probably a good idea]. Beat until just combined. With mixer running, slowly stream in milk/butter mixture until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading it evenly, and bake for 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, top is golden and springs back when touched [this only took about 15 minutes in my oven; check it early].
Let cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, then dollop small amounts of peanut butter all over surface of cake [let them sit for just a second or two so the bottoms melt, or when you try to spread them you’ll end up with cake crumbs mixed into the peanut butter]. Using an off-set spatula, spread the peanut butter to cover the entire cake evenly. Refrigerate cake until peanut butter layer has set, 1 to 2 hours [you could probably leave this for as long as overnight if you wanted to break up the process over a couple of days].
When peanut butter has chilled thoroughly, melt chocolate in top of double boiler until smooth [I used microwave, but keep an eye on it if you do this and stir frequently so it doesn’t seize up or burn]. Pour over peanut butter layer and spread evenly with offset spatula. Score cake with a knife through the chocolate and peanut butter layers (not all the way through), wiping the knife between cuts to ensure cuts are clear. This will make it easier to cut the bars later without cracking the topping. Chill cake until chocolate is firm or overnight. Cut bars should also be stored in the fridge; they freeze well, too.