The Adventure of Making “Just a Chocolate Cake”

I have recently realized that picking recipes for tea time is an intricate balance between satisfying our own cravings and making a kitchen crew-friendly dish that the mentors will also enjoy. And this week, I was craving cake. Now that sounds like a relatively simple craving to satisfy, but because it was a religious holiday, I was observing a vegetarian diet. And in the religion I follow, eggs are considered non-vegetarian. (The debate about whether eggs are vegetarian or non-vegetarian is one for another day.) So I was on the quest to find an eggless cake. (Apparently, there is a subset of eggless cakes known as “Depression” cakes because they was commonly made during the Great Depression when butter, milk, sugar, and eggs were hard to come by.) I knew it was possible to find one that tasted delicious because I made a Chai, Cardamom, and Rose Cake with Brown Butter and Cardamom Glaze (by Anjana from At the Corner of Happy and Harried) just last week, and when I was making it, I hadn’t even consciously realized that it was eggless.
For some reason, finding things when you’re looking for them is a lot harder than finding them when you’re not. I couldn’t seem to find a cake recipe that had no uncommonly used ingredients that still sounded like something that everyone would like. It also didn’t help that I wanted to find something that wasn’t super simple. In my mind, if we’re having tea time, it’s nice to do something with a little bit of complexity because  it’s something fun we can all do together. It’s not just a one person job. I didn’t have much of a problem finding recipes for plain vanilla or chocolate cakes, but like I said, that wasn’t really what I was looking for. Finally, I happened upon a recipe for a chocolate cake with a fluffy peanut butter frosting (by Brenda from A Farmgirl’s Dabbles), and I was won over. For one, the cake was photographed beautifully, and I can’t deny that the way food looks is a huge part of how appetizing it is to me. Also, chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favorite flavor combinations. I just love the way the saltiness from the peanut butter complements the sweetness and richness of the chocolate. And to top it all off, there was also a chocolate ganache involved. Needless to say, this sounded like one very decadent cake.
(Fun fact: eggless chocolate cakes made with flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, vegetable oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract are often referred to as “wacky” or “crazy” cakes. There are no confirmed explanations that I can find, but according to Wikipedia, some people believe that it’s because the cake doesn’t use eggs and is made using a method involving creating three wells. But in my opinion, the much more entertaining explanation for the name wacky cake is a child remarking, “Oil and vinegar in cake! That’s salad dressing! Mom, you are wacky!” while s/he saw their mom making this cake.)
As 2:00pm on Friday approached, mentors trickled in, asking what we were making today. To this, I responded “just a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.” I mean, sure the recipe made the cake seem super rich, but at the end of the day, the recipe for the cake was a pretty basic. The binding and fluffiness typically provided by eggs was replaced by a combination of baking soda and vinegar, but other than that (and even that), the ingredients for this cake were the usual flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, a fat (in this case, vegetable oil), and vanilla extract. Although this recipe was for a two-layer cake, I felt that we needed to double it. I mean, we can never really tell how many mentors are going to come, so I figured better safe than sorry. And besides, who has ever complained about having leftover cake? (I’ll let you in on a secret: definitely not me!) Since we didn’t have enough round pans, I decided to do some pan size conversion and put one recipe’s worth of cake in each of our 9×13 pans. (After all, rectangular layer cakes are just as delicious as round layer cakes!)

Chocolate cakes in the oven!

While the cakes baked off in the oven, we whipped up our fluffy peanut butter frosting. (See what I did there?) At the time, it seemed logical to double the frosting recipe since we were doubling the cake recipe, but in retrospect, maybe that was a little excessive. (More on that to come!) While the cakes cooled (because you unfortunately really can’t frost hot (or even warm) cakes, we also made the chocolate ganache.

Fluffy peanut butter frosting is so fluffy!

And then it was time for the most exciting part: assembling the cake! We started by cutting the cakes so that they were the same size. (Apparently, our 9×13 pans are not exactly 9×13, but they got the job done, so no complaints here!) We then piled on a very generous amount of peanut butter frosting onto the bottom layer of cake, and just to make it a little more our own, we drew out “R2R” in the frosting, as if we were drawing out our names in the sand. Up next was the part that always makes me really nervous: placing the next layer on top of the previous one so that it is lined up perfectly. I’d say we did a pretty good job.
Then we poured on the chocolate ganache, and I was reminded once again how satisfying it is to watch ganache cover and then pour down the sides of a cake. Check this out! (Thanks for taking this video, Ana!)

Fully covered in chocolate ganache!

Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that we also bought mini peanut butter cups to garnish the cake. (it’s not like there’s even such a thing as too much peanut butter or chocolate!) So for the final step of cake assembly, we tried to pipe dots of peanut butter frosting on top of the chocolate ganache and then put peanut butter cups on each of those dots of frosting. And let’s just say this where things got really…interesting (not that they weren’t before—this was just an entirely new level of entertainment). As we piped on our dots of peanut butter frosting, we realized that they were literally starting to slide off the cake. (I think this was because of a combination of not giving the ganache enough time to cool—causing the peanut butter frosting to melt after touching it—and not leveling out the cake so that it was flat.) We decided to be a little spontaneous and drew peanut butter squiggles on the cake instead, and even though those tried to slides off the sides as well, the cake still looked delicious, especially after we cut into it. And it doesn’t hurt that it tasted delicious too.
Remember how I said that this cake sounded very decadent? Well. it turns out that was an understatement. In fact, Dennis even said this was probably the richest, most decadent thing we have ever made. Overall, I think we all had a great time making and eating it. And I can definitely say that I’ve learned a lot along the way!
– Kunali
[Update: As it turns out, the area of two 9-inch round cakes is much greater than the area of a 9×13 cake (so much so that instead of doubling the frosting recipe, we should have quartered it…oops), which very easily explains why we had so much leftover peanut butter frosting. Again, not that anyone is complaining… We made good use of the leftover frosting: spreading it on toast, using it to frost brownies, dipping pretzels in it, and last, but certainly not least, eating it by the spoonful. Yum!]

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