It is amazing to me that it is once again my Mother's birthday. I can't believe it has been a year since making my vanilla bean cake post, and yet, here we are. Despite the amount of stress it usually causes me, I enjoy baking cakes for people. And no matter how stressful, I would never turn down the opportunity to bake a cake for my mother. I mean after putting up with me for 30 years and that whole childbirth thing, I suppose it's the least I can do.
I racked my brain trying to think of what cake to bake. The runner up for last year was a simple yellow cake with a chocolate frosting, but instead I was drawn to the allure of the vanilla bean. This year though I felt like something a little more simple and fun but didn't know what. A single click gave me all the inspiration I would need. Earlier in the week Mary from One Perfect Bite posted one of the most wonderful cakes I had ever seen: Peanut Butter and Jam (jelly) Cake.
My mother and I share a love of all things peanut butter and we're both very fond of the spoon in jar snack. But if it's breakfast and it's peanut butter, very often you will find it paired with peanut butter's best friend, Jam. Strawberry to be precise :) (to me strawberry is the only real jam.). It was for this reason that Mary's cake was so inspiring. It was a deliciously simple and perfect idea and I knew I had to make my own version. I decided to use my favourite yellow cake instead of white cake, make my own jam, and use peanut butter in the frosting instead of pb chips. I was most excited and worried about the jam. Granted, should anything go wrong, other than massive disappointment, it was the easiest to replace with a store bought substitute.
I had to double my yellow cake recipe (i.e. use the original) but other than that my only alteration was to remove the almond extract. Mostly because I completely forgot about it. But I'm glad I did. The almond flavour would have been one too many and besides there's peanut butter :), who needs almond?
I decided on a pectin free jam, which pretty much means sugar and strawberries reduced until thick. I chose this for two reasons. First I didn't want the jam to be unnaturally thick, since it was going to be a filling for a cake; and second, I read that pectin can be quite finicky and didn't want to risk it. While on the topic of the jam here's an interesting fact about my mother: she hates chunks of fruit in her jam. HATES. The only thing she probably hates more is pulp in her orange juice. Heaven forbid I buy some by mistake, I never hear the end of it :). "Adam, why would I want to chew my orange juice?" This meant that crushing the strawberries would not be enough, I would have to break out the immersion blender as well. I also reduced the sugar and added honey to the jam thinking it would go well with the strawberry and peanut butter flavours. Unfortunately once done, it was really not noticeable. Next time I'll just opt for sugar. I also used the juice of a single lemon instead of what the recipe suggested and added the zest. I knew that it would serve to brighten the strawberry flavour even more.
The jam was pretty simple overall but I still managed a few small issues. I had read that the jam would be ready when the temperature reached 220F to 222F but this never happened. So I just cooked it until it was thick enough. I also discovered the first pot I used was too small. Indicated to me when it almost boiled over. And unlike sugar, jam needs to be stirred constantly. I obviously hadn't paid much attention to this instruction but a thick layer of burnt sugar stuck to the bottom of my pot will serve to remind me next time. Clean up was not fun. But other than those minor things the jam was easy and something I will definitely do again. Just a warning: you're going to end up with twice as much as you need. Though if you're a true PB&J connoisseur it won't go to waste. Fresh jam is fresh jam after all :) (grab a spoon! :)).
I took a risk with the frosting and used peanut butter instead of pb chips. I like pb chips, but they wouldn't allow me to control the sweetness of the frosting. However, when I gave a taste to the melted pb and milk mixture it didn’t seem like frosting. It needed to be a little sweeter for a cake. On a whim, I measured out two tablespoons of powdered sugar and stirred it in. After a few seconds of stirring and a quick taste (maybe two) it was perfect. Not sweet enough to overpower the flavour of the peanut butter or cake, nor clash with the jam and just sweet enough to make it suitable for a cake.
Unfortunately while making the frosting impatience struck (again). For what has to be the umpteenth time (that's my scientific measurement), I decided that waiting for the melted peanut butter to cool would take far too long. I tried, oh did I try, I even stuck it in the fridge, but it still seemed like it was taking forever. So into the whipped cream it went, a little warmer than it should have been. I opted to turn the mixer back on and try to whip the whipped cream and pb together as it didn't seem like there was enough whipped cream to fold. It kinda worked. The frosting was definitely a bit loose but when chilled in the freezer for a a few minutes it firmed up enough to be spread on the cake. It was a tad difficult, but it worked :).
If you’ve been around for a while (it could happen) you might recall that I can't split a cake to save my life. As a result the birthday cakes I made last year had thicker layers of cake than you would expect. Thanks to a great birthday gift this year I finally had a cake leveler and I have to say: It. Was. Awesome. In just a few seconds I had both cakes split and ready for jam. Once I did this though I noticed something a little unnerving. I had some tunnelling (uneven crumb) in my cakes, which usually means over mixing. I was very careful to avoid this and maybe I under mixed instead. Who knows?
As I stacked and filled the cake, I wondered if I should add a little more jam to each layer. It just didn’t seem like enough. Though for once I erred with caution and went with the recommended amount. There was just enough frosting to cover the cake with a thin layer in my traditionally sloppy manner :). But thanks to my new rotating cake stand (another birthday gift) it was a little easier than usual.
After a visit from my Grandparents, a lot of pizza, awesome chicken wings, and a few hours in the fridge, it was time for the happy birthdays and cake. Per usual, I was rather nervous. I was quite critical of the cakes I made last year and was hoping that I wasn't going to repeat. It is my opinion that this cake is almost beyond criticism. My mom said it tasted exactly like a peanut butter and jam sandwich only cake and I agree. The tunnelling didn't matter and the cake turned out moist and flavourful. The sweetness and amount of jam was the perfect proportion for the cake and it was fantastically fresh. You could definitely tell it was not store bought. And the peanut butter frosting was creamy and smooth with a tonne of peanut butter flavour; salty and just lightly sweet. With one complete bite it was insanely good. However, should I attempt this cake again I will make the centre layer a peanut butter and jam layer. The cake was so tall and the pb frosting layer so thin that it was tough to get pb with every bite. When you hit the bottom two layers the PB&J balance was a bit lost. Maybe this isn’t a criticism and just a reason to make the cake again :).
If you love peanut butter and jam you must make this cake; and you must eat this cake. There really is little more to say. It's that good. And amazingly this cake was one of the least stressful baking experiences I have ever had. There were no disasters and no yelling and swearing. It was completely hissy fit free (diet baking :)). I really hope that I have inspired you to bake this cake in the same way that Mary inspired me. Make it your own; the way you want (even if you use blueberry "jam" :)). There are no rules for a cake like this. How could it turn out bad? And if you have no one to bake it for, bake it for yourself. After all, it's just peanut butter and jam, a part of your complete breakfast :).
Peanut Butter and Jam Cake
Inspired by One Perfect Bite
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and me4 cups + 2 tbsp cake flour, not self rising (466g)
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk**
2 cups sugar (400g)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (227g)
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
** Alternatively substitute 1 cup milk less 1 tbsp + 1 tbsp vinegar. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes -- I did this
Adapted from Food.com2 lbs fresh strawberries, sliced.
1 cup sugar (200g)
1/2 cup honey
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
Peanut Butter Frosting:
Inspired by One Perfect Bite1 cup creamy peanut butter, not natural (240g)
2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp milk
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two 9” cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (be sure to grease parchment as well)
In a large bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In the large bowl of a mixer add butter and sugar beat until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and beat to mix. Add the eggs one at a time until completely combined. Reduce mixer speed to low and add milk, beat until just combined (it will look curdled)
In three additions slowly add dry ingredients to wet, scraping down the bowl as necessary, mixing until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared pans and tap them gently on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Place on centre rack in oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and cake is golden brown (this took 35 minutes for me).
Remove cake from oven and allow to cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely on rack.
In a large saucepan add strawberries and place over medium heat. Mash strawberries with potato masher.
Add sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest and stir to combine. With an immersion blender puree until smooth and bring the mixture to a simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until it reaches a temperature of 220F to 222F (or thick enough to coat the back of a spoon).
Remove from heat and allow to cool completely then transfer to fridge to thicken.
Peanut Butter Frosting:
In a small saucepan over medium heat add peanut butter and milk and whisk until melted. Add powdered sugar and whisk until completely combined. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
In the small bowl of a mixer add cream and whip until stiff peaks are formed. Slowly add cooled peanut butter mixture to whipped cream and mix together.
Allow to thicken in fridge before frosting cake.
To build cake:
Split cakes in half making four even layers.
Place the first layer top side down and evenly spread 1/4 of jam over entire layer. Continue to stack layers adding a 1/4 cup of jam to each layer and ending with the final top layer top side up (if you're making a burger cake :)).
Frost outside of cake.
Allow cake to chill for a few hours before serving.