This month our booksellers have cooked up a seven course feast to highlight the many new cookbooks hitting our shelves in time for the holidays. Today is the final installment in our chronicle of our ambitious culinary undertakings. From cocktails to side dishes to dessert, we’ve investiged a wide variety of new cookbooks, all of which will have added up to one eclectic meal.
Sicilian Tomato Sauce from The Pizza Bible
Today, the finale: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pretzel Layer Cake from Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats.
~post by Elizabeth
I can’t cook. At all. My husband says I won’t cook (and maybe there’s some truth to that) but, really, I can’t. I can’t look at a bunch of ingredients and imagine them into a meal that anyone would want to eat. I can bake, though. I’m a hell of a baker. And why’s that? Because the secret to great baking (for me) is to follow the recipe exactly as it’s written and I can follow instructions like nobody’s business. Some people are great improvisers when it comes to baking but I am not those people. I am a rule follower and a recipe follower and most of the time the things I bake turn out pretty damn tasty.
So, I called dibs on the dessert course and quickly grabbed the dessert book I was most excited about this season, Joy Wilson’s Joy the Baker: Homemade Decadence. I’m a huge fan of Joy’s blog and loved her first book, so I couldn’t wait to dive into her latest offering. But how was I to choose what to create with so many amazing recipes? Would it be the Dark Chocolate, Pistachio and Sea Salt Cookies? Or the Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars? Or the Mango-Rose Water Cheesecake? The choices were overwhelming, so I took the easy way out and decided to bake the cover recipe – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pretzel Layer Cake. It was that recipe that drew me to the book in the first place because chocolate. And peanut butter. And pretzels. How could you possibly go wrong?
I felt so confident in my ability to pull it off that I enlisted the help of my five year-old, Oliver. He loves to help me bake. Okay, “loves” is too strong a word. He tolerates helping me bake until he gets bored and wants to play with his Legos instead. So, we got baking.
We started with her recipe for a Basic Three-Layer Chocolate Cake. It’s got buttermilk and espresso powder in it making it the perfect base for the salted peanut butter buttercream frosting that would top it. Baking with a five year old is chaotic at best so you’ll have to forgive me for the lack of pictures, but it looked something like this classic shot from our family photo album (just picture Oliver 18 months older):
And, really, let’s be honest. It was a lot less idyllic than that picture portrays, but let’s pretend that’s what it looked like.
The recipe was simple, straight-forward and easy to follow and the cakes looked great when they came out of the oven. But it was late on a school night at that point so we had to put the project on hold for the night. But what to do with these three layers of unfrosted cake? According to Joy, all we had to do was double-wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer until we were ready to frost them at which point we could pull them out of the freezer and frost them frozen. I was totally skeptical. Wouldn’t the cake end up mushy as it defrosted? But I am a rule and recipe follower so I double wrapped the cakes and put them in the freezer and we all went to bed leaving the peanut butter frosting for the next day, crossing my fingers that Joy was right.
The next evening Oliver decided he was done with the project. Not surprising since he’s not a big fan of sweets anyway. But luckily I didn’t have to soldier on alone. My friend Lindsey came over to help make the frosting and frost and decorate the cake.
The frosting calls for butter, all natural peanut butter, salt, vanilla extract, confectioner’s sugar, and heavy cream. So, you know it’s delicious. It’s also one of the easiest buttercreams I’ve ever made. I guess it’s the addition of the peanut butter but it came together so easily. And was remarkably easy to spread on to the cakes themselves. And it tasted amazing.
We pulled the frozen cakes out of the freezer and got to frosting. We spread the frosting between the three layers, frosted the entire outside of the cake and then decorated it with chopped dark chocolate and salted peanuts on top and mini pretzels on the side. My concerns about frosting frozen cakes were totally unfounded. It was so much easier to frost a frozen cake – no crumb coat necessary! – and there was no effect on the cakes at all as they defrosted. I’m not sure I’ll ever frost a cake any other way again.
The finished product looked great and tasted even better. A salty, sweet combination of chocolate, pretzels and peanuts. Delicious!
All books mentioned in this post are available via bookpeople.com and on the shelves at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, Texas).