Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Layer Cake with Roasted Peanut Buttercream

Scan 15We recently celebrated James’ birthday and — as is my custom — I offered to make him any birthday dessert he’d like so long as it was some sort of cake (sometimes I’m a stickler for tradition). Since we began this tradition a few years ago, there’s been an interesting parade of birthday cakes on our late-May table — perhaps owing more to James’ eclectic tastes than my baking skills. Last year, you might recall, he asked for the Italian Cream Cake from my great-grandmother’s old church cookbook from the 1970s.

This year, he asked if I might make a “peanut butter and chocolate cake” of some sort — he even went to the trouble of searching for recipes online to help me out (James is nothing if not resourceful). But, as you might expect from me, I soon ruled out all of the recipes he’d managed to find.

Since we’ve come to cherish the taste, texture, and quality of homemade cakes, I dismissed any recipes that began with boxed cake mixes. I immediately ruled out any cakes that called for peanut butter chips, so-called “light” peanut butter, and other such falsehoods. Once I’d finally narrowed down my choices, though, I realized another issue: most of them were very chocolate heavy and came up short in the peanut butter department. This was especially a problem since James (aka Birthday Boy) is not a chocolate enthusiast.


It was then I realized I was on a mission: to create a peanut butter cake that was not peanut butter in name only! This cake would need to contain the very essence of peanuttyness in every bite. It would need to have just enough chocolate to create that marriage of flavors James loves in a peanut butter cup without overwhelming the peanut flavor. It would also have to be a success — since time was running short and I had no other alternatives!

Building the Birthday Cake

I started with a peanut butter cake recipe I’d found which was essentially a yellow cake that used part shortening and part peanut butter. I chose to use butter in place of shortening (if you’re going to put fat in something, it may as well have a flavor, right?!). I also made a few more alterations to the mixing technique and ingredients so the cake would have ample texture.

IMG_3498For an extra layer of peanut flavor in the cake itself, I added unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts. Rather than using chunky peanut butter (which has fewer and fewer peanut chunks these days, anyway), I opted to be in control of the peanut chunks. In the end, the taste they contribute is far fresher than the peanuts that are in chunky peanut butter.

To provide the first hint of chocolate, I added miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips. I chose miniature chips because I wanted the chocolate effect to be spread out evenly in the cake rather than in chunky explosions. And I used semi-sweet chocolate so the taste would stand out rather than melding into the background like milk chocolate would.

For the peanut butter in both the cake and in the buttercream, I chose organic, unsweetened creamy peanut butter. While you may not have realized “regular” peanut butter is sweetened, you probably have at least noticed the ingredient list on most peanut butter contains way more than roasted peanuts — emulsifiers, corn syrup, fake fats, IMG_3501starches, etc. Can’t we just eat peanuts? Is life so complicated we can’t stir our peanut butter before spreading it on toast? I think not! Most unsweetened peanut butters will contain peanuts, salt, and maybe a little bit of canola oil to help the peanuts blend smoothly (but not hydrogenated oil).

For the frosting, I wanted a buttercream texture, but I still wanted the overwhelming taste to be peanut butter minus the goopy texture. That’s where things got a little complicated. Butter — typically the chief ingredient in buttercream — tends to be a little more stable than peanut butter, so I had to monkey with the proportion of peanut butter to the other ingredients in the frosting. In the end, you can achieve the frosting texture needed, but it depends greatly on the specific peanut butter you’re using. You may need to add more milk or more powdered sugar to IMG_3499get the balance right. For that last bit of oomph to the peanut butter flavor, I tossed in another portion of finely chopped roasted peanuts so their natural nuttiness and saltiness would tame the sweetness of the buttercream.

Finally, I wanted to top it off with chocolate. When we were doing our initial recipe searches for peanut butter and chocolate cakes, most recipes dumped ganache over the cake. Ganache, in my opinion, definitely has its place in the Homemade Hall of Fame — few things can send a cake over the top both visually and in taste than a perfectly smooth, decadent layer of ganache. But, in this case, I knew ganache would overshadow the star of the show (peanut butter) and it would also add so much sweetness it would drown out the characteristic saltiness of peanut butter that makes peanut butter cups (one of James’ favorite things) such an appealing snack. I opted, instead, to make a small batch of would-be ganache and — rather than drenching the entire cake — drizzled it over the top in various patterns, traced the circumference of the top layer several times, and let the chocolate ooze down the sides as it saw fit.

IMG_3504 IMG_3505

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Layer Cake

with Roasted Peanut Buttercream

A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 12

    3 large eggs, yolks separated
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup creamy unsweetened peanut butter
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 cup sucanat or light brown sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 1/2 cups low fat buttermilk
    1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
    1/3 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    2/3 cup creamy unsweetened peanut butter
    1 tablespoon molasses
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    2 cups powdered sugar
    2-5 tablespoons milk (preferably whole milk)
    1/4 cup finely chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

    Chocolate Drizzle:
    3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
    5 tablespoons whipping cream

    Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Coat the bottom of three 8-inch round cake pans; line with parchment paper, spray parchment with cooking spray.

    In a medium bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form; set aside. In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter, peanut butter, and sugars at medium-low speed just until smooth; add egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition, adding the vanilla.

    Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the peanut butter mixture in three additions, beating well after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips and chopped roasted peanuts. Add 1/3 of the whipped egg whites to the batter, stirring gently to incorporate. Fold in the remaining whipped egg whites using a rubber spatula or a large wooden spoon, being careful not to deflate the egg whites.

    Divide batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Bake in preheated oven 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan, remove parchment, and allow layers to cool completely on wire rack.

    To make the buttercream, cream together the softened butter, peanut butter, molasses, salt and vanilla at medium-low speed until smooth; gradually add the flour and then the powdered sugar, blending until mixture is uniform. Stir or mix in enough milk so that mixture is of a creamy, spreadable consistency (mixture should not be runny or oily, add additional flour or powdered sugar to taste if necessary). Stir in the chopped roasted peanuts.

    To assemble cake, place a cooled cake layer on the cake platter; top with a portion of the buttercream. Top with remaining two layers, frosting the top of each layer. Use remaining buttercream to frost the side of the cake. Before applying the chocolate drizzle, loosely cover the cake and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.

    To prepare the chocolate drizzle, place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the whipping cream until scalding; pour over chopped chocolate, stir until smooth and uniform. Pour the chocolate mixture into a small zipper bag. Using scissors, cut a small piece of the corner off the bottom of the bag; drizzle chocolate over chilled cake to create the desired effect. Store finished cake loosely covered in the refrigerator. Serve chilled or at room temperature, but always store cake in refrigerator.


When the cake was baking, I began to think I was baking peanut butter cookies rather than a cake — the smell was intensely peanut buttery. After the cake cooled, I noticed, too, the texture of the cake was dense and yet somehow light and moist owing to peanut butter’s healthy fat content (all healthy fat, by the way: peanut butter is remarkably good for you in spite of being calorically dense). It was pretty easy to assemble the cake.

The moment of truth came and I was admittedly a little nervous for the premiere of my little creation. I hoisted it from the fridge and carefully sliced the pieces. As the cake was opened from the slicing, the roasted peanut smell was nearly intoxicating — I think my confidence was secured in that moment. I gave James and our friend a slice and then scurried back to my photographing area to get a picture of my slice. By the time I returned, there were smiles all around and I knew the cake had passed the test!

As I’ve mentioned before, I wholeheartedly believe naughty desserts have a place in our lives — a celebration just would not be complete without it, in my opinion. In case you were curious, according to my cookbook software, this dessert may be naughty, but you can’t say it isn’t nutritious: 1 slice = 760 calories, 44g total fat (18g sat., 17g mono., 7g poly), 101mg cholesterol, 4g fiber, and 449mg sodium. How many naughty desserts have that much healthy fat and fiber going for them? Not many! And — in defense of my naughty cake — the German Chocolate Cake I made for James’ birthday two years ago weighed in closer to 1000 calories per slice!


~ by Jason on June 2, 2011.

13 Responses to “Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Layer Cake with Roasted Peanut Buttercream”

  1. Wow. I’m not a huge fan of peanut butter, but I might reconsider for this cake.

  2. OMG! I would love that with some of my homemade peanut butter ice cream! yummy!

    • James and Nicole had some vanilla ice cream with their slice… but I thought it was plenty good without anything else. 😛

  3. Wonderful and delightfun, and I wish I had a piece. James left t his a.m. for Taiwan, so keep him (& Me) in your prayers.

  4. Holy Moly! That sounds awesome!!

  5. “Can’t we just eat peanuts? Is life so complicated that we can’t stir our peanut butter before spreading it on toast?”

    Amen! I have a serious love affair with peanut butter, and will be making this incredible-looking cake soon. Thanks, Jason (and Happy Birthday to James!).

    • It’s nice to know we’re not alone in our love for peanut butter — especially since I was recently told that we were “weird” about peanut butter! 🙂

  6. Hey bro, making this cake right now but noticed that you have the granulated sugar and brown sugar in the cake ingredient list but there is no step to add. I assume it is okay to add in with the peanut butter mixture before adding flour and buttermilk? Let me know…if I don’t hear from you in the next few, that’s where its going.

    Love Ya!

    • Oh goodness… you’re exactly right. Add the sugars in the same step as creaming the butter & peanut butter.

      I’ll change this for everyone else! 😛 Oops!

      • I had to step away from assembling the cake last night. I had an unexpected guest and I needed to visit. The cakes were cooked and the buttercream icing was mixed. I let the cakes cool and then put them in the frig until this morning when I would have more time for assembly. I also put the buttercream icing in the frig. (Just needed a little stir before spreading to heat up the fats.) The cake seems to have come out perfectly! We’ll know more this evening when we surprise him with it! I did have to improvise on the molasses and the cake pan sizes. I cut back a little of the sugar in the icing and substituted a tablespoon of Ms. Buttersworth to substitute for the molasses. Of course, you know that 8 inch pans are hard to come by down here…so I just used two 9 inch and knocked the oven temp down to 325 to keep the outside from getting overcooked. I know the cakes are probably more dense because of this but I really had no other option at such a late notice…making cake at last minute ya know! 😉

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