Archive for the ‘Peanut Butter’ Category

Happy Small Birthday

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

I recently had the pleasure of celebrating yet another birthday. I turned thirty-three, an age I chose because I enjoy the alliteration. (I received multiple Hallmark birthday greetings exhorting me to “do” whatever I want, after all, “…it’s your birthday!” I’m “doing” thirty-three. Thank you to Hallmark for the de facto permission slips.)

If you detect the slightest note of bitterness in my tone I will confess that I am not a big birthday guy. I don’t go around crowing, “Next Wednesday is my birthday! Yaaaay!” Just not my style. For me, birthdays help to tick the box on the following tasks: 1. Eat chocolate. 2. Check my surroundings and the overhead compartment to make sure I am still vertical, a/k/a breathing, a/k/a alive. Check. Double check.

The great thing about these reduced expectations is that I enjoy other peoples’ birthdays in a proportion equal to my own if not more—again, if there’s chocolate, and I’m still breathing, and they’re older.

On the surface it would seem ironic that I enjoy baking birthday cakes for my friends, but again, that simply ensures a socially acceptable source of chocolate consumption. Furtive chocolate consumption can be so…dreary. (Dreary is such a great word, but hard to use without sounding, well, dreary.)

Speaking of cake, a few months ago I got together with four or five friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Someone had stopped by Magnolia Bakery and bought an enormous chocolate cake with frosting the color of a yellow highlighter. It was absolutely delicious. But the cake was so big that even after we all had seconds there was still enough left over for many, many more birthday boys and girls. I love birthday cake, but even a glutton like me has limits.

This is a scene repeated at birthday celebrations around the globe. Birthday revelers circled around a table, pointy hats perched jauntily on their heads, playing a game of, “Have another piece!”/ “No you have another piece.”/ “PLEASE, I’m just going to throw the rest away!”

Well, I’m here to end this game once and for all.

Here’s my proposal: I insist that it is easier to bake a little birthday cake than it is to bake a big birthday cake. Big cakes make you think of big metal pans, drums of frosting, and an endlessly whirling stand mixer.

But my little birthday cake concept is much more relaxed. Let’s break it down, shall we?

This is one time when baking from scratch has a clear advantage over a mix. When you bake from scratch you actually can scale down a recipe to make a smaller cake. Using a mix you are locked in to one or two pan sizes. While you could perhaps bake half a box of mix, the question would remain what to do with the other half? My easy chocolate cake recipe can be made with a big bowl and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Paper Panetone Molds

Paper Panetone Molds

Okay let’s talk pans shall we? I don’t have the nerve to insist that you should go out and buy five inch cake pans. (Martha would, but she and I run in different circles.) Instead, I recommend paper Panetone molds which will break the bank at approximately fifty cents a piece. Admittedly this is not a green solution. You use them once then toss them. But you won’t have to worry about your cake sticking to the pan.

So, the cake is done, but what about the frosting? For that thick, creamy, sugary frosting don’t you need a mixer? Fear not mixer-less folk! I have a magic ingredient. Sweetened Condensed Milk is a worthy short cut—yes, you may think I am taking a page from Sandra Lee, but the end result is too noble, and…uh, addictive for it to be offensive. It is a bit wholesome, and will pull together and smooth out the few other ingredients you’ll need to make frosting. (Like a Kitchen Aid in a can!)

I toyed with this concept for a while. Too much sugar? Too much fat? Then it dawned on me: this is cake frosting we’re talking about. It’ll never be health food.

As it happens, peanut butter is one of my favorite foods, and combining it with chocolate makes my heart sing. My Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting is worthy of the most important birthday on your list. It also tastes like something from an old-fashioned ice cream and confectionary shop, so if cake isn’t on your mind, warm it a bit and pour it over some ice cream.

Finally, don’t be afraid of decorating the cake. Just spread half the frosting between the layers and spread half the frosting on top. Don’t fret about getting the sides just right; Leave the sides naked to the breeze. Even cake maven Rose Levy Beranbaum endorses this concept for its relaxing informality.

But don’t forget the candles. Thirty three. Yes. That’s all.

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Here’s the Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting recipe.

And here’s the All Occasion Chocolate Cake recipe.

And here’s more information about the paper Panetone molds. (Available at Sur La Table.)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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The first tweet of spring!

My Stuff

Crunchy Peanut Butter Cookies

Crunchy Peanut Butter Cookies

I am not an appliance junkie. That does not mean that I am immune to the charms of the shiny, beautifully lit toys in the Williams-Sonoma catalogue. I find them endlessly fascinating, especially the coffee makers. But that is purely window shopping on my part. I’m strictly an analog, boil-water / pour-into-Melitta kind of guy.

This reminds me of the “My Stuff” section of the magazine “Vanity Fair” where they question successful creative types about the brands of clothes and household items they use, including underwear, toothpaste, and coffee makers. I always imagine the Luddite thud that would reverberate off the page if the “Vanity Fair” editors ever asked little ol’ me for my preferences. “Ah, Melitta. How unstylishly retro…,” they’d smirk in caffeinated superiority. “Crest? Sounds so rugged…”

If I ever start depending on an eleven-hundred dollar coffee maker for my daily brew, there had better be an exponential increase in the square footage of my bank account.  No sir, for now, I get suckered in a much lower rent district. If it’s under ten dollars I’m in. I look at it this way: if I were to buy a niche appliance for several hundred dollars, I may use it once or twice then pack it back in its box until the next time I need it. Under ten bucks? I’m less likely to feel guilty about tossing a failed experiment to save space. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not appliance averse. I just prefer workhorses like my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Yeah, I have a waffle iron, and I do use it. Once a year.

Certain smaller specialty food markets are ideal for shoppers like me because they tend to carry items rife for discovery. I’ve actually made some great discoveries this way, including Ines Rosales tortas, and Damak chocolate. This past summer I fell under the spell of Bindi Coffee Gelato. Bindi is not a new name in the freezer case, but I’d never seen their gelato in a market here in New York before. I kept telling myself that it was lower in fat than regular ice cream. So is crack. They have a lot in common.

During one of my trips in search of some Bindi crack gelato, I happened to pass the display of various brands of peanut butter.

PB2 Peanut Butter Powder

PB2 Peanut Butter Powder

I’m not sure how things catch my eye. I have a friend whose career is centered on the art and science of brand recognition. I have my own scientific approach: I have the supermarket memorized. Shopping for me is a gigantic game of “one of these things is not like the other.” In other words, the new stuff sticks out. On the trip in question it was powdered Peanut Butter that stuck out. Far from being a skeptic, my first instinct was to assume that there was some important use for this product about which I knew nothing. Therefore I simply had to buy it.

As it turns out, I am not the only one playing the “one of these things is not like the other” game. The cashier was right there with me. She gave the jar a close examination, gazed up at me and asked, “What do you do with it?” I told her I’d have to get back to her on that one.

Bringing home an item like this is not unlike adopting a new puppy from the pound. (A very quiet puppy.) You sit and stare at it for a few minutes, and wonder, “Okay, what do I do with you now?” Indeed this period of wonder extended to several months as the powder sat on my kitchen shelf until I could think of a use for it.

This is not to say that the product has no reason for being. It is perfect for folks who are on a low-fat diet but still want the flavor and protein of peanut butter. Finally, it occurred to me that the easiest way to get inspired would be to just open the bottle and taste a little bit of the powder. Good news: It tastes like peanuts. (Duh.)

But this got me thinking about it not as a peanut butter substitute but as a flavor source. When you add peanut butter to a recipe you get the moisture of the fat in the bargain. The downfall with that is that whatever you are making can end up too “loose.” Peanut butter powder has the potential of providing the opposite service: all the flavor, plus it can act as a thickener—or at least not loosen things up. Hmmm. Peanut butter frosting? Satay sauce? All good uses for this stuff.

With Halloween coming up I am test driving a few things that I will be bringing to a friend’s party. Peanut Butter Cookies seemed like a perfect old fashioned treat that kids and adults would enjoy. They can be tricky though, because sometimes they simply lack peanut flavor. So, I added a generous two tablespoons of the powder to my recipe.

The result is a bit crunchier than the usual peanut butter cookie, but that’s all for the better. The peanut butter flavor is pronounced, making these cookies as addictive (to me) as a jar of peanut butter. In fact, that’s how the cookies taste: like a sweetened, crunchy slab of peanut butter.

The basic recipe is great even without the peanut butter powder, but with it the flavor can stand up to a few chocolate chips thrown into the cookie dough.

Hey, Vanity Fair editors! How about a new section called, “My Cookies”?

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Click here for the recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Mmmm: Crunchy tweeter butter…

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