This cake has no business being here.
Okay, that was a little harsh, but that doesn’t make it untrue. I don’t particularly care for peanut butter in my baked goods, which is my southern way of saying I think most peanut butter cakes are gross.
Not this one, though. This is not a flop story. This is my new favorite party trick cake and a good reminder that cake is for sharing (says the girl with a freezer stash of goodies that would make you blush).
I came across this cake exactly one month ago while looking for a reason not to clean my kitchen during the spare hour before we were supposed to be at a friend’s New Years Eve party. “Make me, I’m a Party-Trick Cake!” it said, and my two second long decision-making process went something like: I’m going to a party, have almost all the ingredients, can sub the one I don’t, aaaand SOLD. Smell ya later, dishes.
Nevermind that I’m not into peanutty baked goods, once I was committed (to not doing the dishes) that little detail didn’t matter in the least. Besides, I enjoy peanut butter in general, and I can always get down with a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Thus, my riff of layering it with a fluffy cloud of banana-flavored whipped-cream frosting was born. The ole pb and banana treatment. I used my favorite fruity whipped topping method with freeze-dried banana, and I won’t lie, that shit was on point!
It turned its little trick at the party too. When we arrived I was too concerned with catching up on gossip to fool with it, so I just stashed it in the kitchen and went about my merry way. But as I was pouring myself the extra tall bourbon and ginger that would later make me regret being born (because, note to self, whiskey and cold medicine do. not. mix.) another guest happened upon it, all abandoned and lonely on the counter, and decided to share it himself. This lovely creature then proceeded to cut it up into tiny squares and walk around the party serving it like a cocktail waiter, singing its praises all the while. (This made my soul squishy.)
I didn’t end up having any at the party, mainly because I needed an excuse to come home and make it again the next day, which I did. The second time I increased (ahem, doubled) the sugar in the whipped topping by request from my resident sweet tooth, and while I preferred the taste of the lesser amount, I did enjoy how the extra sugar made the frosting more structured and easier to swoop.
In the end, I ate a couple pieces but gave away most of that one away too at the strict direction of my thighs, and also because - fine, drag it out of me - no, this cake did not convert me into a full-on peanut butter baked goods loving person. I am still not really a fan.
That said, if there ever were a peanut butter cake that I’d be willing to put in my pie hole (to then live on my thighs forever), it would be this one. I’ll be making it anytime a peanut butter cake is requested, or whenever I’m in need of a party trick cake, and probably even the next time I really don’t feel like cleaning, i.e., soon.
Party-Trick Peanut Butter Cake, perfect as printed (plus a few of my notes) from Molly on the Range
Serves 9 generously, 12-15 bite-sized style
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (see substitution note
1/4 flavorless oil (I used vegetable)
6 tablespoons water
1/2 cup creamy unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter (both the cheap [Jif] and the nicer [Jason’s] work)
Buttermilk substitution note: both times I successfully subbed 3/8 cup sour cream, thinned with 1/8 cup water (1/4 cup total - eyeball it), and a splash of lemon for acidity. The middle of the cake did sink a bit, but since I was frosting it anyway, it didn’t make a difference to us. Perhaps the buttermilk would’ve yielded a more level cake, but I didn’t mind enough to run out and buy any.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8x8-inch baking dish and line the bottom with parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, vanilla, buttermilk, oil, peanut butter, and then thin it out with the water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix everything until it looks and feels similar to warm caramel. Pour into baking dish.
Bake until a toothpick (or knife) inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking for doneness at 30 mins. Mine were done at 30 minutes both times.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. If you’re planning to top it with frosting or whipped cream, remove to a wire rack or the refrigerator to cool completely. If you’d like to serve it warm, dive on in!
Banana Whip Frosting, adapted from Serious Eats
makes a little more than enough to cover this cake with a generous layer of frosting, a scant 2 cups
a scant 1/2 cup (15g) freeze-dried bananas
1/4 cup to 1/3 cup (50g to 67g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (360g) heavy whipping cream
In the bowl of your food processor, grind the freeze-dried bananas and sugar until powdery and fine, 1-3 minutes (original said 1 minute but mine took almost 3). Add the cream and stir with a fork to be sure no dry pockets of sugar or fruit are stuck in the corners.
Whirl the mixture in food processor until it thickens up to the consistency of greek yogurt, only a little puffier. This will take less than 2 minutes, but times will vary based on the horsepower of your food processor. Whatever you do, don't take your eyes off the cream as it's whipping or you'll end up with banana butter. Test with your finger, the mixture should give a tiny bit of resistance. Once your frosting is at the right consistency, use it immediately (on this peanut butter cake!) or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 1 week.