Friday, December 14, 2012

Italian-ish Feast!

I am a part of what one might call a "dinner club."  A few times a year a group of roommates take turns preparing a dinner for another group of roommates.  Last night it was our turn to prepare the spread!  Lauren I came up with a pretty stellar menu consisting of penne pasta with chicken and vodka sauce, garlic bread, apple cashew salad, and a chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse icing!
The cake was inspired by Annie's Eats (I'm sure you're surprised by this)!
I followed the recipe exactly, except I used Maxwell instant coffee instead of espresso powder.
For the cake:
1¾ cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pans
1 tbsp. instant espresso or coffee powder
1½ cups boiling water
¾ cup sour cream
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ cups plus 2 tbsp. sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
For the filling and frosting:
¾ cup heavy cream, chilled
3¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted, divided
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of coarse salt
To garnish:Mini peanut butter cups, halved
  • Start by preparing 3 8-inch round cake pans.  Trace the bottoms of the pans onto parchment paper and cut slightly inside this line.  Using some Crisco on a paper towel, grease the sides of the pan, place the parchment paper circle in the bottom of the pan and grease that as well.  Sprinkle some cocoa powder on top and shake it around the pan so there is a small dusting covering the grease; dump out any excess.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bring a small pot filled with water to a rapid boil.  While you're waiting on the water to boil, in a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder and espresso powder.  Once boiling, add the water to this and whisk until smooth.  Set aside to cool for about 3-5 minutes, then whisk in the sour cream and vanilla.  Set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until there are no lumps.  Add the sugar and continue to beat for 2-3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, smoothing down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  • Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add one third of the dry ingredient mixture with one third of the wet mixture.  Repeat until all ingredients are combined in a homogenous mixture.
  • Divide the batter evening among the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through.
  • Transfer the baked cakes to a wire rack for about 10 minutes.  **I like to flash freeze layer cakes so they are easier to ice--to do this you can place a wire rack in your freezer and put the entire cake and pan, uncovered in the freezer for 15 minutes.  At this time you can remove the cakes from the pans and wrap in 2 layers of Saran wrap before putting the cakes back in the freezer for at least an hour before icing.
  • To make the frosting, combine the heavy cream and ¼ cup of the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl using a hand mixer on medium-high.  Whip until light, fluffy, and stiff peaks form.
  • Next, combine the butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high for about a minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and mix in until it's well incorporated.  Blend in the vanilla extract and salt, and continue to whip on high speed until very fluffy, about 4-5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  •  Use a large spatula to gently fold the whipped cream mixture into the frosting.
  • To assemble the cake, arrange a cake board (edges lined with wax paper) on a rotating cake stand.  Place one of the frozen cake layers on the board and add a thick layer of frosting to the top only.  Do the same thing for the next two layers.  Once the layers are assembled you can frost your crumb coat and then place the cake in the refrigerator for an hour.

  • After an hour, remove the cake and finish icing.  You can try to get the icing as smooth as possible or leave it with a kind of wavy finish!  I used a Wilton #21 tip to pipe a shell border and evenly placed swirls on top.  Place a half of a mini Reese's cup in each swirl (freeze these for an hour before halving)!

The dinner party was a smashing success!!!  Guests brought wine (some was homemade!), fine cheeses and crackers, and tomato and mozz balsmaic skewers!!  It was a night full of friends, happiness, and good eats! I'll 'cheers' to that any night!