I made a four layer cake this past week. Four layers! What does four layers mean? Nothing, except there’s more frosting. :) And to me, frosting is the best part of the cake. This cake is a vanilla butter cake and has layers of peanut butter buttercream, all encased in chocolate buttercream. It’s kind-of like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake. Anyway, my inspiration came from this cake, by Fine Cooking. Great magazine, by the way.
Before you begin on the cake, you need to do a little prep work. Some people swear that just using cooking spray or buttering and flouring a pan will easily get your cake out, but I disagree. I swear by parchment paper (or wax paper, if you don’t have parchment paper). You need a template to do this, and your template will be your cake pan. I used a 9″ cake pan–two actually. Place your pan on top of the parchment paper and outline it with a pen.
Spray the bottom and sides of your pan with cooking spray and then lay your parchment paper on top, pressing it down to “adhere” to the pan.
Now, when your cake comes out, you won’t lose any of the bottom. Use whatever cake (or from scratch) mix you like. Place the batter in both pans–try to make it as even as possible. You want four even layers when you are done.
Bake the cakes. Once the alloted time has been reached, take them out of the oven and place on a cooling rack. Run your knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake from the sides. After about 30 minutes, take them out of the pan completely. Just make sure you discard the parchment paper (it will be stuck to your cake). No one likes to eat paper. Well, no adults like to eat paper.
The easiest way to cut each of these cakes is to put them in the fridge for a little while. Wrap them in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to overnight. (If you do leave them overnight, just make sure they are well wrapped! Otherwise they will get very dry.) To cut them in half, horizontally, you can use a bread knife, but that scares me too much, so I bought a little device at the craft store to cut my cakes. That way they are even all the way across. (You can see the little device in the corner of the picture. I put the bottom cake on the patter I was going to use to serve. It comes from my grandmother and it is very retro. I just love it! Although I am sure it wasn’t retro when she bought it, it was just in style.)
Before you divide the cakes in half, make sure that you even out the top of the cake. You don’t want a dome anywhere on the cake. When you slice the cake in half, grab a flat cookie sheet and slide it under the top part of the cake. This helps in making sure the top part doesn’t break. It also helps in sliding the layer back onto the cake once you have the buttercream filling in place. This is a top and bottom of one of the two cakes. The cookie sheet is really thin with a small lip on one side.
Before you start to fill your cake, there are two important steps you need to do first. First, tuck bits of parchment or wax paper under the cake, creating a barrier between the cake plate and the cake. This will make it really easy to keep the frosting from getting all over the cake plate, which I promise you happens. The second thing you need to do is to create a simple syrup. This syrup allows your cake to stay moist instead of being slightly dry. (This is especially true with cakes made from scratch). Just add equal parts granulated sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then turn it off, letting it cool to room temperature. Make sure you stir it a couple of times before and after it boils. Pour the syrup into a squeeze bottle and squirt onto the cake. Don’t squirt too much on the cake. Remember, you want it moist, not wet. You will need to do this for the first three layers (you don’t need to for the top layer).
Make the peanut butter buttercream layer and then drop a big ‘ole glob in the middle of the cake. It is easier to take off some frosting if you have too much than it is to add more. Adding a little more just seems to create more crumbs into the buttercream. Do this for all the layers.
You see how my cake leans just a bit? Well, you can’t fix it once it does that. So, my advise to you is make sure you have enough buttercream on all sides of the cake. (This isn’t a huge deal, by the way. It’s very hard to get a perfect-looking cake.) Next, take an offset spatula and run it around your cake, taking off any extra buttercream that has oozed out. Once you finish this, you are going to create a crumb coat (or dirty icing, as some call it). Frost the top and sides with a thin coat of buttercream, and the let it sit out for a bit, or put in the fridge to help speed up the process. You want to encase the crumbs, so they don’t appear on the outer part of the cake. To know if the crumb coat is done, you will see (and you can feel) the frosting crust over a bit. It will be hard to the touch.
Then you can take the rest of the frosting and frost the cake. Just make sure to take the parchment or wax paper out before presenting it to your guests (or yourself!).
Talk about yum! And, with four layers, you can really wow your company. Make them think you spent all afternoon creating a beautiful cake just for them. They will be really impressed with you. They might even think you’re the best host ever. Just don’t tell them how easy it is.
Four Layer Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
Vanilla Butter Cake
by finecooking magazine
2 3/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole or low-fat milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat two 9×2-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are well combined (about two or so minutes).
Add the softened butter pieces and mix on low speed for 20-30 seconds to mix the butter into the dry ingredients–the mixture should look a little lumpy, with the largest lumps being about the size of a hazelnut. Add the milk and vanilla extract. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute to thoroughly blend the ingredients and aerate the batter. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on medium speed for about 15 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl after the second egg.
Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans. use a small offset spatula or spoon to spread the batter evenly in each pan. Bake until the cakes are golden brown and the tops feel firm but spring back a little when tapped lightly with a finger, and a pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Set the pans on a rack, run a table knife around the edge of each cake and let cool in the pans for 30 minutes. Invert eh cakes onto the rack, lift the pans, peel off the parchment, and let the cakes cool completely.
Peanut Butter Buttercream
adapted from Paula Deen
1/3 cup solid vegetable shorting (like Crisco)
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1/2 cup milk (DO NOT USE NON-FAT)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Cream shortening and butter in an electric mixer. Add peanut butter and vanilla. Add half of the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Add the milk and then the remaining powdered sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Depending on how thick or thin it is, you can add powdered sugar or milk as needed. (Milk=to thin the frosting; powdered sugar=to thicken the frosting.)
Milk Chocolate Buttercream
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
Cream butter until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer on low and add the chocolate, just until combined. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until it is just combined and there are no streaks of powdered sugar.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Place both water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir a couple of times. Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove the saucepan from the burner. Bring it back down to room temperature. Pour into a squeeze bottle before spreading over cake.