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I made a fantastic peanut butter cake this weekend for my friend’s birthday.  The recipe is one that my family has made for years from a xerox of a military family cookbook – it is credited to “Jean Spietsm, USMC Faculty/Staff.”  I tried out making frosting for the first time using Tracy Larsen’s Creamy Chocolate Frosting recipe; it had 4.5 stars after 733 reviews, so I figured it was worth a shot.

I’ve reproduced the recipe and some photos below, along with some hard-earned advice after about 3 hours of baking and my own tweaks to these recipes (in italics).

Jean Sprietsma’s “Peanut Butter Chip Cake”

  • 1 Betty Crock Supermoist yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 c. chopped peanuts (optional)
  • 1 (6 oz.) pkg. chocolate chops (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 13 X 9″ pan or 2 (8″) square pans.  (I heated mine to 325 because my oven burns everything, and I still burnt the top.)
  2. Beat cake mix (dry), brown sugar, and peanut butter in a large bowl on low speed until evenly crumbly.  Reserve 2/3 cup of this mixture.  (I wanted to make frosting to go with this, but I ended up putting this reserved peanut butter deliciousness on top of my frosting.  I also chopped up a bowl full of reese’s peanut butter cups to put both in the cake and on the cake.)
  3. Beat remaining mixture, water, oil, and eggs on low speed; scraping bowl edges often.  Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. (My husband did this step after I accidentally dropped a whole egg shell in the cake batter and had to painstakingly fish it out.  No harm done.)
  4.  Pour batter in pan.  Sprinkle crumbly mixture on top (also chopped peanuts), and chocolate chops.  (I added chopped up reese’s peanut butter cups, and I did not put the crumbly mixture or the peanuts on anything.  Keep those suckers in reserve.)
  5. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  (As I said, my oven cooks hot, so the top was burnt and the middle was squishy.   I used a knife to cut off the top of both round cakes and put them back in the oven to cook some more.  The crumbled cake tops are pictured below.)

Broken cake tops

After the cakes were in the oven for the second time, I started making the frosting.

Tracy Larsen’s Creamy Chocolate Frosting:

  • 2 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa, and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter until smooth, then gradually beat in sugar mixture alternately with evaporated milk. Blend in vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. If necessary, adjust consistency with more milk or sugar.

Chocolate frosting

I was really surprised by how thick the frosting ended up being.  Normally you don’t frost cakes when they’re hot because the frosting melts, but I actually did frost these hot since the frosting was so thick.  It was delicious, but it didn’t taste that different from store bought frosting to me, so I don’t think I would go to so much trouble again.
After preparing the frosting, I got the cakes out of the oven again.
Then I put the reserved peanut butter crumbly mix on a cookie sheet along with some chopped peanuts and roasted that in the oven until golden brown.
Peanut butter crumbly mix with peanuts

I frosted the bottom layer, and put crumbly mix and reese’s peanut butter cups across the top.  Then I added the next layer of the cake and sprinkled the crumbly mix  and reese’s peanut butter cups on top of that, and had a pretty respectable cake (and a lot of crumbs on the floor) at the end:

I learned several things in this process:

(1) Don’t sweep the floor until you’re completely finished.  Sweeping half way through is just kidding yourself – those crumblies go everywhere.

(2) When you think it might be fun to make your own frosting, just be thankful that Betty Crocker did it first.

(3) If you ask your husband to help you make cake and he is a contractor, he may tell you that hecould have made $500 by now and that this is now the world’s most expensive cake.

And last but not least,

(4) Don’t overfill the round cake pans.  It’s much easier to just have smaller cake than it is to painstakingly remove the burnt top and re-bake to get it cooked through.

 

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This weekend my husband’s family had a “pollada,” which is a chicken-fundraiser.  For instance, at one pollada I’ve been to they raised money for my husband’s uncle’s cancer treatments.  The family sell plates of food and drinks (lots of beer).  The point is to try to sell delicious food that doesn’t cost much, so chicken plus some combination of rice/potatoes/corn/salad is pretty typical.  The family that hosts the pollada deducts the costs of the food (although nothing for their time and effort) and then gives the rest of the money to the needy party.  This is one way that Peruvian communities operate without much of a formal welfare system in place.  While many of these families don’t qualify for government assistance, their relatives and friends take responsibility for helping them out when they are in a difficult situation.

I like to sleep in on the weekends, but on Saturday morning I woke up at 9 AM to go help my husband’s family prepare for the pollada.  They had actually done a lot of the prepation the day before.  When I arrived at their house, the salad was already made and the potatoes had been boiled.  The chicken had been marinating overnight and the salad dressing, red chili sauce, and green salsa de huacatai were already prepared.  When I arrived, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law (who is only seven) went outside to set up the fire for the chicken, the tables for the customers, and a tarp in the back yard since it looked like rain.  I stayed inside with my mother-in-law and peeled mountains of potatoes and washed dishes.  (Peruvians don’t generally eat potato skins – they cook potatoes with the skins on and peel them afterward.)

After peeling potatoes, it was time to carry the food outside.  When I got to the backyard, I saw a giant pot on top of several bricks.  Beneath the bricks there was firewood heating up the oil, marinade, and chicken.

My father-in-law watched the pot of chicken while I stayed at the table with the food and spent the next few hours dishing out plates and handing people beer and soda.

Periodically I had to holler at whatever group of children was playing soccer at the time to stay away from the fire.  Most of their parents seemed unconcerned, but I was nervous by how many times the soccer ball ended up right next to the fire.  Some of the kids spoke English, and some of them only spoke Spanish.  I noticed that when something startles me (like a small child stumbling precariously near an open flame) that I automatically holler in English, then have to pause and remember to speak in Spanish.  Emergencies make it really obvious what your native language is.

My in-laws put on music and a steady stream of people trickled in, ate, and then left all day.  Around 5 PM I went to the English mass for palm Sunday vigil, came back, and found the party still in full swing.  We ended up leaving around 10 PM (which was early) and I was pretty wiped out after 12 hours, but when I spoke to my husband’s family today, they said people were there until 4 AM.  That’s a party!  I don’t know exactly how much money they raised, but I would guess around $800 or $1000 after deducting the expenses of the chicken and beer.

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