Peanut Butter (or Almond Butter) & Jelly Layer Cake by Chelsea Zwieg

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I have been hating on peanut butter for more years than I can remember. It's sticky, it's gross, a girl in my third grade class always had peanut butter stuck in her hair after lunch and all I knew was I wanted no part in that. So I've pretty much avoided it except in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Puppy Chow and I don't really think I've been missing all that much. But, I do eat almond butter on the daily and I could go on for days about how wonderful it is. But Chelsea, almond butter is also sticky. It might also get stuck in someone's hair after lunch. Well, these are risks I am willing to take for the beauty that is toasted almondy goodness all up in everything I eat. 

So when I had the idea to make a peanut butter and jelly cake it naturally turned into almond butter and jelly cake. But if you, like everyone else in the world, are pro-peanut butter, you can by all means go full PB&J for this cake. The cake layers are a super tender white buttermilk cake that gets stacked with layers of jam and peanut butter swiss meringue buttercream, for the most cake-ified sugar filled version of everyone's favorite sandwich. 

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Peanut Butter (or Almond Butter) and Jelly Cake

Makes a 4 layer 6" cake

| Ingredients

For the cake: 

  • 2 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla 

For the frosting: 

  • 2/3 cup egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (or almond butter) 
  • 1/2 cup strawberry jam, divided

| Instructions | 

Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottom of four 6" cake pans with parchment paper. Spray the paper and sides of the pan with non-stick spray. 

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cut the butter into small tbsp. size chunks and add to the bowl. Mix on low until the butter is cut into the dry ingredients and the mixture is sandy and cornmeal like. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg whites and vanilla. Add half of the wet ingredients to the dry and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl well, add the remaining wet mixture and beat for another two minutes. Divide batter between prepared cake pans. Bake 25-30 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack to finish cooling. 

For the frosting, combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl of a pot of simmering water and cook, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches 160 degrees. Return the bowl to the stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, and whip the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form and the meringue is room temperature. Swap the whisk for the paddle attachment and let the mixer run on low. Add the butter, a few tbsp. at a time, allowing each addition to incorporate for a little bit before adding more. Once all of the butter has been added, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream comes together and is silky smooth. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low to beat out any air bubbles. 

Remove half of the frosting to a separate bowl and fold in 1/4 cup strawberry jam. Add 1/4 cup peanut butter to the buttercream still in the mixer and beat until incorporated.

Once the cake layers have cooled, trim and level each layer. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup raspberry jam on top of the cake layers. I found it easiest to warm the jam up in the microwave for about 30 seconds to that it spread really easily and soaked into the layers more like a syrup. Fill and stack the cake with the peanut butter buttercream. Crumb coat the outside of the cake with the strawberry buttercream and chill until firm. Decorate the outside of the cake with the remaining buttercream however you choose. A good tutorial for doing petal cakes can be found here. Store cake at room temperature. 

 

Cookie Dough Macarons by Chelsea Zwieg

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Ahhhh, macarons. I've been eating macarons like a champion for years. The problem is, I have been making macarons like a champion for exactly zero days of those years. Until recently! In a baking obsession/will-not-be-defeated-by-a-cookie-recipe/can-and-will-latch-onto-anything-trendy-in-the-baking-world moment I decided that I was going to master making macarons. Guys, this was months ago. It's taken me that long. This was no casual obsession. This was a bags and bags of almond flour and powdered sugar, cartons of eggs stacking up in my fridge and batch after batch of failed macarons kind of obsession. And it was so 100% worth it. 

I'm going to do a longer post in the future with erryyyythang I learned about the world's most finicky cookie but for now I will just say the most important thing I learned -- the Swiss meringue method is my favorite every. time. Yes, it's not the most authentic and blah blah blah. But there's nothing authentic about a Wisconsin girl cranking out french macarons with Costco almond flour anyways so I'm giving deuces to authenticity in exchange for macarons that have yet to fail me. If you're not familiar with the different methods, French Macarons are made with (preferably aged) uncooked egg whites and sugar. They're traditional but also suuuuuper temperamental. The Italian meringue method uses a hot sugar syrup that is poured into the egg whites as they whip, which makes a more stable meringue and ultimately a more stable cookie. Swiss meringue goes for the same stable meringue concept but by cooking the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler before whipping them. It's pretty much indistinguishable from the Italian method but you don't have to deal with pouring hot sugar syrup into your mixer. Having a stable meringue will give you much less trouble later when it gets folded into the dry ingredients, which is the key key key step that determines if your shells will be too flat, cracked, tall, slanted, chewy, dry....all those things that have ended up in my garbage over the past few months. 

Now that I have my recipe down, I have been making all of the macaron flavors. Like raspberry and cinnamon toast crunch and apple cinnamon but most importantly of all, chocolate chip cookie dough! 

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Cookie Dough Macarons

| Ingredients | 

For the shells:

  • 100 grams almond flour
  • 100 grams powdered sugar
  • 10 grams black cocoa powder (you can also use regular cocoa powder, they just won't be as dark) 
  • 100 grams egg whites
  • 100 grams granulated sugar 

For the filling: 

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp. milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp.  finely chopped chocolate chips 

| Instructions | 

Line 2 baking sheets with non-stick baking mats and set aside. 

Sift the flour, powdered sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl, set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the egg whites and granulated sugar. Place the mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is melted and the mixture is warm to the touch. Return the bowl to your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Turn the mixer to high and whisk the egg mixture until it forms stiff peaks. 

Sift the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl on top of the egg whites. Don't skip this double sifting step, it's super important! Turn the mixer to medium and mix for about 10 seconds, until the dry ingredients are just incorporated. At this point, take a spatula and scrape down any unincorporated meringue from the sides of the bowl. Also run the spatula around the bottom once to get any bits that didn't get mixed in. You don't want to just let the mixer run until this stuff is mixed in or the batter will be overmixed. Drop the whisk back down into the batter and lift it up, if the batter runs down in a steady stream, it is ready. If it breaks as it runs down, continue to mix for a few seconds at a time just until it no longer breaks. 

Scoop the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a wide round tip. Pipe evenly sized rounds (the size is totally up to you, mine are usually about 1 1/2- 2 inches in diameter) onto the prepared baking sheets. Bang the baking sheets on the counter several times to release any air bubbles. Let the macarons sit out until the tops are dry and a skin has formed. You will know they are ready when you touch one with your finger and you can pull it away clean. If batter sticks to your finger and it creates a peak in the macaron, they need to sit longer. This can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes depending on the weather, the heat of your kitchen, humidity etc. 

Once the macarons have dried, preheat oven to 300 and place a rack in the center. Bake the macarons one tray at a time for 15-20 minutes. A good test for if the macarons are done is to gently tap the top of a shell with your finger. If it sound hollow and the macarons does not jiggle back on forth on the feet that it has formed. they are ready to go. Remove from the oven and immediately remove the baking mat from the pan. Let the macarons cool completely before removing them from the mat. 

For the filling, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour and mix to combine. Add the milk, a few splashes at a time until the dough thins to a frosting like consistency. Mix in the chopped chocolate. Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a round tip. Pipe the cookie dough onto half of the macarons and sandwich together with the remaining shells. Store at room temperature.