Too many things in our hype-infested world seem to overpromise yet underwhelm. Superlatives are attached to every service, product and event. However, we’re happy to report that, should you be lucky enough to experience a total eclipse of the sun, it is one of the few things actually deserving of the word “awesome.” And while we will say this chocolate cake is quite good, it in no way matches an eclipse—but it did help make the experience even more exceptional.
People around us had been talking about the “path of totality” for years. As the date approached, we realized we had no excuse not to visit Michelle’s family in Western Kentucky, just down the road from the “Point of Greatest Eclipse.” This was especially so after Michelle’s mother emailed an appeal for things to feed the folks she’d invited over, as the local groceries were being stripped in anticipation of record crowds.
As Gourmandistan, we couldn’t resist the call. We threw together a Bolognese lasagna and stopped at our favorite local charcutier for some assorted cured meats, cheeses and other appetizers. We also discussed what sort of dessert would befit a total eclipse. After rejecting several of Steve’s ideas (most involving impractical rings of fire around the edges), Michelle combined ideas from several recipes and came up with this chocolate, peanut, meringue and more confection. After icing, freezing and carefully loading the cake, we headed for “The Best Town on Earth” the day before the eclipse was due.
As it turned out, the Madisonville hordes were a bit overestimated, with few if any “strangers” seen. The antipasti and lasagna were much appreciated, as was was the cake—though an unfortunate omission of some of the sugar plus the substitution of puffed rice for Rice Krispies made the inner meringue layer look very unattractive. (Steve said it reminded him of what raccoons leave after eating a big meal of chicken feed. He’s always descriptive like that.)
We couldn’t have had a lovelier spot to view the totality, on a patio adjacent to a quick air-conditioned walk back to the kitchen. While it only lasted for a couple of minutes, the total eclipse was truly spectacular. Seeing the stars come out at midday while being able to stare directly at the sun’s corona was surreal, and made us see why some people travel the world to experience it again and again.
After returning home, Michelle remade the cake, this time using Rice Krispies as recommended and adding the required confectioners’ sugar. We’re still enjoying big slabs of it, relishing the combination of chocolate and peanut butter while being amazed how the Krispies give the middle a delightful bit of extra crunch (and don’t look like raccoon poop). It’s nowhere near as awesome as a total eclipse. But until the next one comes nearby in 2024, it will do.
CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350° F with rack in the center. Butter two 8 x 3” round cake pans. Line with waxed or parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed with paddle attachment until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients. Then, with the mixer still at low speed, add the coffee and stir just to combine. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about 40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Once cooled, slice each layer in half using a serrated knife. MERINGUE FILLING: Reduce oven temperature to 325° F. Trace two 8” circles onto a sheet of parchment paper and put it on a large baking sheet. In a food processor, pulse the almonds with the confectioners’ sugar until the nuts are finely ground. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 2 minutes. Then, fold in the almond mixture with a rubber spatula. Spread the meringue on the parchment to fill the two circles. Sprinkle chopped peanuts on top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and firm. Let cool. While meringue is cooling, carefully heat the peanut butter, butter and milk chocolate in a pan, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and melted. Remove from the heat and fold in the Rice Krispies. Spread the mixture all over the meringue circles. Transfer to the freezer and let cool completely. CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM: Carefully melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Beat the butter on medium speed with a stand mixture and paddle attachment until smooth and creamy. Add milk and vanilla, mixing until blended. Then add cooled chocolate and mix until completely incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula from time to time. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add confectioners’ sugar until the sugar is incorporated and continue beating until the icing is of a spreadable consistency. ASSEMBLY: Place one cake layer on a plate. Add a thin layer of buttercream. Top with a frozen meringue circle, then add a little more buttercream. Top with second cake layer. Top with a thicker layer of buttercream, then repeat the process. Ice top and sides of cake. Sprinkle some additional chopped, salted peanuts on top if desired. Keep cake refrigerated, but bring slices to room temperature before serving.
CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH PEANUT MERINGUE FILLING
In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla.
Reduce oven temperature to 325° F.
Trace two 8” circles onto a sheet of parchment paper and put it on a large baking sheet.
Spread the meringue on the parchment to fill the two circles. Sprinkle chopped peanuts on top.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and firm. Let cool.
Keep cake refrigerated, but bring slices to room temperature before serving.