MLK Day: Sour Cream Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

MLK Day is one of my favorite holidays: a day to reflect, commemorate, and consider a personal call to action.

I have written about our celebrations HERE and HERE and HERE.

We have a tradition of commemorating the holiday by talking about race relations, equality, our “dreams” and baking (and eating) a special dessert that encompasses shades of brown and white-  representing racial unity-integration.

So, on Race Relations:

This has been an intense year of race issues in America. Though we have come far since Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, sadly we have so far to go. This CNN piece about racial impressions is sobering (ignore the loud video, and scroll down to check out the graphs).

This year (2018) marks the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination, and there are many events and activities taking place as a result.  MLK50  is the site sponsored by the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis packed with content and inspiration, including a MLK50 Pledge: A call to Peace and Action. (Take a look at the site linked above.)

And on MLK Day dessert making:

This is the cake that I made last week for my friend, Melissa’s birthday.  She said peanut butter/chocolate was what she was craving.  I knew just the cake!  I have had the joy of eating this Sour Cream Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake with my friends Sharon and Lindsey when they each have served it for birthdays, but I had never attempted to make it.  It has 3 parts, but all are pretty straightforward and simple.  And I must say,  it is worth it.  The cake is super moist and the peanut butter cream cheese frosting is lovely.  Being topped with a chocolate-peanut butter ganache takes it up another notch!

So, we decided to make it again this weekend to honor Dr. King’s Day!

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Sour Cream-Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

From Smitten Kitchen,  which she writes was adapted, only barely, from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer super-rich, super-special cake

for the Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.


we used a scale to ensure that the layers were consistent- aproximately 30 oz. per layer

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. These cakes are very, very soft. They are far easier to work with after firming them up in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Making a crumb coat of frosting–a thin layer that binds the dark crumbs to the cake so they don’t show up in the final outer frosting layer–is a great idea for this cake, or any with a dark cake and lighter-colored frosting. Once you “mask” your cake, let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Once the cake is fully frosted, it helps to chill it again and let it firm up.

DSC_0937Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips)
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup, Karo
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. (You can also do this in a glass bowl placed in a microwave for 30 seconds….it can burn quickly so be cautious.)

Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips,

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this is the drip look- a little gloppier than we hoped for- for our MLK day cake

(or I (Julie) decided when it didn’t drip very prettily because it was too thick, to make an imperfect “band” of chocolate around the top ½ of the cake.) Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving.

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this is the band/spread look-that we did for Melissa’s bday cake


from the MLK50 site contributed by Andre Johnson: We call on ALL people to imagine a world without poverty, hunger and homelessness. Imagine a world where we reject racist ideologies and replace them with an all-inclusive spirit of love for ALL people. Imagine a world where we resolve disputes by peaceful conflict-resolution and true reconciliation. Imagine a world, where love and justice triumph.

But, it will take more than vision to bring peace. We must face the injustices of the past and acknowledge the injustices of the present no matter how painful. This means we must find a way to talk WITH each other instead of AT each other. It will take all of us searching deep within our own souls, taking what some call the “inward journey of self-reflection.”


3 thoughts on “MLK Day: Sour Cream Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

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