I like making things special.
Special, luckily, does not preclude “goofy” and “at a level of maturity generally considered to be below my age,” which is why, the day after Thanksgiving (I know, I have a bit of a backlog), I spent a few hours in my kitchen carving a chocolate cake (with peanut butter frosting; let that not be overlooked) into the shape of a fire truck. For a boy who was turning 27.
Sure, 27 is a bit out of the typical age range for obsession with emergency vehicles, but I believe in honoring excellence when it occurs, and this particular boy (aside from being quite the mensch, as a lovely Jewish grandmother I recently met would have said) happens to excel at fire trucks. “But Alli,” you ask, “how does one – as you so clumsily put it – ‘excel at fire trucks?'”
Well, friends, I ask you this. Can you, upon hearing a siren outside, determine whether it is a police, ambulance, or fire engine siren? Are you familiar with the emergency codes transmitted among these vehicles, and do you eavesdrop regularly on said transmissions? Have you, at any point after hearing sirens in your neighborhood, gone on a walk to “find the fire trucks?”
Didn’t think so. And that, my friends, is why you did not receive a delicious (if a bit amateurish, aesthetically) chocolate peanut butter cake in the shape of a fire truck for your birthday. It must be noted that, after having taken a few shots of a beverage more age-appropriate than this cake (but equally as much fun), the birthday boy made all partygoers smell said cake because “it smells EXACTLY like a giant peanut butter cup!”
All teasing aside, this one was a pleasure to make, especially for someone who makes me as happy on a daily basis as the recipient. I’ve tried to cobble together instructions as best I can below, but you’ll have to whip out your own creativity for a good deal of the process. Don’t worry; when you start making cakes modeled after emergency vehicles, they will be well-received regardless of their aesthetic clumsiness. Trust me – I speak from experience.
Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Adapted from the inimitable Deb
Alli’s note: I scaled this recipe up to 1 ½ times the original and baked in two 13×9” pans.
Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 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 grease the paper.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. [*Alli’s note: I’m a horrible person and omitted this step.] 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.
3. 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. [*Alli’s note: Seriously, cool completely. You might stick these in the freezer for a half hour or so, just to be on the safe side.]
4. 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. [*Alli’s note: I recommend a crumb coat. Frost your cake thinly with a layer of frosting, then stick it in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour to firm up. This will make sure all the pesky little crumbs remain sealed in that layer and aren’t visible on the finished cake.]
Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups [*Alli’s note: I believe I scaled this up to 1 ½ as well.]
10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (not the natural kind – you’re looking for one where the oil doesn’t separate)
1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered 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.
2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.
To make a fire truck cake:
- Place first layer on the serving platter or cake board. Spread a layer of frosting on the cake; top with second layer.
- Cut a roughly 2-inch section across the width of the top layer, starting about 2 ½ inches back from what will be the front of your fire truck. Reserve for another use (or just eat it). Frost the cut area and top of the back (longer) section with plain peanut butter frosting, using the crumb coat technique. Reserve a cup or so of frosting, just in case.
- Beat remaining frosting with 2 bottles of red food coloring, adding a few drops of yellow or blue if necessary to adjust the color. Frost the rest of the cake in red, again using the crumb coat technique.
- This is where you get to get creative. I cheated and bought black frosting because it was late and I couldn’t be bothered to make my own black frosting, but use black and white piped accents to make wheels, a ladder, the engine number (I chose 27, for reasons outlined in the above post), windows, etc. I used gummy bears for the lights, which for some reason was really exciting for me. If you’d like, you can go all out with edible silver candies, etc.