Back in 2006, Anthony Worrall Thompson‘s ‘Snickers Pie‘ was labelled ‘one of the unhealthiest recipes ever published’ by the Food Commission. At a whopping 1,250 calories per serving and with no less than five super sweet chocolate bars chopped into it, this puff pastry crusted creation was cited as an example of chefs’ irresponsibility with regards to calorie control and our increasingly unhealthy attitude to what constitutes home baking.
Fellow food blogger Jamie Schler recently wrote this interesting piece for the Huffington Post bemoaning the wave of boxed brownie mix, chopped up chocolate bars and cans of frosting masquerading on blogs around the world as home baked treats. While I’m not averse to the odd Oreo crumbled into a blondie or topping a cupcake with fizzy cola bottles, I absolutely agree with her that baking should be about creating things from scratch. It may not make them calorie-free, but using real butter, free range eggs, seasonal fresh fruit and natural colourings in all my recipes is important to me and feels a world away from the oleaginous Worrall-Thompson’s sickly sweet idea of dessert.
While a Snickers Pie is not something I intend to try recreating any time soon, I do like the idea of chocolate bar inspired desserts. Pastry chef Emily Luchetti claims that some of her best creations being are on sweets and chocolate bars, adapting tried and tested flavour combinations to create some infinitely more exciting, and this blog is testament to the pleasure I find in trying to recreate flavours and textures found in favourite childhood treats. Where I find a lot of actual chocolate bars too sickly and sweet (not to mention being rammed full of colouring and preservatives), the combinations of ingredients can be second to none: peanut butter and chocolate Reeses Cups, the coconut bound in dark chocolate of a Bounty, the light, bright green bubbles of a minty Aero or the classic combination of peanuts, caramel and chocolate found in a Snickers.
Snickers-inspired recipes have featured on this blog twice before – once as a salty sweet macaron: packed with dark cocoa powder and sandwiched together with dulce de leche – and once as an ice cream bar: sweet smooth peanut butter ice cream layered with nuts and caramel beneath a shiny chocolate coating. Neither contains the bar itself, but is a play on the flavours, a way of bringing a new angle to a recognisable set of flavours and getting us excited about them again. Not simply melting them through cream cheese, spreading it into a pre-bought puff pastry case and calling that dessert (sorry Anthony, your pie sounds revolting, I’m not going to hold back).
This recipe is another attempt at recreating the flavours found in a Snickers, this time in cake form. I’d promised to bring something for dessert to a dinner party on Saturday, and with the horrendous weather we had this weekend it felt like the perfect excuse to bake a layer cake. I’ve had my eye on a hazelnut cake containing caramel from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet for a while now and decided the time had come to give it a try. Unable to leave any recipe alone, I substituted peanuts for the ground hazelnuts, increased the amount of icing and layered it with my favourite dark chocolate sponge.
The result is a cake to feed the hungry hoards. A thin slice will more than suffice as it’s a whopping four tiers tall, each layer sandwiched together with sticky caramel buttercream and scattered with crunchy roasted peanuts. If I had one complaint I’d say that the peanut sponge was perhaps a little dry, although I’m inclined to think this was a fault of my baking as Dan’s recipes are normally so spot on. It may also have been in contrast to the chocolate layer which was rich and moist and everything a chocolate cake should be, but if you’re worried about it simply pour a little cake syrup over the sponge before stacking. I also had a few issues with the chocolate glaze I’d intended to use to cover this cake which I’ve noted below, and goes some way to explain the slightly strange decoration in photo number two (I think the peanuts look a bit like teeth in a skull – great for Halloween, not so good for an April dinner party).
I’m not going to pretend that this cake is healthy. Or setting the standard for how we should bake at home. But it is made with good ingredients, real techniques and a whole lot of love (ok, and butter, and sugar . . .). If you make one chocolate bar-inspired recipe today, I think this should be it. Don’t even think about that Snickers Pie . . .
Chocolate, Caramel & Peanut ‘Snickers’ Layer Cake
(makes one 18cm round, four tier cake)
For the peanut cake (adapted from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard)
175g unsalted butter, softened
100g light soft brown sugar
200g dulce de leche or caramel
2 medium free range eggs, beaten
100g peanuts, toasted & finely ground
175g plain flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
For the chocolate cake
200g unsalted butter, softened
85g cocoa powder
140g self-raising flour
200g golden caster sugar
4 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp milk
For the buttercream
150g unsalted butter, softened
200g dulce de leche or caramel
300g icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Chopped roasted peanuts & grated chocolate to decorate
For the peanut cake
Grease then line two 18cm round spring form cake tins with a disc of baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Beat the butter, sugar and caramel together until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and continue to beat until smooth (it may look slightly curdled at this stage, if so, don’t worry). Beat in the ground peanuts then stir in the flour, cocoa and baking powder.
Divide the mixture between your two prepared tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake as this will make it dry. Leave the oven on but remove the cakes and allow to cool in the tins before transferring to a wire rack.
For the chocolate cake
Grease and line your two 18cm cake tins as above, making sure they are completely cool before doing so.
Put all the ingredients in a large, clean bowl and whisk with a hand-held electric whisk for 8-10 mins until light and airy.
Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake 20-25 mins or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the tins before transferring to your wire rack to cool completely.
For the buttercream
Beat together the butter and caramel until smooth, then beat in the sugar and vanilla until thick and creamy.
To assemble the cake
Trim any burnt or coloured edges from your cakes then smear a little buttercream over the surface of your cake card, stand or serving plate. Place one peanut cake (trimmed side down) on the surface then spread a layer of buttercream evenly across the top. Place a chocolate cake on top, then repeat the process with the remaining layers. Spread a thin coating of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake then pop in the fridge for this ‘crumb coat’ to set.
Once set, spread the remaining buttercream over the cake in an even layer.
I wanted to spoon a chocolate glaze over the top of my cake, as per this incredible recipe, however as you can see from the pictures I made mine far too thick and ended up having to spread it. Because of this I’ve not included the recipe, but do feel free to freestyle some sort of chocolatiness of your own – adding chocolate is never going to be a bad thing in my book.
Serve in tall, thin slices. Preferably with a slick of cream, a scoop of ice cream or a big, cold glass of milk.