Originally developed specifically for the HERSHEY & HALLMARK CHANNEL BAKING CONTEST, this was my entry for a dessert made with Hershey products for a chance at a walk on role as a baker in a Hallmark Channel original movie!
There are some really delicious entries, and I didn’t want to do anything that seemed to already exist in the world, so this decadent layer cake was intended to catch their eye (and their taste buds!) (alas, it was not chosen, but it’s still really good!)
Blue Ribbon Winner: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Crunch Layer Cake
CHOCOLATE GANACHE (make last, just before assembly)
• 1/4 cup (50 g) heavy whipping cream
• 150 g semi-sweet chocolate chips
Make each element in the order, or you can make each element ahead and store them until ready to assemble:
—Milk Soak, Method—
In a small bowl, mix cocoa powder, and sugar.
Heat the milk until just before it boils and whisk the milk and hot cocoa mix together in a small container or bowl.
Let cool. Set aside.
When assembling the cake, use a pastry brush to brush the bottom and middle layer of cakes with a healthy dose of the cooled hot chocolate milk soak. You may not need to use this entire batch of soak, take care not to over-soak.
Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C). Line a quarter-sheet pan with parchment.
Combine the milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar, PB powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until well combined.
Add the 55 g melted butter into the mixer while paddling on low.
Continue paddling until you see crumbs start to form. Check the vortex and the bottom of the bowl for any lingering dry ingredients and fold them in with a spatula.
If you don’t see crumbs form, keep adding butter a spoonful (5-10 g ) at a time until the mixture begins to clump.
Pour the crumb out onto the sheet pan. Use your fingertips to spread the crumb out evenly. The largest crumbs should be no larger than a half-inch in diameter.
Bake for 20 minutes, then check to make sure they are browning no more than just slightly. Crumbs should contract just a bit to form individual boulder shapes when they’re done—if they haven’t yet, leave them in the oven for another minute or two.
Allow the crumb to cool completely.
CAREFULLY, slowly melt Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips with the heavy cream, and while still warm and melty, pour over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are coated, might be clumpy but keep trying to spread them evenly on the ¼ sheet and keep breaking them up until the melted Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips harden and the clusters are no longer sticky.
Stored in an airtight container, the crumb will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
—Pretzel Crunch, Method—
Preheat the oven to 275° F (135° C).
Place about 1.5 cups (80 grams) or pretzel sticks in a sealable plastic bag and crush or smash carefully until small bits.
Pour the crushed pretzels into a medium bowl and add the rest of your ingredients except the butter and toss to mix. Now add the melted butter and toss, slowly adding butter until the mixture forms small clusters.
Spread the clusters on a parchment- or baking mat-lined quarter sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, at which point they should look toasted, smell buttery, and crunch gently when chewed. (try not to over cook, they should not be too brown) Allow to cool completely.
—Sponge Cake, Method—
REHEAT oven to 350°. Line the bottom and spray lightly with baking spray with flour 2 half sheet pans; set aside.
COMBINE flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.
BEAT eggs, sugar and vanilla in large bowl, with electric mixer at high speed, for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in mayonnaise at low speed until blended. Alternately beat in flour mixture with water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour into prepared pans.
BAKE 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on wire racks; remove from pans and cool completely.
The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 5-7 minutes, until smooth and fluffy.
With the mixer at its lowest speed, stream in the milk. Beat the buttercream for 2-3 minutes on medium-high until it is silky smooth and glossy.
Use the frosting immediately.
—Peanut Butter Filling, Method—
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attached, cream the peanut butter, cream cheese, and light brown sugar, salt, and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy. (3 – 4 minutes)
Scoop all filling into a disposable piping bag, no tip, and cut the tip so there is a ¾ inch opening.
Set aside, keep at room temperature
Carefully heat heavy cream to a simmer.
Place chocolate chips in a small bowl, pour heated heavy whipping cream over chips.
Let sit until soft, stir until emulsified and smooth. Use immediately.
Cake Assembly (30 minutes + a minimum of 3 hours of freezer time)
Lay out all of the components of your cake.
Place your cooled sponge on the counter and, using a sharp paring knife, the back of a spoon, or a bench scraper, loosen the cake from the sides of the sheet pan.
Use 1 strip of 5-6″ tall acetate to line the inside of the cake ring. If your acetate strips are shorter than 5 inches, you can add a second one once your cake is built up high enough.
Clean the cake ring and place it on the 8-inch cardboard round, or any other cake board, platter, or parchment-lined pan.
Use your cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake, one from the upper right-hand corner and one from the lower left-hand corner (or lower right-hand and upper left-hand corners), which will form the top and middle layer of the cake. Make sure to plan out your circles to make sure you know exactly where to stamp before completing this step — you can mark them lightly on your sponge using your cake ring.
Place a piece of parchment or a baking mat on the counter and invert the cake onto it, giving the far edge of your overturned pan a sharp rap on the counter to release the cake. Peel off the parchment and discard it.
Use the ring to stamp out two half-circles from the remaining sponge, which will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
Place the two half circles of cake together inside the ring, spongey (not browned) side up, and fill the gap between them with additional pieces of cake scrap. Use the back of your fingers to press the scraps together into a flat, even layer.
Using a spoon or a pastry brush, splash or brush half the soak over the bottom layer of cake.
Pour and carefully spread half of the chocolate ganache over the first layer of hot chocolate milk-soaked cake.
Sprinkle half of the Pretzel Crunch over the Ganache
Sprinkle half of the Peanut Butter Crumble over the Pretzel Crunch and Ganache (You’ll want to save the bigger pieces of crumb for the top of the cake)
Pipe Chocolate frosting in a circle around the edge, touching the acetate, and then pipe in a circle in the middle, leaving a small channel between the outer and inner circle of frosting.
Pipe Peanut Butter Filling into the channel.
Use the back of a spoon to smooth the frosting and filling evenly as best as you can.
Add the second sponge layer and repeat the process of splashing or brushing the layer with the remaining soak, pouring or spreading it with the other half of the ganache, sprinkling the rest of the crunch and the crumb (still reserving the biggest ones for the top), and finishing with the same piping technique of frosting and filling. Nestle the remaining cake round onto the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. (if you have any peanut butter filling leftover, you can add this to the top as well)
Garnish the frosting with the remaining crumb in a circle.
Transfer the cake to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 3 hours (or overnight) to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the cake out of the freezer and slide off the cake ring. If you need to, use your fingers and thumbs to pop the cake out of the ring.
Gently peel off the acetate and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand, or whatever you want to serve it on.
Let it defrost for 2-3 hours.
When the cake is fully thawed, it’s ready to serve and eat!
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