Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cooking School: Peanut Butter Tasty Kakes

Tasty Kakes are snack cakes that are originally from (and hugely popular in) the Philadelphia area. Since a lot of my family lives out there, I regularly got to taste these delicious cakes when I was growing up, despite the fact that they weren't sold out in California. More recently, I have seen a kind or two in the market, but they are still largely unavailable elsewhere in the country.
If you ask a Tasty Kake lover, they will tell you that they are the best snack cakes on the market. Now, I am no snack cake connoisseur, but they are certainly very tasty. The company makes a huge range of products and has a lot of extraneous "k"s in their spelling, which adds to their charm. When I'm back east, I like to go for the seasonal products, just to keep things interesting, but the gold standard of Tasty Kakes is the Peanut Butter Kandy Kake.
The Peanut Butter Kandy Kake (which used to be called "tandy takes" for reasons unknown) is a vanilla sponge-type cake with a thin layer of peanut butter and another of chocolate on top. The packaged Kakes are circular and are enrobed in chocolate. When I found a recipe on Epicurious for a version of these cakes, I knew that I had to try them, even though it can be difficult (and sometimes disappointing) to compare anything to a favorite food or product, since it is hard to match flavors exactly.
This recipe, however, was spot on - and maybe even a bit better than the original, because I liked the increased cake-to-topping ratio of this version.
The cake base is a vanilla-flavored sponge cake that is enriched with a little bit of butter. The peanut butter layer is simply peanut butter (not a "natural" kind, which will separate and turn greasy when put onto a hot cake) spread onto the hot cake and cooled. The chocolate is creamy milk chocolate. The whole thing is prepared in the pan and the only "trick" to remember is to make cut marks in the chocolate layer before it sets up completely, which will allow you to easily slice through the cake without cracking the chocolate when you are ready to serve it.
To keep the topping firm and give it a bit of "snap" when you bite into it, the cake must be stored in the refrigerator. Make sure to keep it well-covered so it does not get stale. You can also slice up the bars and individually wrap them, keeping them in the fridge or freezer for later use - just like the real, individually packaged Kandy Kakes!

Peanut Butter Tasty Kakes
(from Gourmet magazine)
For cake
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk (low fat is fine)
2 tbsp butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

For topping
1 1/3-1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (do not use a "natural" kind)
1 pound milk chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 17x11 1/2x1-in. jelly-roll pan, knocking out excess flour.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together eggs and sugar until thick and pale, 3-5 minutes. Beat in vanilla.
While that is beating (or before, if you're not using a stand mixer), heat milk and butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave until the butter has just melted and the milk is steaming, but not boiling. Set aside.
Sift flour and baking powder into the beaten egg mixture and beat until just combined. With the mixer running, slowly stream in the milk/butter mixture until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading it out evenly, and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350F. Cake is done when a tester comes out clean and the top is golden and springs back when touched lightly.

Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then place small dollops of peanut butter on the surface of the cake. Use an off-set spatula to spread the peanut butter into an even layer, covering the entire cake.
Let cool completely, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours to make sure the peanut butter is set.

When chilled, melt the chocolate in a double boiler (bowl over a pan of simmering water), stirring constantly. Once it is smooth, pour it over the chilled cake and spread it evenly with an offset spatula.
Using a knife, cut the cake into 30 bars. It is not necessary to cut all the way through the cake, just into the chocolate/pb layers. Make sure the cuts are clear, so wipe your knife in between each. This will make it easy to divide up the bars when the chocolate has set.
Return cake to fridge and chill until chocolate is firm (or overnight).

Makes 30 bars.