Favorite Five Ingredients for a Birthday Dinner (psst: a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cake recipe is here!)

by Jen Wanous

Pick your favorite five ingredients.  I know, it’s like choosing between children.  Don’t worry, the artichoke won’t be offended if you don’t pick him and garlic is always a given.  To make things even more interesting, your “ingredient” can be a dish too, like: “my grandmother’s ricotta and spinach stuffed ravioli”.  Is the cream rising to the top?  I’m sure there are some standouts.

Now, imagine a creatively constructed three-course meal of all five of your favorites integrated in a unique way.  This meal was the gift I gave to my girlfriend, Annie, on her birthday.  Anyone that knows her knows that she has a particular pallet.  She has a strong aversion to anything small and round or explosive/oozy.  Peas, uncut cherry tomatoes and over easy eggs would not make her top five.  What did make her top five were tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, shrimp and chocolate.

These five were pretty easy to work with.  I took care of the first three right off the bat with a crostini.  On a sliced French baguette, I had the season’s first heirloom tomatoes, fresh water soaked mozzarella, Thai basil sprigs and a generous drizzle of a balsamic reduction.  I knew that steak should have made her list, but shrimp had the trump card of cocktail sauce.  For the entrée, I decided to bring on the surf n’ turf with a grilled skewer of lemongrass-jalapeño marinated steak AND shrimp.  Since we are in the middle of a New York summer, I kept things cool.  The grilled protein was propped on a dressed salad of quinoa and micro greens, topped with pickled red onions.

Dessert was the real winner, where the fave ingredient of chocolate took center stage.  I went all out and made a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cake.  The kind you dream about as a kid being that it is the impossibly perfect combo of creamy, cold and cake.  And chocolate, of course!  And peanut butter!? YES!  It’s one of those amazing moments when I realized that I am a grown up and I am completely in charge of my destiny.  I can create anything I want, even a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cake for my girlfriend.

I tried to get Annie to agree to a vegan version so I could eat freely too, (me being my lactard self), but she insisted it wouldn’t be the same with soy.  For the birthday girl, I bit the lactose bullet and used full-on heavy cream to make the peanut butter ice cream.  The ice cream was sandwiched between two moist espresso-laced chocolate cake layers.  Just to take things completely over the top, I covered the entire cake in a triple thick layer of chocolate fudge ganache and topped it with crunchy Reese’s Pieces. My roommate supplied full strips of Lactaid for the other lactards in the room.  (Thanks, I’ll take two…ahh…make that three.)  I was proud of the giant chocolate gift I gave her.  The smile on her face, with the birthday candles lighting her beautiful blue eyes, made the dinner so very worthwhile.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake

Chocolate Cake

What you’ll need:  two 9-inch cake pans and a mixer.

2 cups cake flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ¾ sugar

½ cup butter, softened

1/3 cup coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup milk

½ cup hot water + 1 heaping tablespoon instant espresso crystals (or ½ cup espresso)

4 large eggs

1.  Preheat oven to 350, butter and flour cake pans.  Through a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder and sugar.

2.  Add the butter and with a mixer, beat on low for one minute.  Add the oil and keep mixing for 30 more seconds.

3.  In a small bowl, combine the vanilla, milk and espresso.  Add this mixture to the large bowl and mix for one more minute on low.

4.  Add the eggs one at a time beating on medium-high speed between each egg.  Batter will be thin.

5.  Split the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a rack.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

This makes a rich and peanutbutter-y ice cream that yields about 2 quarts.  Oh and, you need an ice cream maker for this, obvi.

1 ¾ cups whole milk

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

1 ½ cups creamy peanut butter

¾ cup sugar

1tablespoon vanilla extract

1.  In a saucepan whisk together all ingredients except the vanilla.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly until smooth and thick.  About one minute after you see little bubbles on the surface.

2.  Cool to room temperature. Stir in the vanilla.  Freeze in your ice cream maker, per instructions.

Chocolate Ganache

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

¾ cup heavy cream

1.  Create a double broiler using a medium saucepan and a large metal bowl.  Fill the saucepan half full with water, bring to a simmer.  Combine the chocolate and cream in the bowl and place on top of the simmering water.

2.  Be careful not to let the bowl touch the water.  Wisk continuously, just until the chips melt.  Remove the bowl from the saucepan.

The method to the madness: 

You’ll need a 9-inch spring form pan.

  1. Clear out a space in your freezer for the cake.
  2. Make the cake first.  Let it cool completely.
  3. Make the ice cream mixture, let it cool.
  4. Torte the cakes by cutting off the rounded top to make it flat.
  5. Put the ice cream mixture in the machine.
  6. Place one layer of the cake in the bottom of the spring form pan.  Cover with the ice cream (now gelato textured).  Use a spatula to pat it down evenly.  Place the top cake layer on top of the ice cream.
  7. Place in freezer to set, at least 8 hours.
  8. Make the Ganache.  Pour generously on top of the cake, making voluptuous ripples.
  9. Place back in freezer to set, at least 30 minutes.
  10.  Line plate with Resee’s Pieces.  Your ice cream cake is ready to be served!

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