My very favorite desserts are a combination of sweet and salty. Throwing chocolate in the mix? That's just perfection. This cake is a combination of tender chocolate cake, creamy peanut butter frosting and crunchy pretzel bits. Big bites of chocolate meet little flecks of salt. There’s really nothing more I need from life.

Makes one 3-layer, 9-inch cake


For the cake:
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, natural cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso powder (optional)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups buttermilk

    For the frosting:
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups smooth, all-natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 6 to 7 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp. heavy cream

    For decorating the cake:
  • 1 cup coarsely crushed pretzels
  • 4 ounces 60 percent cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • A few handfuls of whole mini pretzel twists


    Make the cake: Put oven racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour three 9-inch round baking pans.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and instant espresso powder, if using.

    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add half of the flour mixture, and beat until the flour mixture is incorporated. Add the buttermilk in a slow stream and beat until thoroughly combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish stirring with a spatula. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans.

    Bake until golden brown on top and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 20 minutes before inverting onto wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

    If you're not frosting the cake right away, double-wrap in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. Cake layers will stay freshest for up to 7 days in the freezer. When ready to frost, remove from the freezer, unwrap and frost frozen!

    Make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until softened, about 1 minute. Add the peanut butter, salt and vanilla extract and beat well. Add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar and beat until well combined. Add another 2 cups of sugar along with 3 tablespoons of heavy cream. Add the remaining 2 to 3 cups of sugar and remaining cream and beat until it is your desired thickness. Beat on medium speed until the frosting is smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

    Frost the cake with the frosting, adding a handful of the crushed pretzels and the chocolate pieces between each layer. Gently press the remaining crushed pretzels and chocolate pieces into the sides of the cake, and decorate the top with the whole pretzel twists.

    From Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats (Clarkson Potter) by Joy Wilson.

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