like red velvet cake, but not

chocolate cake cream cheese frosting | the merry gourmet

I had the cake layers in the oven by 9 o’clock Saturday morning. The batter was easy to prepare, almost too easy. The part I hate about baking is waiting for the butter to come to room temperature, but this recipe only uses vegetable oil as the fat, so there was no waiting. I love butter, but I very much liked the not waiting. I also liked that I had all of the ingredients on hand already.

Saturday was Valentine’s Day, which really didn’t matter to me except that it gave me an excuse to bake for my true loves. Not that I need an excuse. But for this more-special-Saturday-than-most, I baked a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. The idea was for the cake to be like red velvet cake, but not. I wanted it to have all of the taste, but without the artificial red food coloring.

“It’s like an Oreo cake,” Oliver suggested. He made a good point, which is typical of my always-sensible son.

This Valentine’s Saturday was especially sweet because we had no plans written on the calendar, no appointments to keep, nothing we were obligated to do. Except laundry; there is always laundry. We had a great lunch out at our favorite taco place, and for dinner, we ate grilled steaks with roasted Brussels sprouts and potatoes. We capped the evening off with family movie night – Maleficent (notably better than I expected) – and generous slices of chocolate cake.

After the kids went to bed, I knit. The television was on, but I don’t recall what we watched. I focused my energy on knitting the last of stitches of the scarf I have been working on for the past month (this one). I weaved in the last bits of yarn, burying the loose strands within the orderly rows of stitches. I sat back and let out my breath, not realizing I’d been holding it.

Here is what I loved: I fell in love with a design, I made each stitch with my own two hands, I messed it up when I was three-quarters of the way through, but I discovered my error and fixed the mistake, and I finished the scarf all by myself. It is mine. I made it, and I love it.

I love days like yesterday.

*   *   *

I’m reading a new book this week. I’ve read intriguing reviews about Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Since I like dystopian fiction, I downloaded the book for my Kindle about ten days ago, before leaving for San Diego for a medical conference. I started reading it on one of the legs of my airplane trip west – with occasional breaks to read chapters of Ann Hood’s Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting – and the story hooked me from the beginning. I mostly read at night, so I’m still in the thick of the story, but it’s getting better with each chapter.

I thought you should know. You know, in case you need a good book to read.

*   *   *

As I head into a two-week stretch of “on service” time in the hospital starting tomorrow, I am so glad to have had this weekend to settle my mind and comfort my soul. I know the next two weeks will be stressful, but I am determined to heal myself in the evenings, whether with the gentle clicks of the knitting needles and the feel of yarn between my fingers, or with the tight hugs I am guaranteed to receive from my children each evening, or with immersion into the fantasy of the post-apocalyptic world of Station Eleven.

Or, maybe, with all three.

chocolate cake cream cheese frosting | the merry gourmet

Yield: Serves 12 or more.

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The chocolate cake layers are the famous Hershey's Black Magic Cake, a foolproof and simple cake recipe that always yields excellent results. I chose cream cheese frosting to give a flavor profile like that of Red Velvet Cake (but without the red food coloring).


2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
1-3/4 cup (219 grams) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup black coffee

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 16-ounce box (452 grams) confectioners sugar, sifted



Heat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in center position. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line each with a parchment round, then butter and flour the parchment-lined pans.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cocoa. Add eggs, vanilla, vegetable oil, buttermilk, and coffee. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes; batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the two prepared cake pans.

Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert cakes onto wire rack and cool completely before frosting.


In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract. Gradually add the sifted confectioners sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes.


To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with cream cheese frosting. Place the second layer on top, centering it, and spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. You will have extra frosting, so reserve it for another use.

NOTE: Can be made one day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate overnight. Let cake stand at room temperature for 2 hours before serving.

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32 Responses to “for jennie, for all of us: frozen peanut butter pie”

  1. Ellie — August 16, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

    Thank you Merry, for writing this because I have been so concerned about Jennie, At least I know now that there were times for smiles along with the tears…Ellie

  2. LiztheChef — August 16, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

    I finally get why all of us are so eager to meet you. I was away on vacation – but you interrupted your life to care for a friend. Hope your practice had a back-up and looking forward to that cocktail here in San Diego in, Liz

  3. Eleanor Hoh (wokstar) — August 16, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

    What a good friend you are!

  4. A Boston Food Diary — August 16, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

    Beautiful post….you are a wonderful person

  5. kamran siddiqi — August 16, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

    M-J, having met you twice this year has been such an honor. You are truly a good friend and a great person. You aren’t even close-by, yet you did what any friend would do, you got on a plane and helped Jennie, gave her a shoulder to weep on, and gave her some time for herself.

    I know I’ve said this before, but I simply must say it again, I feel truly blessed being part of such a great community filled with amazing, loving, supportive people (like you).

    I made the pie with my loved one’s on Friday, a few hours after I got back from the potluck. When the pie was ready, we cried as we ate it; we tasted the love that we all put into the pie. “I love you’s” and hugs were exchanged. We spent the rest of the day together. We didn’t do much, but knowing that we were all together was all that mattered.

  6. Renée J. (RJ Flamingo) — August 16, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

    I’m so glad you were able to go and be with Jennie. I know you were more help than you maybe you think you were, and so happy to hear that it wasn’t all tears. You are sensational. Oh, yeah. And so is the pie. 😉 xox

  7. SMITH BITES — August 16, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

    am so, so glad you went MJ – i wanted to go too but i’ve not met her in real life and i knew it just wasn’t feasible . . . i haven’t stopped thinking about Jennie and her children since the terrible news hit twitter . . . it’s all been so surreal . . . but am thankful for this community and that you’re part of it

  8. Winnie — August 16, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

    You’re not just a good friend; you are an amazing one. And the pie looks fantastic xoxo

  9. Maria Raynal — August 16, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

    You are such a warm, generous person and friend. It was comforting, knowing you were there for Jennie and her girls. And I love your version of the pie.

  10. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — August 16, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

    Beautiful post… I am sure that having you there with her was a huge comfort. I love that you made a pie when you got home, as well. It looks lovely!

  11. Chris — August 16, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

    Thanks for this! I have been wanting to know how the trip went. It was so good of you to go. The two of you broke the molds of truly special people. 🙂 Hugs! Can’t wait to chat with you again…

  12. Barbara | Creative Culinary — August 16, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

    I am certain your visit was everything Jennifer needed from a friend. Making her a priority, doing dishes, playing with the girls and most importantly being a loving shoulder in her time of need; you didn’t have to do more.

    The pie is a symbol of love…you have shown her and her family that in spades.

  13. Ethan — August 16, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

    You wanted to make the pie and we all wanted to be there in Brooklyn.
    You are one of the great ones M-J, blown fuse and all:)

  14. Paula — August 16, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

    I’m sure you were so much more than *a help* to Jennie and her family. Your presence and your actions at a time when nothing made sense, providing your friend and her children the support and the love needed to get through those days… You were a blessing.

    I’m glad that you baked the pie when you got home and I’m happy that you were able to share it with your own family.

  15. Wendy Read - Sunchowder — August 16, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    Beautiful post and you are a wonderful friend. I am sure you were a comfort to Jennie and her children. I will never forget when you took the time out to call me when my neighbor was struck down with Lymphoma. You are amazing and I am so looking forward to meeting you in New Orleans.

  16. DessertForTwo — August 17, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    I’m so glad you were able to go up there and be with her. I’m still in shock a little too.
    On the bright side, I absolutely love your chocolate decorations on this pie! So original! 🙂

    Any chance you’re going to Food Blog Forum in Nashville in October? Would LOVE to see you again 🙂

  17. Liren — August 17, 2011 @ 1:58 am

    MJ, only you would feel badly that you did not make a peanut butter pie, when you were already being the sweetest and most supportive friend to Jennie. The gift of your presence, to be there for those very difficult moments so soon after Mikey’s death – I am certain that means more to her than anything. But I know what you mean about needing to make the pie, and am so glad you were able to enjoy it with your own loved ones.

  18. Prerna@IndianSimmer — August 17, 2011 @ 2:19 am

    Oh MJ, you are the sweetest kindest person! We all wished to be there with Jennie, by her side when she was weak but you actually did what a true friend should. You flew all the way.
    Thanks for letting us know that Jennie is sort of doing ok and she has a friend by her side (physically) when she needed one!

  19. Kulsum at JourneyKitchen — August 17, 2011 @ 2:35 am

    MJ you did exactly what a true friend does.Thank you for letting us in on how Jennie is doing. I have said it a million times but what an incredible community we are and Jennie is one of the bravest woman I know.

  20. myFudo — August 17, 2011 @ 5:10 am

    You are such a good friend, Hope Jennie is alright. Love your photo

  21. Brian @ A Thought For Food — August 17, 2011 @ 7:10 am


    That was so touching of you to go be with Jennie. I can only imagine what help you were… I have no doubt that she appreciated everything that you did.

    Sending you loving thoughts as well…


  22. Aggie — August 17, 2011 @ 7:35 am

    You are a good friend MJ. Your pie is beautiful, just like you.

  23. Lynda — August 17, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    What a beautiful post, and pie, and friend. xo.

  24. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — August 17, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    Thank you. For being there when so many of us couldn’t. I am sure you were way more help than you imagine. Hugs XOX

  25. Caneel — August 17, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

    I’m so glad you were able to be there, as a friend, a comfort and a help, for her. I wasn’t able to make my pie until this week, either, but I’m glad I did. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pie.

  26. amelia from z tasty life — August 18, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    M-J: you acted as a true friend… being there, just listening, living a few hours of every day life, baking the pie, sharing this with all of us. We are all distraught by this event. I too have been thinking about Jennifer every day since this tragedy. It has helped me appreciate my daily family moments so much more. Last Friday I took a day off and took my kids peach picking, just ’cause. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  27. Kathleen — August 18, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    I always remind my 24 year old daughter of the great importance of girlfriends. They can help you get through anything and everything! Your pie looks delicious and I love the swirls!

  28. Mike — August 18, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

    MJ, what you did showed just what kind of person you are. A lot of us say we’d do the same thing if the circumstance arose and yet, for various reasons, many wouldn’t. You did. You momentarily paused your life so someone you care about could go forward. Everyone needs a friend like you.

    By the way, the pie looks so good. Only fitting that you were able to take some time for yourself to make this.

  29. IlinaP — August 19, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

    I am so glad to have met you but wish it was under better circumstances. I flew in and out so quickly and left for vacation early the next morning. I owe Jennie a peanut butter pie. First thing I’m gonna do when I get home and settled. Thanks for being such a good friend!

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