My little baby boy is now a four-year-old.
It's so hard for me to believe that my tiny baby is now no longer a toddler - but a kid! The years have flown by since that moment I held my son in my arms for the first time in the wee hours of a cold January morning four years ago. It was my first moment holding a baby that was mine and I could not stop thinking what an incredible responsibility it is to be a parent - to care for, love, and worry about this precious little soul for the rest of my life.
My beautiful little Matthew, your father and I are so proud of you. You are such a sweet little person who loves to give and receive hugs and kisses all day long. You look forward to morning snuggles and quiet afternoons reading stories with Mommy. You love your sister so much and make me proud by how you try your best to look after her by keeping the bathroom doors shut and holding tightly onto her leg while screaming for me to come running should she venture too close to the stairwell. Your smile is contagious and your beautiful blue eyes always sparkle, especially when you laugh! Although you have only been with us for such a short amount of time, it is hard to imagine that there ever was a time before you.
This year, you were so excited about your birthday. When I asked you what you wanted for your birthday present, you had your answer ready: "A bubble machine!"
Your Daddy was less than happy with that response but he picked one out for you at the store while simultaneously selecting a brand new bike with training wheels and a Spider-man helmet as your other gifts. He was so excited to give you a bike and is looking forward to taking you on bike rides this summer!
For your birthday outing, we took the whole family to see Frozen at the movie theater. It was your second time at the movies and Baby Emma's first! You both were so well behaved, quietly sitting in the very front row, munching on popcorn, and completely engaged in the film. After the movie ended, we took you out to the "pizza restaurant" where you had your very first personal-pan pizza. "The chef made a small pizza for Matthew's birthday?" you asked excitedly when your meal arrived. You were also kind enough to take your time eating and coloring quietly while your Dad and I caught the end of the AFC Championship game.
When we got home, we opened your gifts and you were so grateful and excited about each and every one. You received a Buzz Lightyear flashlight, a storybook, the Monsters University DVD, the bike, and, of course, your bubble machine. You immediately insisted on taking it to the basement to test out. Both you and Emma were gleeful when that machine started pumping out thousands of little bubbles into the air. Your mother was a little nervous by how much soapy water was ending up on the floor. But it was your birthday, so she didn't say anything.
Finally, it was time to blow out the candles on your birthday cake. You requested a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake and insisted on helping make both the cake and the frosting. You blew all the candles out on your first try - a vast improvement over last year! You have grown up so much.
In just a few short months, you will begin a new chapter in your life by starting preschool. I know you are excited to go since you love to read stories about school life, such as Curious George's First Day of School, and talk about how one day you will "go to school and learn a lot like George the monkey." While I know it is time, in my heart of hearts I am dreading losing you for even such a short time during the day. It is the end of an era for us - the last time I will ever have you at home all the time with me. However, I know that I need to let you go so you can continue to grow into the little man that God wants you to be! And I know that you will continue to make your parents proud! We love you, Matthew Patrick.
Now, onto the recipe for this fantastic cake. This is actually the second year I have made this cake for Matthew. Although he can't remember how to put his shoes on correctly most days, he did remember how much he loved this cake and adamantly requested it again this year! The chocolate cake base is our family's absolute favorite chocolate cake recipe. It is super easy, foolproof, incredibly moist, and tastes fantastic. When paired with peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache, the result is a decadent cake perfectly fitting for a special occasion. I am not big on chocolate cakes in general, but this cake is so gosh darn good, that it is definitely one of my top five favorite cake recipes.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Dream Cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen and The Barefoot Contessa
For the Chocolate Cake:
1 3/4 cups flour, plus more for dusting cake pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup hot, strong coffee
For the Peanut Butter Frosting:
10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (do not use a "natural" peanut butter)
For the Chocolate Ganache:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 8" cake pans and dust with flour. If you wish (but I didn't and it turned out just fine), you can butter each pan, line it with a circle of parchment paper, and then butter and flour the pans. Combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until combined. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and beat just until smooth. Add coffee and mix just until incorporated. Divide batter, which will be incredibly runny, evenly between the two pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until a toothpick stuck in the center of each cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To Make the Peanut Butter Frosting:
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.
To Assemble the Cake:
Place one cake layer on a cake stand. Spread 1 cup of peanut butter frosting over the top. Set another cake layer on top and spread 1 cup of the peanut butter frosting. Place the final cake layer on top and spread a thin coat of the peanut butter frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Place the partially-assembled cake in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to allow the frosting to "firm up" on the cake. This is called a "crumb coat" - a thin layer of frosting that captures and hardens around any loose crumbs from the cake. By chilling the crumb coat, the final layer of frosting will spread smoothly and cleanly without a single crumb from the cake.
After the crumb coat has chilled, carefully spread the remainder of the frosting on the cake, smoothing the top and sides with an offset spatula. Place the cake back in the refrigerator while you make the chocolate ganache.
To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
Place the chopped chocolate in a medium-sized, heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream just until boiling. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit for a little bit before taking a rubber spatula and gently folding everything together. After a couple minutes of folding, the chocolate should completely melt and the mixture should become smooth and shiny. Depending on how large you want your drips to be, you can either pour it over the chilled cake immediately or let it sit at room temperature to thicken for very large drips.
Gently pour the ganache over the top of the chilled cake and let it drip down the sides. Chill until almost ready to serve. I like to take the cake out about an hour or two before serving to bring it to room temperature. Serve with a tall glass of cold milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream!