Ahhh, college, and for the days when one’s diet could consist of large quantities of beer and Cheez Doodles. While writing my thesis at Bates, I lived on three foods: Diet Dr. Pepper, Cracker Jack, and Pillsbury slice and bake chocolate chip cookie dough, straight from the tube, unbaked. Even now, opening those packages is akin to the cannon under a potential avalanche. Once they’re open, it’s all going down, baby. No wonder Weight Watchers calls them “trigger foods.”
During my years in Lewiston, I worked at a local ski area in their restaurant’s kitchen. The food there was better than I knew—we even made our onion rings from scratch. I remember peeling and slicing 150 pounds of onions at a time, then breading them all and placing them in enormous plastic bins. But the thing I remember most was the policy they had for the cooks: we were given free reign to eat whatever we wanted. My Achilles’ heel was the Drake’s display, sporting its rows of FunnyBones. While working there over break one year, I ate almost nothing but, since Commons was closed.
I originally started the quest to recreate snack cakes at PJ’s suggestion way back in 2003, when the Autumn edition of The Baking Sheet
contained reproductions such as ”Bring Dings”, “Swoon Pies” and “Blinkies”. That was before the advent of the Twinkie-shaped pan, and I was demented enough to reproduce the shape by molding foil around cardboard paper towel tubes.
This homage to Drakes’ FunnyBones was a little easier: all I needed to do was cut rectangular cakes, fill them with peanut butter filling, and coat them with chocolate. Aside from the challenge not to lick up all the drips (I came close to the famous Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory mess with this one), with some care and a giant spatula, it’s not that hard to come up with 27 homemade treats that are mighty tasty for lunchboxes or just for fun. I call them Peanut Butter Parcels. Shall we get started?
First, we’ll make Chocolate Snack Cake. It can be the base for lots of take-to-school treats; it’s sturdy without being dry, sliceable yet tender. Good for cream-filled cupcakes, whether they wear a white squiggle on top or are turned upside down, coated with marshmallow frosting, and rolled in pink coconut.
First, get the pan ready. Grease a 9” x 13” pan, and line it with parchment paper. I learned my lesson from the brownies, and got the alligator clips out to fasten the paper to the pan, so it doesn’t flop over.
The cake goes together pretty easily. Cream the butter and add the sugar,
mixing until well combined and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated between each one, scraping the bowl at least once.
Add the vanilla. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda together,
and add half of it to the butter mixture. Mix,
add the buttermilk,
mix, then add the remaining flour mixture. Mix, again scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is evenly mixed. Here's what the batter looks like when everything is in.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan.
I find an offset spatula to be indispensable in these situations. The bend in the blade is enormously helpful to get a smooth, even top,
and to spread the batter to the corners without digging a trench in the top.
Bake the cake for 23 to 25 minutes. When the cake is done (it will pull just slightly from the edge of the pan, and spring back when lightly touched in the center), remove it from the oven and let it cool completely in the pan.
Now for the filling. Measure the peanut butter (smooth recommended here) into the mixing bowl.
I find there’s no substitute for the scale when measuring something sticky like peanut butter or vegetable shortening. Did you know a cup of peanut butter weighs 9 1/2 ounces? I later discovered that made a little too much filling; you'll see that the recipe calls for 3/4 cup, which is a better fit.
I use as strainer to take the lumps out of the confectioners’ sugar. Plop it on top of the bowl, zero out the scale, and pour the sugar into the strainer until you have 8 ounces.
Stir the sugar through the strainer.
Add a teaspoon of vanilla, and start the mixer on its slowest speed, to combine the ingredients. Things will look rather lumpy.
Add the milk 2 tablespoons at a time.
Each time I do so, the mix gets smoother.
The idea is to have a smooth, very spreadable filling that won’t tear the cake when you spread it. It should be soft, but still hold its shape, like this.
Now we can assemble the cake. Use the parchment to take the cake out of the pan.
Place the cooled cake on a rack, and split it horizontally to form two layers.
Carefully lift the top layer onto another piece of parchment. A large spatula is really helpful here.
Spread the peanut butter filling on the bottom layer,
and replace the top layer, cut side down. I had to stop in mid-motion to take this picture, and the top cracked a bit. But we'll soldier on nonetheless.
Put the cake in the freezer for half an hour; this will help it firm up and be easier to slice.
Now for the slightly fussy part: cutting and coating with chocolate.
Cut the filled cake in thirds lengthwise,
and in nine rows of 1 1/2-inch wide bars. Pull the cut pieces apart just a bit, leaving a quarter-inch between them.
Melt 2 cups of chocolate chips or chunks with 2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening. The shortening is what allows the chocolate to dry to a firm coating without having to be tempered.
Pour the melted chocolate coating in a ribbon over the rows of cakes, letting it fall down between them.
Use a small offset spatula to coat the tops evenly, which will have the added effect of pushing some of the chocolate down over the sides.
How exact you want to be about getting every bit of the sides coated after this is up to you. It doesn’t take too much to run the spatula around the sides, to seal everything in, but they’ll taste just as good if you don’t.
Fair warning here: if you're not a member of the "mud pie" kitchen club, and can't stand to get things dirty, this ain't the job for you. I'll let this photo seal make the case. I can assure you, before it was all over, it was a lot worse looking than this!
You may need to make another half batch of coating, if you’re determined to get every edge of every cake completely sealed up.
Refrigerate the cakes to help the chocolate set up, then trim any rough edges at the base, wrap and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
True Drakes devotees may wish to use more chocolate to coat the bottoms; you can harvest the stuff that dripped down through the rack and remelt it; no biggie if there are a few crumbs. Spread a rectangle shape on some parchment, then just plop the cake on top. Chill again, and you're all set.
There you have it. Your very own, fresher than ever, incredibly delicious Peanut Butter Parcels. Oh boy, I’m in trouble. Could be another avalanche of snacking if I’m not careful!
Buy vs. bake
Buy: 10 pack, $3.79 plus shipping, .38 each, at http://www.drakesfunnybones.com/
Bake at home: .24 cents each (plus you get to lick your fingers!)