Party-Trick Peanut Butter Cake

September 13, 2016
7 Ratings
Photo by Linda Xiao
  • Makes One 8-inch square cake
Author Notes

This cake is great because it is so rich and peanut buttery that it does not need to be frosted. Of course, I won’t complain if you do frost it, but my point is, this puppy can be whipped out and ready to eat in very little time. It is idiotproof, hangoverproof, and can be made in even the most unequipped kitchens, for brunch dessert, lunch dessert, or dinner dessert. I’d encourage you to memorize this recipe and make it if ever you find yourself bored in a foreign kitchen or around people you want to impress in a short-ish amount of time. It’s the tastiest with the least amount of effort. Top it with a plop of yogurt, whipped cream, berries, a dusting of powdered sugar, or nothing at all.

Excerpted from Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh, by permission of Rodale Books.
molly yeh

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup flavorless oil
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup creamy unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter
  • Powdered sugar, whipped cream or yogurt, and/or fresh berries, for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking dish and line the bottom with parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, vanilla, buttermilk, oil, water, and peanut butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Pour into the baking dish.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking for doneness at 30 minutes.
  4. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely, or serve while it’s still warm. Serve plain or with desired toppings.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Alice Hendricks
    Alice Hendricks
  • Dorothy Crabtree
    Dorothy Crabtree
  • Kathy Krause
    Kathy Krause
  • KWH
  • Oat&Sesame
molly yeh recently moved from brooklyn to a farm outside of grand forks, north dakota, where her husband is a fifth generation farmer. she writes the blog my name is yeh.

32 Reviews

Katherine P. April 22, 2021
Ah, what the heck! I love the sweet stuff! I added a couple more tablespoons of sugar because, glutton that I am, I also added 1/3 cup black cocoa and a few tablespoons of bourbon! Scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt - so good! Great recipe, as is, and to play with.
Alice H. April 20, 2021
It would be grand if there was a version of this with the everyday sweetened peanut butter one often finds in a "foreign" kitchen, such as at ones mother-in-law's house.
Dorothy C. February 9, 2021
Delicious! Relatively easy - not ~quite~ idiot-proof, as a kitchen 'helper' dropped the entire cake and broke it into many pieces, without telling me, such that I thought it had "cooled" into broken pieces and was very confused. Once that was sorted out, and I explained about both moving things carefully and then telling people when they've dropped and broken something, I tasted the broken cake, which was quite nice. Not too sweet. But sweet enough to clearly be a dessert. (I imagine, for people who only have sweetened peanut-butter at home, they might decrease the added sugar by at least 1/2 c?).

I'm a chocolate fiend and was surprised to find myself agreeing with folks who did not think chocolate was a needed or even desired addition. Glad I listened to all the other reviewers, and held off on the chocolate chips.
Darian April 20, 2019
Oh my, this cake is incredible! It was super quick and easy to make. Mine took 35 minutes to cook through. The cake is SO moist and has a rich, peanutty flavor that's not too sweet. I thought beforehand, it needs something else, maybe chocolatey? So I prepared the Chocolate Cream (from Zingerman's Bakehouse recipe for Hungarian Chocolate Cream Cake) to serve alongside. That was a nice complement, but honestly the cake did not need anything and I think I preferred it alone. This one is definitely going on repeat!
beejay45 May 11, 2018
Molly, thanks for this! I almost passed over it -- another peanut butter cake? Meh. But something made me click the link and I'm so glad I did. Wonderful.
Jana E. June 13, 2017
Eh. I want to love this because I love Molly Yeh's blog. I made this exactly to the recipe. I would call it peanut butter quick bread, more than peanut butter cake. It's pretty good, but not spectacular.
Bryan February 5, 2017
Molly, can you tell me what you dolloped onto the square of cake that can be seen in this post's main photo? Is it frosting? Ganache that's had cream whipped into it? I'm curious because it looks yummy, of course, but also because I'm trying to figure out if there's any better way to eat this cake than plain. I've tried adding a dollop of whipped cream on top or on the side (fine, but not really needed, IMO). I've tried adding chocolate chips to the batter (also fine, but I think I still prefer the cake on its own). The only other thing I can think of at the moment is to try what you tried when you photographed the cake, so any help would be greatly appreciated!
Sarah J. June 10, 2017
Bryan, it's a scoop of chocolate ice cream!
RJ November 29, 2016
Do you think this cake is sturdy enough to be used as a layer cake if the recipe is doubled?
Kathy K. December 6, 2016
I am not sure, as I haven't made a layer cake in years. I suspect not?
Kathy K. November 16, 2016
Made it more or less according to the recipe: used crunchy unsweetened natural peanut butter, and soured milk, but those were the only changes. Have now made it twice. First time, checked it at 30 mins and a tester came out clean, so took it out. However, the middle was not done. Second time, gave it 5 more minutes, and used the spring back test. The first time it was yummy despite undercooked middle. The second time it was simply excellent: moist, flavorful, yummy! Next time, will try it with just a less sugar. We don't find it too sweet (the peanut butter we use has no sugar) but might like it even more slightly less sweet.
AnneHD November 13, 2016
Made it, loved it! A dollop of unsweetened whipped cream on top of each slice was a perfect complement.
KWH November 10, 2016
Will this work as cupcakes?
Ann C. November 7, 2016
I really wanted to make this but the cup of sugar turned me off. I decided to try it with 1/2 cup and if it was horrible I would toss it in the trash. It was delicious! I have found that in most recipes reducing the sugar by up to 1/2 makes very little difference. Can't even imagine how horribly sweet this would be with a whole cup of sugar! (And my peanut butter was natural, with 1g of sugar, so no added sugars there either).
Anna L. November 5, 2016
What oil is used???
Jenn K. October 28, 2016
This took about 45 minutes in my oven. It's a nice easy cake that I'll definitely make again. I admit that I ended up serving it with a very thin layer of melted dark chocolate and a sprinkle of maldon salt on top, even though strictly speaking it would have been perfectly good without.
Oat&Sesame October 26, 2016
I'm going to try this with my absolute favorite peanut butter - dark roasted Santa Cruz. It's the best!
Anita October 26, 2016
Can't wait to make this! I'm going to "de-gluten" it and swap out the dairy AND use tahini instead of peanut butter! Crossing my fingers that it works! Thanks for the fabulous inspiration!
mela October 31, 2016
Do please let us know how the tahini works.
Anita November 1, 2016
Mela - and anyone else interested :) - I tried this recipe with tahini and it was DIVINE! Due to dietary restrictions and per what I had on hand, I used a gluten free flour. I also used greek yogurt (Fage, 0%) rather than buttermilk. My oven needed 45 minutes for this cake to be cooked through. Additionally, I'd like to say that if you like halva then you would like the substitute of tahini rather than peanut butter. I was reminded of vanilla halva, but in CAKE FORM! YAY!
mela November 1, 2016
Wow, thank you - first for even thinking of tahini and secondly for letting us know it worked. I love vanilla halvah but it has a huge number of calories per - well, quarter inch, practically. Plus it's full of unpronounceables, even the really good imported one. This is going to be a treat!
Diane October 25, 2016
Are there any changes you would suggest for high altitude? I recently moved to the mountains at about 6000 feet and baking has been quite a challenge!
Kat January 24, 2017
Hi Diane,
I live at the edge of the Rockies in Alberta, Canada; I've baked this many a time with no alterations and it's turned out beautifully! That said, I'm at about 4000 feet compared to your 6000 so if there are any little adjustments that you've found usually help it may be worth testing them out. I'd imagine, though, that if it works perfectly at 4000 you may not need to make too many drastic adjustments? I've used these ones before on other recipes with pretty good results: http://dish.allrecipes.com/high-altitude-cake-baking/
Diane January 25, 2017
Thanks, Kat, your comment motivated me to go ahead and try this recipe using the little adjustments that I have found to help at my high altitude. Turned out great, though it took about 50 minutes in my oven.
Kat January 25, 2017
Glad it worked well for you!
Joan C. October 24, 2016
OK, so... What is "unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter"? We have Jiff in the cupboard. Is that going to work?
Sue October 25, 2016
I could be wrong but I believe Jif is both salted and sweetened...label should indicate ingrediants...
Anita October 26, 2016
Hey Joan, if you go to Kroger/Publix/local supermarket, look for "natural peanut butter." It's been marketed that way for at least 20 years interestingly enough, but anyway, in this case "natural" usually means unsalted and unsweetened :) If your supermarket's own brand isn't available, I have seen a smucker's peanut butter that is unsalted and unsweetened.
Kris October 26, 2016
I don't think it is natural peanut butter because natural peanut butter is not creamy. Its not so thick and even the best ones are slightly grainy.
Lkbixby October 27, 2016
I believe the descriptor of "creamy" means as opposed to "crunchy" -- natural peanut butter is sold in both varieties. Unsweetened means that there is no sugar or sweetener listed in the ingredient list, and while I think Jiff may make a peanut butter without sugar, standard Jiff contains a lot of sugar, and will likely make this cake turn out waaaay too sweet. So I wouldn't use that.
Anita October 27, 2016
Agree with you, Lkbixby! :)
Charissa May 4, 2020
I only had generic, grocery store, chunky peanut butter (135mg sodium and 3g sugars per 2-tablespoon serving), so I left out the salt and otherwise made the cake as prescribed. It took extra time in my oven as well, but turned out delicious! I didn't mind at all that the cake was peppered with little bits of peanuts here and there.