grumpy cat crack cake attack

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Miss Fats is mid birthday rush this week.  She has two “high seasons” for birthday cake baking–May and November–when she’s convinced a ton of parents got together and conspired to breed an entire generation of children born in the same week, spaced perfectly six months apart. 20-30 years later, Miss Fats is busy crafting three cakes in one week to celebrate all that Valentine love (gross) that bred an entire generation of pod people. ( i.e. her near and dear friends.)

Now, she began #birthdayweek (if it’s a conspiracy, it may as well have its own hashtag), with a classic birthday cake (a rare request!), but she’s going to save that post for later; because she is damn excited about the craziest of 30th birthdays “cakes” she put together this past weekend for her friend E’s bash.  Meet the Wacky Crack Attack.

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Miss Fats loves to bake for any crowd, however she has a couple of favorite individuals who she’s always eager to feed and please with decadent desserts.  E is right at the top of the list thanks to his insatiable sweet tooth and affinity for seconds (that’s appreciation, people).  She knew there was no way to get any specific flavor requests from him for the big day (he will eat anything and loves all things sweet), so Miss Fats just decided to dream up the most insane cake monster she could think of.  Initially, she was gravitating toward an ice cream concoction, since he and Miss Fats have been known to venture far across the city in search of giant creamy cones.  However there were already plans for frozen custard on the night of the celebration (double dessert. duh.); And she knew any old chocolate layer cake thing wouldn’t do.  Not to mention it was E’s 30th and therefore required Miss Fats to kill him via sugar object.  As you know, Miss Fats has got pie on the brain, and she had a recent conversation about the Momofuko Crack Pie that had been nagging at the back of her head for a couple of weeks now.  That was it.  Crack pie.  The name and object were ideal for E: done and done.

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But this is a birthday, people.  And a big one.  For an important friend.  So Miss Fats could hardly stop there.  So what does crack need?  More crack, apparently.  Something she adores about Momofuko’s pie is it’s complete and total acceptance of ugly.  None of that prissy, fancy pants dessert garbage (all prim and proper: boo), but  instead a total embrace of disgusting deliciousness: truly privileging taste over aesthetics.  Naturally this meant Miss Fats wanted to extend this aesthetic to the cake (pie) topper.  She decided to make excessive clusters of salty sweet goodness to mound on top of the ugly monster pie base to create a Frankensteinian sugar object capable of catapulting insulin levels and destroying any pancreas in its way.  You can’t even imagine how excited she was.

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This was Miss Fats first Momofuko recipe attempt and she knew they were notorious for being somewhat finicky and required great attention to detail.  Therefore for the actual pie, she stuck straight to it and executed the body of the beast step for step, to the t.   It was really that crack topping where she got to work on her salty-sweet craft, improvise and (literally) sculpt the perfect collection of morsels.  So what goes into wacky crack, you ask?  Well the short answer is: whatever the hell you want.  This is really more of a method (methodology?) than a recipe.  Miss Fats is going to share her mixture for you all, but she encourages you to get down and dirty with it: be creative: be cavalier.

wacky crack clusters:
makes about 2 cups of clusters

3 crunchy chocolate chip cookies (Miss Fats used Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chip Dunkers, but Chips Ahoy would also be good here)
3 peanut butter sandwich cookies (Nutter Butters)
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts
1/2 cup pretzels (broken up a bit)
1 chopped candy bar (Miss Fats used a mini M&Ms bar she had on hand)
1/4 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup melted chocolate chips
1/4 cup melted peanut butter chips
sea salt

salted caramel:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbs water
2 tbs butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp salt (to taste)

1. Make the caramel sauce: in a small sauce pan, heat the sugar and water over medium, carefully stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Once dissolved, turn the heat to medium high and DO NOT stir or take your eyes off it.  Allow the sugar to caramelize and turn a deep amber (about 5-8 minutes), swirling the pan by the handle every so often.  Once the caramel has deepened in color, remove from the heat and add the butter and cream (be careful: it will bubble rapidly).  Stir until completely smooth.  If it seizes up, return to medium low heat, and stir constantly until smooth.  Add salt to taste.  Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Cluster assembly: line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (makes for easy clean up).  Throw down all of the dry cluster ingredients and roughly mix.  Drizzle the caramel, chocolate and peanut butter over top.  Toss together and roughly pat into a single layer of goodness.  Drizzle another layer of caramel and chocolate over top and sprinkle with salt to make it nice and pretty.  Allow to cool completely by either leaving it to harden on the counter, or sticking in the fridge for about an hour.

3.  Once cool, break into large chunks and enjoy.

To top the pie, mound the clusters into any monstrous form you’d like.  Donezo. Miss Fats’ wonderful roommates also created the perfect topper using some creative pen work and some printed off images of Grumpy Cat.  Since E looks like grumpy cat with a mustache, it was the ideal expression of birthday affect for an aggressive dessert.

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In the end, her pie wasn’t perfect (but should it be?).  Her oven had some hot spots that caused the custard to bake slightly unevenly, and the crust baked a little more than she would have liked.  However, anyone who’s executed this pie knows, the whole thing isn’t really meant to be eaten like a pie.  Instead, the crack pie creates a salty sweet object that is to be scraped from the pan and consumed in a messy pile of all that is good in life.  Yes people” the crust sticks to the pan.  It sticks real bad.  And she’s sure that one could do some serious greasing and throw down some parchment.  But that would probably ruin part of the joy of crack pie: this is as much of an aesthetic–tactile–experience as it is about taste: embrace ugly. The crack clusters added a crazy crunchy layer to the chewy, creamy pie custard and cookie crust to make for a mouthful of all things good.  This is some serious mouth porn.  Pure dessert filth.  She highly recommends it.

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Between eight people, they only managed to get through half of the pie.  It’s fucking intense.  The rest was sent home in a glorious pile to be eaten while standing over the kitchen counter with a fork in hand.  Probably in your underwear, at 3 am.  Crack pie will definitely make it into Miss Fats’ recipe arsenal, but clearly must be accompanied by some sort of chocolate pretzel object. ( She feels no need to explain this.  It’s self-evident that chocolate and pretzels make everything better.)  She hopes E is enjoying his leftovers and that Wacky Crack Attack was all he could have dreamed of for his big birthday celebration.  Or she hopes he’s dead of diabetic shock from pie overload.  Either or.

stuffed carrot peanut butter muffins

Miss Fats has had a busy back to school month.  That means lots of events, meetings and trying to keep up with coursework, and of course, a ton of baking.  Sunday Sundaes is currently a poor reflection of her efforts since returning to Chicago (and so is, frankly, Miss Fats’ phone), but she’s literally been churning things out too fast to photograph.  Now that she’s fully settled back into the pace of the year, she’s sharing one of her favorite morning baked goods to usher in a whole slew of pastry posts she’s got in the works for you.

IMG_7565Miss Fats’ most regular baking gig includes the bi-monthly workshop she co-coordinates for graduate students, faculty and visiting guests.  This means churning out platters of scones, muffins, loaves and all that bready, breakfasty fun on Friday mornings.  This past week featured one of Miss Fats’ favorite people to bake for, I.  She’s a big fan of any friend who willingly takes seconds and thirds without asking.  I is always game to grab an extra cookie, slice of cake or giant bag of baking bits that Miss Fats shoves into his hands.  So she gave him full license to pick a breakfast item or flavor profile for his workshop.  His choice was the result of a little brainstorming ‘sesh that ended up circulating around the crazy delicious dessert team Miss Fats dined on at Blackbird last spring.  In pure pastry genius nonsense, Blackbird served her up a carrot cake with peanut ice cream that sent Miss Fats over the edge and she’s been dying to try out that flavor combo ever since.  I’s workshop was the perfect place to test out the peanutty waters.  Luckily adores carrot cake and anything peanut butter related, so the challenge was to transform an elegant, James Beard award winning pastry chef’s plate into a bready, handheld breakfast object.  Game on.

The end result was the craziest muffin Miss Fats has ever created: carrot cake stuffed with a cream cheese filling and topped with a peanut streusel and peanut butter drizzle.  But it totally worked.  You got every necessary flavor profile: the sweet spice of the moist carrot cake, the gooey tang of the cream cheese filling, and the salty crumble crunch of the peanut topping.  She might have a new all time favorite muffin.  This muffin boasts the perfect harmony of texture and fall flavors to take your ‘buds to a harmony party (whatever that is).  Though there’s a lot of steps with these suckers, she suspects they could easily be transformed into a lazy loaf or cake as well.  Not to mention, they’re totally worth the muffin work, because who doesn’t love a hand-held object that packs this much flavor and contrast.

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They’re not so pretty, but they’re damn tasty.

Stuffed Carrot and Peanut Butter Muffins:
adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s carrot cake
makes 24 muffins

filling:
8 oz cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

muffins:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated carrots

topping:
2 tbs natural peanut butter
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbs flour
large pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (unsalted, or be sure to adjust salt if yours are salted)

glaze:
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt (depending on your peanut butter)
water (if needed)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 cupcake pans.  Make the filling: heat the cream cheese in a bowl in the microwave for approximately 1 minute.  Stir in sugar and vanilla and set aside.

2. Prepare the streusel: Melt the peanut butter and butter in the microwave.  Using a fork, mix in the flour, brown sugar and salt, until combined and you have a slightly-moist, crumbly mixture.  Add the chopped peanuts.

3.  Make the muffins: In a large bowl, combine the oil, eggs, and sugar.  Mix until will combined.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in the carrots.

4. Assemble the muffins: Distribute approximately 2 tbs of the batter into each cup (filling about half way).  Then follow with about 2 tsps of the cream cheese scooped into the center of your cups.  Top them off with another 2 tbs of muffin batter (Miss Fats actually recommends filling these nearly to the top.  She was disatisfied with how flat her 3/4 filled muffins turned out).  Finally, sprinkle the topping on your filled muffins. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

5. Make the glaze: while the muffins are baking, heat the peanut butter in a small bowl.  Whisk in the powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla.  If the mixture is proving too thick to drizzle, add a little water (this will depend on the consistency of your peanut butter).

6.  After your muffins have cooled for approximately 10 minutes, drizzle the glaze over top.

Six steps to salt-sweet bliss.  The beauty of this recipe is that all its components are tasty little devils on their own.  To cut back on work, Miss Fats recommends skipping the glaze or filling (though she’s pretty sure you’ll regret it!);  though do not skip that crumble, people: crumble is crack.  These guys will store just fine at room temperature in an air tight container for a couple of days.  Though she doesn’t understand why they’d need to: she dares you to just eat one.  No wait, Miss Fats takes that back: don’t even bother.  Just fill your mouth with the crunch-salt-sweet-creamy-tang that is the perfect morning muffin.

spiced chocolate and peanut butter dulce de leche cupcakes

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Okay. Miss Fats will admit this is a bit of a weird combination.  On paper.  However, in practice, these flavors (cinnamon, peanut butter and dulce de leche) come together in a the form of a moist cupcake filled with oozing peanut butter and topped with a rich caramel-y frosting.  This is a flavor punch.  One that shouldn’t really work, but like that ugly/pretty girl you keep staring at, becomes something you can resist paying attention to.  What is it about the sticky sweet weight of peanut butter and dulce de leche that makes you both hate and love yourself?  Miss Fats likes to think that even as the thick peanut butter filling coats your mouth hole, all you want to do is linger in cupcake weirdness because the sugar-salt-spice rush breaks your brain a little.

This combo has emerged as Miss Fats’ go-to cake to pair with tacos. It last made the appearance as a decadent layer cake for an epic taco birthday bash last fall.  However for this taco housewarming, she felt the cake should be able to be consumed with a drink in the other hand.  (Or even better: double fist those cupcakes.)  What emerged is a mixed baby of mexican flavors and salty peanut goodness.  This cupcake features a cinnamon and cayenne spiced chocolate cupcake stuffed with peanut butter filling and topped with a dulce de leche frosting: a whole delightful spectrum of brown.  The odd addition of peanut butter creates that salt-sweet balance with the candy-sweet dulce de leche, and the cake brings a little spicy to the mix: salt-sweet-heat.

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The taco menu was not the only reason Miss Fats decided on this bizarre cupcake.  The dessert was in celebration of an incredible housewarming hosted by the coolest couple she’s ever known, in the craziest apartment known to man.  Team Miss Fats likes to refer to their magical game nights with them as stepping into the “hottest club in Chicago.”  She’s talking craft cocktails, multi-course meals and a space that Miss Fats is convinced isn’t real.  They used to attend game nights in the most outrageous studio/loft apartment that featured floor to ceiling windows, an amazing collection of handmade art that literally scaled the entire space, beautiful hand-built furniture, and proper entertaining dishware (oh hey, salad plate and dessert fork).  This list completely fails to capture the experience of Club A & D, which is probably akin to drinking from Willy Wonka’s chocolate river in magical candy land.  Miss Fats wants to stress that this was their OLD apartment.  She’s completely out of words for their new space.  She’d like you to fantasize about this studio/game night and then cube it: then you’ve maybe approached an idea of the Club A & D experience.

So the real question was: how can Miss Fats make a dessert that lives up this party?  Well the answer is: she can’t.  Nor should she really try, because it’s doomed to failure.  Miss Fats can’t bake flying unicorns, after all.  She decided to move forward with an indulgent cupcake that embraced the kooky mix of flavors that were as rich and celebratory as the evening itself.  Naturally this started with a base of chocolate.  Normally, a taco party would seem to demand something on the coconut-flan-y spectrum; and Miss Fats seriously struggled with herself on this.  She was so close to attempting a tres leches cake, but just could not seem to get herself out of the chocolate mind set.  Sticking to her guns, she decided to go with her weird flavor bomb from last fall and add a little heat to the mix.  Miss Fats paid homage to the mexican flavors by adding cinnamon and cayenne to her usual chocolate cake batter, to create a secret mouth fiesta and cut through the decadence of the rich peanut butter and dulce de leche.

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This recipe follows Miss Fats’ method of a three-part stuffed cupcake, that is incredibly easy.  Three bowls, three components, and about an hour of your time (outside of cooling and bake time that is).  As usual, these little guys can be broken down into two days: cakes baked off day one, and all the other ooey-gooey stuff on day two.

Spiced Chocolate and Peanut Butter Dulce De Leche Cupcakes
makes approximately 18 cupcakes
cake adapted from The Kitchn’s Dark Chocolate Cake

cake:
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup oil
1 cup hot coffee

filling:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup dulce de leche
1-2 tbs milk
1 tbs oil (optional depending upon your peanut butter)

frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup dulce de leche (or essentially, the remaining can)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

1. Make the cakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cupcake tins.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices.  Whisk in eggs, oil and butter milk.  Mix vigorously for approximately 2 minutes.  Pour in hot coffee and mix until fully combined.  Divide batter among cupcake trays. Bake for approximately 18-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to fully cool.

2. Filling: In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter and dulce de leche.  Add approximately 1 tbs of milk and oil.  This will depend on the consistency of your peanut butter.  Natural peanut butters will likely require more oil for a smoother consistency.  You’re looking for a filling that approximates the gooey-ness of a freshly mixed jar of natural peanut butter.

3. Frosting: In a stand mixer (or using a hand-held one), beat the butter, cream cheese and dulce de leche on high until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes).  Add the salt and vanilla and mix until combined.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until combined.

4. Assembly: Using a small spoon, scoop out a hole in each cupcake.  Spoon in approximately 1 tbs of the filling.  Finally, spread the frosting over top, or swirl using a pastry bag (or gallon ziplock bag with the tip cut off).

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Now Miss Fats can’t claim that these cupcakes objectify her amazing friends, but she hopes they in the very least approach the endlessly creative, fun and surprising times at Club A & D.  The salt-sweet-heat of these little guys can only account for a fraction of the flavors of the club: they are full force-flavor kind of people.  Miss Fats can only dream of creating a mouth party of that scale.  For now, she’ll leave the remaining flavors to D, who turned it out with the crazy taco bar.  She just hopes they enjoyed these dessert delights as they danced and drank the night away.

peanut butter chocolate cake and fancy fails

IMG_3889This might be the best damn looking cake Miss Fats has ever made.  It’s also probably why it ended up being one of the most disappointing.  She’s  going to refer to this cake as a “fancy fail” from now on (notice it’s similarity to Fancy Feast).  Now this is being incredibly over dramatic and a bit self wallowing, but come on! Look at that thing.  It’s promising nothing but decadent flavor on par with its aesthetic level.  However this was not the case.  Spoiler alert: this is not a love story.

Ok Miss Fats will stop being a bummer to talk a little more about what’s going on with this beauty.  Since she’s fundamentally incapable of attending just about any event without a sweet treat in hand, Miss Fats’ recent invite to a belated wedding reception/joint birthday celebration was no exception.  This event boasted a wedding and two birthdays and therefore required her to impose a cake upon everyone.  Hell, Miss Fats wasn’t even really invited to this thing but you better damn well believe she was bringing a big ass cake in celebration.

IMG_3884She asked for her usual flavor request to help send her in a general direction; “chocolate?” was all she got.  Now this was the second chocolate cake of the week for Miss Fats (she had just gone to cacao town with D’s birthday cake earlier in the week).  Since Chicago weather had been crap, she didn’t even feel obligated to work with a cake that celebrated the sunshine and flavors of the summer (because let’s get real, summer literally just started in Chicago).  So shit was about to get real.  IE Miss Fats was going to lay down her favorite flavor combination of all time: peanut butter chocolate.

She knew there would be another cake at the party, so she felt less obligated to craft a cake that perfectly encompassed the couple (a task that Miss Fats’ has actually never even tried.  Though she can’t wait for a Frankenstein cake soon).  Instead, she was hoping to simply highlight the importance of celebration, decadence and excess.  This party was a fun and simple backyard affair, so the peanut butter seemed to be an appropriate way to dial back the ‘smance in favor of some childhood ooey gooey peanutty business.

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She knew that this type of celebration definitely required an actual cake: three celebrations can’t quite be encompassed in a little cupcake object.  However she’d been struggling with the humidity over the last week and was seriously worried about her super-moist chocolate cake recipe not holding up for this thing.  With D’s cake days before, the wet air wreaked havoc on the removing-cake-from-pan process and she thought it might be a good idea to go with a butter-based cake instead.  She’s a big fan of Bakers Royale and has a good deal of success with many of her recipe components, so when she found her Best Chocolate Cake Recipe it seemed like the natural choice.  It followed many of Miss Fats’ baking rules: minimal bowl action, no cake flour, and no butter creaming (these are not steadfast rules: just wonderfully attractive features that she often looks for).  It essentially resembled Miss Fats’ oil-based chocolate cake, but used melted butter instead.  She ended up using milk instead of the cassis because: a) Miss Fats really has no fucking idea what cassis is anyway and b) she’s a grad student not going to buy a bottle of that fancy liquor for one cake.  Given that the recipe produced two 8 inch cakes, Miss Fats ended up multiplying the recipe by 1.5 to get three 9 inch layers.  The cakes cooked beautifully and easily held up despite the wet wet air.

Now came the filling.  Miss Fats has been trying to think through the ultimate peanut butter filling for quite some time now.  Peanut butter is not just some creaming thing you can slap in between cake layers.  It’s a sticky-salty spread that should be celebrated flavor-wise, but requires a bit more work to transform it into a perfectly crafted cake filling that works with the textures of the cake and frosting.  She liked the idea of something between a buttercream/mousse: she wanted the intense flavors of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, but a lightness that wouldn’t overpower the fluffy crumb of the cake.

She ended up going with Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting, that boasted intense peanut flavor in the form of a buttercream.  She was a little worried about how much frosting this recipe produced and the intensity of the peanut flavor, so Miss  Fats made a couple of variations that she’s sharing with you here:

Peanut Butter Filling:
makes about 3 cups of filling
adapted from Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup creamy, all natural peanut butter
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (dependent upon how sweet your peanut butter is)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt + more to taste
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Set aside in the fridge.

2. Beat the butter and peanut butter on medium high until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and salt and mix until fully combined.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until combined.  Adjust salt based on your own preferences (Miss Fats obviously added more).

3. Fold the frosting into the heavy whipping cream.

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Since she was diggin’ on the look and feel of D’s chocolate cake from earlier in the week, she ended up going with the easy, spreadable chocolate ganache frosting.  Fully riding the salt-sweet train at this point, Miss Fats needed to jazz this thing up to keep it on par with the celebration level of the party.  She figured in-line with the backyard, slightly nostalgic feel of the event, a chocolate-covered pretzel would be the ideal object of decoration.  What says salt-sweet tasty town more than a chocolate covered pretzel?  However to keep it elegant (and photographable), she needed a bit of color contrast, so she ended up deciding to do both chocolate and peanut butter-dipped treats.  Miss Fats isn’t going to give you a recipe for these, since all she did was melt down about a cup of chocolate chips and a cup of peanut butter chips and dunked those suckers in.  To make them all pretty, she made a mess of herself and kitchen by using a fork to whip lines of peanut butter and chocolate across them. The only trick of these pretzels is not eating them all before they make it on to the cake (so so hard). Let them firm up in the fridge and stack them in a circle.  Boom. So pretty, yet to easy.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Is Miss Fats seriously just whining about how good looking her cake is?  Ok so here begins the abbreviated discussion of the cake’s problems (skip ahead if you’d rather live in cake fantasy land and see this as perfection).  So this is pretty fucking epic looking right?  And when you make a cake like this one, you want that first cut and bite to match the level of beauty (Miss Fats has a HUGE problem with beautiful cakes that cannot live up to their looks in flavor).  However, cutting into this cake, it crumbled. Total frosting/filling/cake mess.  The chocolate ganache pulled at the crumbly cake, destroying the three, carefully stacked layers.  Hardly the kind of display for a wedding: no embarrassing (cue tiny violins).  And while this mess may have been acceptable given the casual celebration, Miss Fats regrets to say that the flavor just didn’t quite make up for the disastrous structure.  There just wasn’t enough peanut butter filling to balance with the fudge of the cake and ganache.  Salt-sweet fail.

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Ok ok.  Miss Fats will stop now, because for the most part, guests seemed to really enjoy the cake (naively so).  And in the end, the bride and groom/birthday boy and girl seemed to really enjoy it.  Which is all she can hope for.  However if Miss Fats were to attempt this cake again, she’d seriously amp up that peanut butter filling: literally double that recipe.  She’d also return to her oil-based cake, which just has a bouncier texture that holds up to a sturdy filling like peanut butter.  This is to say that Miss Fats is not completely discouraged: she will try the ultimate peanut butter chocolate cake again.  Though this cake will probably haunt Miss Fats’ sugar dreams for a while, she recognizes that this was not a complete fail.  The real success came in making a beautiful cake for a beautiful crowd and couple.  They should just wait for peanut butter cake the sequel: coming to birthdays next summer.