Not for the faint of heart - this cake is a lot in a 'more is more' kind of way. I created this after a reader asked me to recreate her favorite chain restaurant cheesecake. Feeds a crowd to say the least!
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9" pans with shortening, line the pans with parchment and then grease the parchment. Lightly flour the pans and tap out excess over the sink. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add cream cheese a little at a time until smooth. Scrape bowl down and beat again on medium speed, adding eggs one at a time. Add remaining ingredients except peanut butter cups. Mix again until smooth.
With a rubber spatula, fold in quartered peanut butter cups. Divide batter evenly between pans. You should have 8 cups of batter, so 4 cups in each pan. Smooth batter with offset spatula (Fig.1) and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. Cheesecake will puff up during baking, then deflate when taken out.
Do not turn out cheesecakes when they are finished baking. Put them directly in the freezer, and leave until frozen solid.
Turn out frozen cheesecake layers and peel parchment from the bottoms. Line the pan they were in with enough parchment or wax paper to hang over the sides of the pan (Fig. 3). Place the cheesecakes back in the pans. This makes removal FAR more easy after caramel layer has been added. Place cheesecakes back into the freezer while you make the caramel layer.
Caramel for cake layers:
Important note: This recipe is made in two batches, so all of the ingredients are divided.
In a large microwaveable bowl, place 1- 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk, 5 tbsp. butter, and 40 caramels. Heat at 1 minute intervals until smooth. My household microwave at full power took about 4 minutes.
Pour caramel evenly over frozen layers of cheesecakes. Be careful to not let much of the caramel drip over the sides. Sprinkle each layer with 3-4 tbsp. of salted peanut halves. Return cheesecake layers to freezer.
Chocolate cake portion:
Grease 2- 9" pans with shortening and line with parchment. Grease parchment and lightly flour pan, tapping out excess. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift all the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. In a 4 cup glass measure, mix all the wet ingredients except hot coffee!
Turn mixer on low speed and gradually add wet ingredients to dry. Stop and scrape down the bowl, making sure to scrape the bottom where dregs tend to gather. Return mixer to low speed and beat in hot coffee. Mixture will be very thin.
Divide batter evenly between the two pans, and bake for 35-40 minutes (check at 35). Cake is ready when toothpick tester comes out clean. Cool slightly in pans. Run knife around the edge of cakes and turn them out. Let them rest on a cooling rack.
When cool, level cakes with a serrated knife or cake leveler. Line cake pans with parchment or wax paper, enough to hang over the edges (just like previously with the cheesecake layers). Return cake layers to parchment lined pans.
Make 2nd batch of caramel as directed for the cheesecake layer. Pour caramel evenly over both chocolate cake layers (Fig. 4), sprinkle with 3-4 tbsp. salted peanut halves. Place caramel covered cakes in freezer until caramel has hardened a bit (about 15 minutes).
Remove all cake layers from freezer. Remove all cake layers from pans using the parchment overhang to pull them out. Stack layers beginning with 1 layer of chocolate cake as the bottom, then cheesecake layer, then chocolate layer, and last cheesecake layer will be on top (Fig.5). Wrap layers in plastic wrap and freeze overnight. You'll frost your cake the next day.
Chocolate ganache frosting:
Note: Remove cheesecake layers from freezer and unwrap. Choose your serving plate and line it with wax paper strips. Place cake over strips. Now you're ready to frost.
Put chocolate chips in a medium bowl or 4 cup measure. Heat cream in a saucepan over medium high heat until very hot but not boiling. Pour hot cream over chips and stir until smooth. Remove 2/3 cup chocolate mixture and pour into a small bowl. Add 1/2 tbsp. corn syrup and stir. When combined, immediately pour over top of cake (Fig. 6), creating a shiny dark topping and taking care that most remains on top of the cake and doesn't spill down the edges (Fig.7). Return cake, uncovered this time, to freezer.
Fit stand mixer with whisk attachment. Pour remaining chocolate ganache into the stand mixer bowl and whip on the highest speed for 5-10 minutes (I set my timer for 7 minutes) until icing is light and fluffy. Icing is ready when it is thick and can be pulled into a stiff peak (Fig. 8).
Remove cake layers from freezer and frost sides with chocolate ganache using an offset spatula. The whipped frosting should grab on to the frozen cakes well. Use all the ganache frosting, evening the cake's surface as you work.
Melt chocolate chips at 30 second intervals in the microwave; stir until smooth. Pour onto cookie sheet and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Place in refrigerator for 5-7 minutes, or until the chocolate is firm and has a matte appearance.
Remove from refrigerator and let stand for a few minutes (3-5ish) at room temperature. With a small, sharp spatula, begin scraping chocolate at one edge in a thin strip. If chocolate breaks into pieces it is too cold, so allow it to stand a few minutes more at room temp. Chocolate should curl easily as you run your spatula under the chocolate and down the length of the cookie sheet. Place curls in a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready for use.
To garnish cake with chocolate curls, let cake stand at room temperature for a few minutes, then remove curls from refrigerator and gently press into the sides of the cake.
Peanut Butter Frosting and Garnish:
Cream peanut butter and butter together in stand mixer with whisk attachment. Gradually add powdered sugar. Whip on high speed until light and fluffy.
Transfer icing to a piping bag fitted with a large french piping tip. Pipe 8 large swirls around the top edge of cake, and pipe one swirl in the middle. Garnish each swirl with a peanut butter cup.
***Edit: I'm being told from some of you that it is easier to slice partially frozen. Store in freezer.
Using the exact same pans for both cheesecakes and chocolate cakes will keep you from having to trim the edges when stacking all layers together. (I had to trim the cheesecake edges a little, see Fig.7)
The caramel is very gooey and when cold can be a little resistant to slicing. Run a knife under hot water and dry it off, then cut the cake with the warm knife for a nice even slice.