Jane and Michael Stern are something else. After receiving their MFA’s from Yale and deciding they didn't want jobs remotely related to their degrees, they racked their brains for ideas about what to do with their lives and managed to come up with a career no one had ever heard of before: professional roadfood critic. For over 30 years they have been taking the back roads hither and yon across the United States in search of sublime local eats. They now report back to a drooling herd of foodies who visit their well-maintained website, Roadfood.com, and listen to Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s NPR program The Splendid Table, where they have a regular segment.
Their book Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food details the highs and lows of their time on the road together. They would eat as many as twelve meals a day before passing out in a low-budget hotel room to nurse their indigestion. Talk about devotion.
At the end of each chapter they share a recipe or two gleaned from their travels. I had the bright idea of making their “Pepsi-Cola Cake with Broiled Peanut Butter Frosting” and sharing it with volunteers and staff here at the library. My husband watched me disbelievingly as I made it late at night, mixing butter with coke and mini-marshmallows. When I handed it around the next day, it disappeared into mouths that were at first doubtfully nibbling but in no time at all were avidly munching. Here it is. Only attempt it if you have plenty of people to share it with so you don’t end up eating it all yourself!
Pepsi-Cola Cake with Broiled Peanut Butter Frosting
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, melted
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 cup Pepsi-Cola (with fizz)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup milk
2/3 cup chopped peanuts
Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 x 2-inch sheet cake pan. Combine flour and sugar in a large bowl. Combine melted butter, cocoa, and Pepsi and pour over flour and sugar mixture. Stir until well-blended. Add buttermilk, beaten eggs, soda, and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in marshmallows. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 40 minutes. Remove cake from oven and frost while still barely warm.
Frosting: Cream butter, sugar, and peanut butter. Beat in milk. Fold in nuts. Spread over cake. Place frosted cake under broiler about 4 inches from heat source. Broil just a few seconds, or until topping starts to bubble. Watch constantly and be careful not to scorch frosting! Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.