Birthday Cake

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On Monday, I turned thirty. Although I’m fairly certain it’s mathematically impossible that I’m thirty, I’m completely fine with it. No 1/3 life (I hope) crisis here. I have a great husband, the most perfect little girl, and I’m exactly where I imagined myself at this age. So, here’s to another great decade – hooray!

A little backstory for you…James made me a lovely birthday cake the first year we were married. It was held together with cardboard. A for effort! Since then I’ve been making my own birthday cakes. I’m sure I’m not the only one, right?! Control freaks, unite!

You may recognize this cake – it’s crumbly topping, it’s exposed sides and it’s towering height – from the million or so times it shows up online. The recipe is from the famous Momofuku Milk Bar, a New York City icon. It has a certain familiarity to it, as it’s modeled off of boxed funfetti cake, but this is the grown-up version. It’s sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy…it’s over the top, sprinkled, vanilla cake perfection.

If you’ve paged through Milk Bar’s cookbook, or if you’ve ever seen a printed recipe by the head chef, Christina Tosi, you know her cakes take time. They also take an extra trip to the store (or an Amazon order), but one bite and you’ll be hooked. Her cakes are like nothing else I’ve ever had.

For this cake, I would suggest breaking the process up over two days, but it’s completely doable in one. You’ll have to make the crumb, the cake, the soak and the frosting. I also suggest that you weigh your ingredients, but standard measurements are also listed. Let’s get started!

First, here is a list of things I suggest you collect in advance of making this cake, because you’ll likely need to put in an Amazon order if you do not already have the following:

6 inch cake ring
acetate strips
quarter-sheet baking pan
citric acid
clear vanilla extract (aka clear imitation vanilla)
6 inch cardboard cake rounds

The rest of the ingredients/tools can be found pretty readily at your local grocery store.

The Crumb (Day 1)

100g sugar (1/2 cup)
25g light brown sugar (1 1/2 Tbs, packed)
90g cake flour (3/4 cup)
2g baking powder (1/2 tsp)
2g kosher salt (1/2 tsp)
20g rainbow sprinkles (2 Tbs)
40g grapeseed oil (1/4 cup – canola oil is ok in a pinch)
12g clear vanilla extract (1 Tbs)

Preheat the oven to 300°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt on low speed until incorporated. Add in the oil and vanilla and mix again until the liquid is absorbed into the dry ingredients and small clusters form. Dump the clusters onto the baking sheet and bake until set, but not browned, about 15-17 minutes. Let cool completely and store in an airtight container if you’re not using them immediately.

The Cake (Day 2)

55g butter, at room temperature (4 Tbs)
60g vegetable shortening (1/3 cup)
250g granulated sugar (1 1/4 cups)
50g light brown sugar (3 Tbs, packed)
3 eggs
110g buttermilk (1/2 cup – homemade buttermilk is ok in a pinch)
65g grapeseed oil (1/3 cup – canola oil is ok in a pinch)
8g clear vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)
245g cake flour (2 cups)
6g baking powder (1 1/2 tsp)
3g kosher salt (3/4 tsp)
50g rainbow sprinkles (1/4 cup)
25g rainbow sprinkles (2 Tbs)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. To prepare the quarter sheet pan, spray with flour baking spray and line with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and sugars together until fluffy, at least 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs and mix for another 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary.

With the mixer running on low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Crank up the speed to medium-high and mix for a good 5 minutes, until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Don’t cheat on the time, here. It needs the full 5 minutes to incorporate all of the ingredients.

Turn the mixer back to low and add the cake flour, baking powder, salt and 50g (1/4 cup) of sprinkles. Mix until just combined, no more than a minute. Pour the mixture into the prepared quarter sheet pan and evenly distribute the remaining 25g (2 Tbs) of sprinkles over the batter. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, or with a moist crumb attached. Do not overbake.

Cool the cake on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

The Soak (Day 2)

55g milk (1/4 cup)
4g clear vanilla extract (1 tsp)

Whisk together milk and vanilla extract in a small bowl.

The Frosting (Day 2)

115g butter, at room temperature (8 Tbs)
50g vegetable shortening (1/4 cup)
55g cream cheese (2 ounces)
25g glucose (1 Tbs)
18g corn syrup (1 Tbs)
12g clear vanilla extract (1 Tbs)
200g confectioners’ sugar (1 1/4 cups)
2g kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
.25g baking powder (pinch)
.25 g citric acid (pinch), optional

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening and cream cheese on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add turn on low speed. With the mixer running, stream in glucose, corn syrup and vanilla. Beat the mixture on medium-high speed until glossy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, baking powder and citric acid. Turn the mixer on medium-high speed again and mix until the frosting is fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

The Assembly

You’re almost there!

Flip the cooled cake onto a parchment lined surface. Cut out 2 circles from the cake using your cake ring. These will be your middle and top layer. Try to cut a few semi circles out of the remaining cake if you can.

Rinse and dry the cake ring and put it on a cardboard cake round. Place acetate around the edge of the ring to create a cylinder to build your cake inside of.

To make the bottom layer of the cake, place the semi-circle cut outs into the bottom of the cake round. To fill in the gaps, use cake scraps. It’s not going to pretty, but it’s ok. It works! Once the cake round is completely covered with cake, pat the cake down to one even layer. Next, apply half of the milk soak to the cake. This will act like glue and magically turn the bottom layer into a solid piece, instead of the scraps it is now.

Using a spoon, spread 1/5 of the frosting on the soaked cake. Layer 1/3 of the crumbs on top of the frosting and then top it with another 1/5 of frosting. Repeat these steps using one of the circle cake cut-outs as your next layer (cake – soak – frosting – crumbs – frosting). For the final layer place the last circle of cake into the cylinder. Top with the remaining 1/5 of frosting and decorate the top with the remaining crumbs. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and freeze at least 12 hours, giving the cake a chance to meld.

At least 3 hours before you plan on serving the cake, move it to the fridge to defrost. You can cut and serve it at room temperature or directly from the fridge if you prefer cold cake.

Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar

Use What I Use

KitchenAid K45SS 4.5-Qt. Classic Stand Mixer

KitchenAid K45SS 4.5-Qt. Classic Stand Mixer
The 4.5 qt stand mixer is smallest version of the classic kitchen workhorse, but packs the same punch as bigger models. It’s the ideal addition for smaller families or for those with minimal counter space.

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