Can you believe we’re already halfway through 2016? It seems like it only started yesterday! My fellow analysts and I just had our 1 year work anniversary so we’re no longer considered the newbies – which can be good and bad, depending on how you look at it. I was fortunate to be placed in the BEST Ops team at MS, so transitioning wasn’t too much of a challenge. We’re one big family!
But enough of work talk – let’s focus on the real business here. Cake time – birthday cake too be specific. My birthday (and my twin’s, as well as Michael Phelps) happens to land smack in the middle of year. What better time for a refresh and reflection on the past half and future half year.
For my 23rd birthday, I decided to try to make my first ever birthday cake. And not just any birthday cake, but Christina Tosi’s Birthday Cake. She shares a number of her Milk Bar cake and cookie recipes online. I chose to make the birthday cake simply because it was for my birthday. The cakes I’m really setting out to make in the future are the apple pie cake, german chocolate jimbo cake, and mint cookies n cream cake (not necessarily in that order).
The cake itself isn’t hard to make. It just takes time, preparation, organization, and reading comprehension. She provides a lot of specific detail in the recipe, including mixing times, mixing speeds, equipment, and other tips. It really helps to read the recipe carefully multiple times before starting it. As a slow and beginner baker, I took the previous night to measure out all my ingredients. This really helped speed up preparing the batter the next day. I already had everything measured out and only needed to mix everything in my stand mixer as written in the recipe. Word of advice – you sort of need a stand mixer here, unless you can mix by hand at the speed of a medium-high of a stand mixer.
I prepared 3 of the cake parts (birthday cake, birthday cake crumbs, and birthday cake frosting) on Sunday and stored it in the refrigerator until I was ready to assemble on Wednesday night. Don’t worry – they store in the refrigerator for at least 5 days or more.
The night before my birthday I assembled the cake. I didn’t have any acetate so I substitute parchment paper. It was quite tricky working with it because the paper doesn’t stick together like acetate would. I also used a 6 inch springform pan instead of a cake ring so it had a slightly jagged circumference.
Assembling was a bit messy. I would advise having a sufficient working space, wearing gloves and having a number of utensils like spatulas and spoons on hand. Once I got the hang of the pattern: cake, cake soak, frosting, crumb, frosting, repeat, it was fun. I wasn’t scared of applying some pressure and packing the layers in or making a bit of a mess with the frosting and crumbs. After sprinkling the last layer of crumb on the cake, I stuck it in the freezer to set overnight.
3 hours before eating the cake, I took it out of the freezer and defrosted it in the refrigerator. This is definitely a cake that should be served cold because the layers are better structured that way. Although the cake wasn’t the prettiest, cutting the cake and seeing all the layers was quite satisfying.
I admit that I didn’t follow Tosi’s recipe to the T. I wasn’t about to buy clear imitation vanilla extract, corn syrup, glucose, or citric acid for a cake I would make once. I replaced it with what I had in the house or omitted it if it only a minute amount was needed. I’m sure it differed slightly from the original but I quite enjoyed it. My family and I enjoyed the first couple of bites but it became too sweet for us after a few more bites. We aren’t a family of sweet teeth so it may just be the right amount for others. I followed the amount of sugar as written in the recipe but maybe I might decrease it next time.
This cake is definitely not for the faint of heart. A small piece is more than good enough. It is rich, sweet, buttery, moist, and everything the classic American butter cake should be. It’s supposed to replicate a funfetti boxed cake mix so I guess this is expected.
Baking my own birthday cake was probably one of the funnest parts of my 23rd birthday. The other part of the day is ALL THE SURPRISES I received throughout the day. My team surprised me with an ice cream cake from Ben & Jerry’s and my sister came to work to give me a dozen crumbs cupcake. The best surprise was probably a gift card to one of Christina Tosi’s classes. I can’t wait to sign up for one and taste the original!
Well that’s how my birthday went. Sweet and surprising. I highly encourage you to try your hand at making one of Tosi’s cakes. Find the birthday cake recipe below.
Momofuku Milk Bar Birthday Cake
1 (6-inch) cake ring
2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long
cake assembly instructions
1. put a piece of parchment or a silpat on the counter. invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or silpat from the bottom of the cake. use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. these are your top 2 cake layers. the remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
layer 1, the bottom
2. clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a silpat. use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring.
3. put the cake scraps together inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.
4. dunk a pastry brush in the birthday cake soak and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half of the soak.
5. use the back of a spoon to spread one-fifth of the frosting in an even layer over the cake.
6. sprinkle one-third of the birthday crumbs evenly over the frosting. use the back of your hand to anchor them in place.
7. use the back of a spoon to spread a second fifth of the birthday cake frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs.
layer 2, the middle
8. with your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall – high enough to support the height of the finished cake. set a cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer 1 (if 1 of your 2 cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it here in the middle and save the prettier one for the top).
layer 3, the top
9. nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. give it volume and swirls, or do as we do and opt for a perfectly flat top. garnish the frosting with the remaining birthday crumbs.
10. transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. the cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
11. at least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. gently peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, the cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
12. slice the cake into wedges and serve.
makes 1 quarter sheet pan
55 g butter, at room temperature (4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick)
60 g vegetable shortening (1/3 cup)
250 g granulated sugar (1 1/4 cups)
50 g light brown sugar (3 tablespoons, tightly packed)
110 g buttermilk (1/2 cup)
65 g grapeseed oil (1/3 cup)
8 g clear vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)
245 g cake flour (2 cups)
6 g baking powder (1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 g kosher salt (3/4 teaspoon)
50 g rainbow sprinkles (1/4 cup)
25 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons)
1. heat the oven to 350°f.
2. combine the butter, shortening, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.
3. on low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. don’t rush the process. you’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for that liquid. there should be no streaks of fat or liquid. stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
4. on very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and the 50 g (¼ cup) rainbow sprinkles. mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together. scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a silpat. using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. sprinkle the remaining 25 g (2 tablespoons) rainbow sprinkles evenly on top of the batter.
6. bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. the cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. at 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests.
7. take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating). the cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
birthday cake soak
55 g milk (1/4 cup)
4 g clear vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)
whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.
we use two different kinds of vanilla extract, brown patisse brand and clear mccormick brand. neither is of any fancy caliber, but we use these specific vanilla extracts on purpose because they are the flavor that most people relate to in their baked goods. vanilla beans and fancy vanilla paste do not taste like home to me, but commercial vanilla extract does.
we use brown (standard) vanilla extract in 90 percent of our baked goods. it’s the extract that flavors nearly every homemade chocolate chip cookie. we use clear mccormick vanilla extract for the birthday cake, birthday cake crumb, and birthday cake frosting. it is vanilla in flavor, but not flavored by any actual vanilla beans. it’s “vanilla” in more of a guilty tub-of-frosting, box-cake way. the two are not interchangeable in recipes. both patisse brown extract and mccormick clear vanilla are available online.
birthday cake frosting
makes about 430 g (2 cups)
115 g butter, at room temperature (8 tablespoons or 1 stick)
50 g vegetable shortening (1/4 cup)
55 g cream cheese (2 ounces)
25 g glucose (1 tablespoon)
18 g corn syrup (1 tablespoon)
12 g clear vanilla extract (1 tablespoon)
200 g confectioners’ sugar (1 1/4 cups)
2 g kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
.25 g baking powder (pinch)
.25 g citric acid (pinch)
1. combine the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. with the mixer on its lowest speed, stream in the glucose, corn syrup, and vanilla. crank the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and a glossy white. scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid and mix on low speed just to incorporate them into the batter. crank the speed back up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until you have a brilliant stark white, beautifully smooth frosting. it should look just like it came out of a plastic tub at the grocery store! use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
birthday cake crumb
makes about 275 g (2 ¼ cups)
100 g granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
25 g light brown sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons, tightly packed)
90 g cake flour (3/4 cup)
2 g baking powder (1/2 teaspoon)
2 g kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
20 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons)
40 g grapeseed oil (1/4 cup)
12 g clear vanilla extract (1 tablespoon)
1. heat the oven to 300°f.
2. combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until well combined.
3. add the oil and vanilla and paddle again to distribute. the wet ingredients will act as glue to help the dry ingredients form small clusters; continue paddling until that happens.
4. bake for 15 minutes at 300°f.
5. let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or scarfing by the handful. stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.