Week 10: Birthday Cake
Happy birthday to my sister! This seemed like a good excuse to finally crack open my momofuku milk bar cookbook. It’s been unfortunately collecting dust because… to be honest, a lot of the recipes seemed intimidating. But I bought the book so I needed to try something. Birthday cake seemed like a good place to start.
This is a recipe that requires advance planning, as not only did I have to source special ingredients, but I had to order special kitchen tools online. I had to get a quarter sheet pan, 6″ cake ring/ring mold, and acetate strips online and was able to find the rest of the fancy ingredients at the bulk store. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, I’d add that to your list too.
The recipe is also online (https://milkbarstore.com/recipes/birthday-cake/) and is actually made up of four recipes, so I went to town on this project on a Sunday. The finished cake needs to be frozen for at least 12 hours and can stay frozen for up to five days, so that worked out perfectly for a weeknight birthday. It also needs to defrost in the fridge for at least 3 hours (and then I let it sit out for another half hour before we ate it). See what I mean about advance planning?
The good news is that after a classic birthday buffet dinner, the cake turned out to be a hit! My sister loved it and the rest of the family enjoyed it too. I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be enough cake for the six of us (the cookbook recipe says the 6” cake feeds 6-8 people) but it turned out to be plenty, especially after a buffet dinner. 10/10 for birthday festivity – this is a special occasion cake for the books.
Ingredients: plan in advance to order online and/or visit the bulk store for liquid glucose, clear [artificial] vanilla extract, citric acid, and rainbow sprinkles (I used the long ones rather than the tiny round ball shaped ones). You will probably also need to buy butter (unsalted for baking, always), vegetable shortening, cream cheese, buttermilk, and possibly corn syrup (I bought white/clear rather than golden), grapeseed oil, and cake flour if you don’t have them on hand.
Timing: it took me 3 hours to make the cake, crumbs, and icing. Then I let it cool for several hours and spent an unknown amount of time assembling it later that night. It then had to freeze for 12 hours (up to five days; I left it for two), then defrost in fridge for 3+ hours. I left it at room temperature for another half hour or so before we ate it and would recommend 30-60 minutes unless you like eating cold cake.
Yield: we got about 9-10 conservatively sized slices
Serving: for birthday dessert!
How did it go? This was my first time weighing out all the ingredients, so that was a bit of a change, but it went okay. I liked that the recipe in the cookbook drew lines between the ingredients so I could weigh things out in the same bowl as other ingredients added at the same time. It took me a while to get to the specified texture for the cake batter and I was still unsure if the ingredients were properly integrated. I was also unsure if I got the right size crumbs, but they didn’t seem to be coming together more and I was worried they were actually crumbling more apart the longer I mixed them so I just left it. Upon closer inspection of the picture, I think the crumbs are supposed to be much bigger but no one knew or cared.
I baked the cake for 35 minutes (it said 30-35) so I took it out based on those directions and vague springy descriptor (no toothpick test was shocking to me). Unfortunately it was just a tad undercooked in the middle. No one noticed that either. It was quite a nice golden brown on top so I didn’t want to risk leaving it in too long and having it get too dark or dry in the middle. It was also really hard to get it out of the pan. I don’t buy Pam so I buttered and parchment lined the bottom but to no avail. For some reason the bottom of the cake and the sheet of parchment stuck to the bottom of the pan even though I buttered it. When I tried to gently pry it out with a spatula (after carefully running a knife around the edges) the cake sort of tore. So that layer was my “jankier layer”, as Chef Tosi put it, and it was hidden in the middle and no one even knew!
*Update: upon closer inspection, the quarter sheet pan I ordered online had slightly different (smaller) dimensions than advertised on the website. My guess is that this contributed to the slightly underbaked centre and possibly the difficulties getting it out of the pan.
And finally, I put just 1g too much salt in the crumbs but didn’t think it would matter then found myself noticing they were a tad salty. I also fear I put slightly too generous a pinch of citric acid (my scale doesn’t measure in less than 1g increments) in the icing as I could notice the tartness. No one said anything about either of these so it’s probably just because I knew I did those things. Man, baking can be stressful sometimes! Thank goodness the reward is getting to eat cake 😊
Taste: so wonderful! I really loved the cake, it reminds me of the nostalgia of rainbow dot birthday cakes growing up, and tasted even better than out of a box. The cake itself was super moist and not too sweet. The tartness in the icing and the slight saltiness of the crumbs actually balanced out all of the sugar really nicely. The cream cheese in the icing also helped keep it from being cloyingly sweet like some buttercreams can be. I loved all the textures, especially the crumbs, and how they were nestled in between layers of icing. It was a really interesting cake to eat.
Tips: plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead. Read the recipe through in advance. Remember to leave your cold ingredients out on the counter to come to room temperature before you need them (butter especially needs time). Remember that baking is about the details, so pay attention to them and do your best to follow them, but at the end of the day, it’s also about having fun. No one will notice or care if it’s not perfect.
Luke’s review: old school cake meets new school flavour. Tall and mighty, fierce and bold, this cake emulates Patrick Swayze’s audition role for Chippendales in every bit. Crunchy, moist, and delicious frosting with a balanced ratio. If you like sprinkles, it’s got those too! All around a delicious birthday cake.
Luke’s recipe rating: two thumbs up!