It was one of my best friends from Dallas’ going away party, which coincided with her birthday month. I asked her if she had any requests for a cake, and she picked the Momofuku Milk Bar Birthday Layer Cake. It just happened that I recently bought the Milk Bar dessert cookbook, so i agreed to make her the cake.
You know a cookbook is a good one when you flip through the pages, and a lot of them are stuck together. That sounds like a bad joke with sexual innuendos, but the Momofuku milk bar cookbook , although just a few months old, already has many pages wrinkled and splattered with ingredients from previous cooking process.
The birthday cake recipe itself is pretty ironic in that it’s Christina Tosi’s recreation of those prepackaged boxed cake mixes, and canned frostings. When I read this in the cookbook, I was very conflicted. The whole point of baking from scratch is to avoid these over processed, cheap mystery boxes and plastic tasting frosting, whyyyyy would anyone want to recreate it? It already exists! Silly hipsters….
But I was not going to turn my friend’s request down, and the other recipes by Tosi’s that I’ve tried both were quite good, so I sighed and got to work.
Like the other Momofuku Milk Bar cake recipes, this one has is composed of a cake, a frosting, and a milk crumb. I guess what makes it a Birthday cake are these “funfetti” sprinkles that are baked into the cake and the milk crumb, creating pockets of color. By the way, “funfetti” is a Pillsbury branding term, which refers to their version of a cake mix made with nonpareils.
Since all of my previous milk bar cakes came out pretty small, and this cake was going to be served to about 20 people, I decided to scale up the recipe to make a bigger cake. This also meant that I needed a lot of these nonpareils, which are made out of sugar and cornstarch. I also found out that stores like Whole Foods and Central Market does not carry nonpareils because they are too processed and bad for you!! I had to make another trip after visiting 3 stores before being able to find them at Target, which only had two containers left, each with a different color scheme. I really wonder if these things are so scarce that some guy is buying and hoarding them, and because they are so processed, they never go bad!
Anyhow, aside from the nonpareils, if you can find them, there are a few other specialty items that trecreation mentions, but I’m sure that you can substitute. The recipe calls for glucose, which is sugar in its simplest form, which is the form sugar is absorbed into the blood stream directly without needing it to be broken down. The chemical characteristics of glucose is that it is an invert sugar in liquid form, therefore it can never return to its crystal form.
The cook boom tells you that you can substitute light corn syrup, which I’m sure will not make a difference in taste. I was able to find Wilton glucose for a few dollars, so that’s what I used.
The other item that the recipe calls for and is somewhat unusual, is clear vanilla extract, which will allow the cake and frosting stay as white as possible. The only clear vanilla extract I found was also immigration vanilla extract, but I did not notice any anomalies in taste.
I’m sure that even if you use regular vanilla, it won’t turn your cake or frosting brown.
To portion up the cake, I figured that I make two quarter sheets, and cut out 10 inch cake rounds with my springform pans, and make cake truffles with the scraps. For each quarter sheet, I made 1.5 times the recipe in the book, since I’ve had issues in the past with not getting enough batter in the pans to get evenness throughout the cake sheet.
To make the batter, room temperature butter, vegetable shortening, white and brown sugars are creamed together in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium high speed for a couple of minutes.
Eggs are added to the mixer and mixed on medium high for another couple of minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
On low speed, with the mixer on, stream buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract into the mixer.
Increase the speed to medium high, and beat for 4 to 6 minutes until the batter becomes fluffy and doubled in volume, and completely homogenous. There should be no streaks of oil or fat, and remember the scrap down the sides of your bowl.
On low speed, add the flour, baking powder salt, and the Nonpareils to the batter.
Mix for on low speed until the dry ingredients are just mixed into the batter, which should take less than 1 minute.
Pour the batter into a Silpat lined quarter sheet pan, and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, bake the other cake. Once your cakes are done, and you are waiting for them to cool, you can make the birthday cake crumbs.
Crumbs are a specialty for cakes at the Milk Bar. They are baked bits of sugar, flour, held together by oil. The crumbs add a burst of flavor and a crunchy texture to the cakes, and in the case of these birthday cake crumbs, bits of rainbow sprinkles.
To make these crumbs, white and brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and nonpareils are added in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, and mixed on low speed until combined.
The oil and vanilla extracts are added and mixed until the dry ingredients start to come together in small clusters. Spread the wet crumbs on a baking pan lined with parchment or Silpat, and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Let the crumbs dry to room temperature, and they will harden as they cool.
To make the birthday cake frosting, butter, shortening, and cream cheese are combined in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and creamed together until smooth and fluffy, a couple of minutes.
Likewise to the cake recipe, I tripled the frosting recipe to,accommodate a large cake.
With the mixer on low, glucose, corn syrup, and vanilla are streamed in. Turn the mixer to medium high and beat the frosting until smooth and glossy.
The confectioners’ sugar, salt, baking soda, and citric acid is added to the mixer on low.
Turn up the speed on the mixer once the dry ingredients are incorporated, and paddle on medium high speed for a few minutes until the frosting is smooth and silky.
To assemble the cake, a quarter sheet of cake is turned out of the pan and the Silpat removed.
Cut out one round of cake using a 10 inch spring form pan ring. I cut it out of the center of the cake, since I plan to cut two whole rounds from the two quarter sheets and form the third layer out of the cake scraps.
Place the round of cake in the cake ring lined with acetate sheet.
Soak the cake with a mixture of milk and vanilla.
Spread a layer of frosting on the bottom layer of the cake.
Sprinkle some cake crumbs over the frosting.
I made the middle layer of cake using cake scraps and this is why milk bar cake recipes are good for the chefs. It doesn’t matter how ugly it looks in the middle, the cake will come out beatific and nice at the end.
Repeat the process with the milk soak, frosting, and cake crumbs for the next two layers of cake.
The assembled cake is frozen overnight, and can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.
The layers all came out perfectly, and it was a sugary success!