Guys, it's my 26th birthday today.
I've never been a big birthday person. I think the last birthday party I threw for myself was in eight grade and it was such a stressful affair — water park, sleepover, movie — that I never threw another party again. I generally hate being the center of attention, and often times shy away from the spotlight. These days, if I'm feeling wild, I'll spend my birthday getting dinner at a restaurant or going to a quiet bar with some friends. But admittedly, it's getting more and more anti-climatic each year — I have nothing planned for today, for instance. Oh well. As long as no tears are shed (like last year's birthday, but that's another story), I'll consider it a successful day.
My, my, what a high bar I set for myself.
Presents are another way I like to suck the fun out of birthdays. I believe, sincerely, that birthdays are a way of getting what you want without having to pay for it. This is something that my boyfriend Erlend and I have argued about repeatedly over the years. While he's all about the surprise and the thought behind the process, I absolutely hate surprises and not knowing what I'm going to get. This is why I keep ordered Amazon wish lists to I send to him and family members year after year. That way, there's no disappointment when I open up any packages.
So yep. I'm like the grinch. Who hates birthdays. I'm Birthday Grinch.
Aware of my somewhat pessimistic outlook on birthdays, I decided it was time to establish some sort of celebratory tradition in honor of my birthday. Last year, I made this Funfetti Birthday Layer Cake from Momofuku Milk Bar's cookbook. It was probably the highlight of my birthday last year. I figured why not make another fully-stacked, gloriously layered, and unapologetically unfrosted cake from one of New York City's most famous bakeries?
So, behold this chocolate chip cake:
According to the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, head pastry chef (and James Beard Award winner) Christina Tosi decided to keep her cakes unfrosted because she had spent so much time thinking about the different components, layers, and textures of the cake. Why hide it behind some frosting?
Indeed, as you can see in the picture above, this cake is particularly stunning: a layer of chocolate chip-butter milk cake soaked with passionfruit puree, topped off with a layer of passionfruit curd, topped with some chocolate crumbs, before finally finishing with some coffee buttercream frosting... only to repeat the whole thing again. All in all, the different parts make 11 different layers for one cake. Epic right?
A word on the cake: coffee-passionfruit-chocolate? Doesn't that seem a little out there? But it turns out that coffee-passionfruit-chocolate is a common pastry school combination, and one that's slowly becoming mainstream. In Portland, I've seen several bakeries offer up passionfruit-cocoa nib donuts in the last few months. Think of it like chocolate-orange, or chocolate-raspberry even. A tart, citrusy fruit flavor paired with some bold chocolate. My coworkers absolutely loved it. They finished off half the cake before lunchtime.
But I won't lie to you — this cake was a feat. Not only does it require you to find some pretty obscure ingredients and equipment, but it requires you to make four different parts using completely different recipes (cake, curd, crumbs, frosting) before finally even putting it together. The cookbook doesn't do a great job providing pictures of the assembly process either. You can use my process guide from last year's birthday cake post with step-by-step pictures to help you out. Before you start baking, read my baker's notes AND the recipe carefully. That's all I can tell you.
Should you decide to take the red pill and make this cake, brace yourself.
But believe me, it's worth it.
Some baker's notes:
- I mentioned before that this cake has four different parts: chocolate chip cake, passionfruit curd, chocolate crumbs, and coffee frosting. Unless you want to spend your entire day baking this cake, break it up like I did, in this order:
- DAY 1 / (Wed): chocolate crumbs (can be refrigerated for up to 1 month)
- DAY 2 / (Thu): passionfruit puree (can be refrigerated for up to 1 week)
- DAY 3 / (Frid): chocolate chip buttermilk cake (to be refrigerated overnight)
- DAY 4 / (Sat): coffee frosting (to be used immediately) + cake assembly
- DAY 5 / (Sun): EAT CAKE!
- You need a couple of obscure things to make this cake: a quarter-sheet pan, a 6-inch cake ring, acetate sheets, a pastry brush, and a freestanding blender (or an immersion blender). I have one word for you: Amazon.
- Similarly, you need to find passionfruit puree. I sourced mine off Amazon for a pretty price that I'm still a little bitter about. But if you live in a big city with a Mexican and/or Hispanic supermarket, you can apparently find passionfruit puree (the brand is Goya) in the frozen fruit aisle. Under any circumstances, DO NOT USE PASSIONFRUIT JUICE AS A REPLACEMENT — your passionfruit curd won't have the right texture if you do.
- The passionfruit curd requires that you use a freestanding blender to blend a bunch of ingredients together. I don't have a blender, so I used an immersion blender instead. It worked fine.
- The chocolate chip cake recipe instructs that you use mini chocolate chips as opposed to regular chocolate chips. Regular chocolate chips will have a different effect on the final texture of your cake — plus, you get more chocolate with every bite if you use mini chocolate chips! Please pay attention to this minor detail.
- When baking the cake, the cookbook says it's okay to line the tray with nothing but a Silpat mat. You can do this, but your life will be TERRIBLE. The cake is incredibly moist and will be super hard to get out of the pan. USE PARCHMENT PAPER AT ALL TIMES.
- The coffee frosting needs to be used immediately after making — under any circumstances, DO NOT MAKE THE FROSTING IN ADVANCE! It's an incredibly finnicky frosting to begin with — according to the book, you're basically trying to mix in fat with more fat. It takes a really long time for the coffee milk to integrate with the butter, and if you try and refrigerate it, it will separate on you and you will spend even more time trying to get it back together again. Just... don't.
- After assembling the cake, it needs to be frozen overnight for all the different layers to set. It then needs to be thawed to room temperature in order to be edible — this will take about 3 hours. So plan ahead. The schedule that I used in my first bullet point takes the freezing into account, so feel free to use that plan.
- 2/3 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350 (F).
- Combine 2/3 cup flour, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2/3 cup cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on low speed until mixed.
- Add 6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts together in small clusters and clumps — at this point, it should look a little bit like wet sand.
- Spread the clusters on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, using a dough scraper to break them up occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly most to the touch at that point; they will harden and dry as they cool.
- Let the crumbs cool completely before using in the recipe. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the refrigerator.
(makes about 1 1/2 cups, enough for one layer cake)
- 1/2 cup passionfruit puree
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin, unflavored
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Put 1/2 cup passionfruit puree and 1/3 cup granulated sugar and blend until the sugar granules have dissolved. Add 2 eggs and blend on low speed until you have a bright-orange-yellow mixture. Transfer the contents of the blender to a medium pot or saucepan. Clean the blender canister.
- Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin evenly onto the surface of 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small cup. Make sure you sprinkle the gelatin evenly — pouring it into a pile on top of the water will not allow it to bloom properly since the granules in the center will remain hard. Allow the granules to soften entirely in the cold water for 3 to 5 minutes — the gelatin has bloomed when it has become soft. If it still has hard bits, it needs to bloom longer. If it's so soft it is falling apart, it's overbloomed; discard the gelatin and start over.
- Heat the passionfruit mixture (from the first step) over low heat, whisking regularly. As it heats up, it will begin to thicken. Keep a close eye on it. Once it boils, remove it from the stove and transfer to the blender. Add the bloomed gelatin, 3/4 cup cold butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and blend until the mixture is thick, shiny, and super smooth. If you're using an immersion blender, divide the butter into 1 tablespoon portions and add the portions one by one, only adding the next portion when the previous one has been incorporated.
- Once all the butter is incorporated, transfer the mixture to a heatproof container, and put in the fridge until the curd has cooled completely, at least 30 minutes. The curd can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; DO NOT FREEZE.
Chocolate Chip Cake
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 light brown sugar, tightly packed
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 (F).
- Combine 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup light brown sugar in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Cream together on medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high again for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.
- On low speed, stream in 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup grapeseed oil, and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Continue mixing 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. Be patient and don't rush the process! According to the cookbook, you're basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn't want to make room for the liquid. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Once the mixture is completely homogenous, continue mixing at low speed and add 1 1/2 cups cake flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERMIX. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl — if you see any lumps of cake flour in there while you're scraping, mix for another 45 seconds.
- Prepare a quarter sheet pan by generously spraying with cooking oil or butter and line with parchment. Spray/butter the parchment. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the cake batter to the sheet pan, spreading the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Give the bottom of your sheet pan a tap on the countertop to even out the layer. Sprinkle 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips evenly over the cake batter.
- Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain 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.
- Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire cooling rack, or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer. The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 3/4 teaspoon instant coffee powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Coffee Frosting Recipe:
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar. Cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale yellow.
- While the butter and sugar is creaming, make a coffee milk by whisking together 1/4 cup whole milk, 3/4 teaspoon instant coffee powder, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a small mug. Set aside.
- Once the butter has finished creaming, scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula. Turn on the mixer to medium-high speed and gradually, tablespoon by tablespoon, add the coffee milk (from the second step). DO NOT ADD MORE COFFEE MILK INTO THE BUTTER MIXTURE UNTIL THE PREVIOUS ADDITION IS FULLY INCORPORATED. Doing so will be a pain and it will take a long time for the two ingredients to incorporate — you are basically trying to force liquid into fat. Be patient! The butter mixture will clump up and separate upon contact with the coffee milk, but don't fear. Just keep being patient. Eventually you'll end up with a wildly, fluffy coffee frosting, pale brown and super-shiny. Use immediately.
- 1 recipe chocolate chip cake (from above)
- 1/3 cup passionfruit puree
- 1 recipe passionfruit curd (from above)
- 1/2 recipe chocolate crumb (from above)
- 1 recipe coffee frosting (from above)
- 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Note: Although I've linked to pictures of the process within the recipe, I know it can get a little cumbersome trying to click links while baking. If you'd rather see the pictures of the process embedded within the text, I highly suggest checking out my blog post for Momofuku Milk Bar's funfetti birthday layer cake. It's the same process, but the pictures embedded within the recipe — just be mindful of the different flavors!
Prepping the Cake:
- Place a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat mat large enough to hold the chocolate chip cake on your counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment from the bottom of the cake.
- Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 full circles and 2 half circles from the cake (visual here). The 2 full circles will be your top two cake layers (visual here), while the 2 half circles and remaining cake scraps will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
- Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment paper or a Silpat mat. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring (Visual here, but please note that last year, I used one giant strip of acetate. You can do this as well, but it makes the cake harder to layer).
- Put the 2 half circles in the cake ring (visual here); there should be a gap in the middle of the circles. Fill the gap between the two half circles with the remaining cake scraps (visual here). Use the back of your hand to press the scraps together to fit into the space (visual here). You're going to have more scraps than can fit in the gap. Simply take the excess scraps and press them down evenly on top of the cake layer, using the back of your hand to create a flat and even layer (visual here).
- Dunk a pastry brush into the passionfruit puree and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half the puree (visual here and here).
- Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the passion fruit curd in an even layer over the cake (visual here and here).
- Sprinkle half of the chocolate crumbs evenly over the passion fruit curd. Use the back of your hand to anchor the crumbs in place (visual here and here).
- Use the back of a spoon to spread one-third of the coffee frosting as evenly as possible over the chocolate crumbs (visual here). This will be a difficult task, but no worries! It doesn't have to look perfect.
- If you're using two strips of acetate, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top 1/4 inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate that is about 5 to 6 inches tall — high enough to support the height of the finished cake.
- Set a cake round of top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer 1. If one of your 2 cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it in the middle and save the pretty one for the top — you will be judged by your top layer!
- When you've completed your middle layer and topped it off with frosting, nestle the final layer into the frosting. By this point, you should have a fairly tall cake (visual here).
- Cover the top of the cake with the remaining 1/3 of coffee frosting. Opt for a perfectly flat top and garnish with 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips and any leftover chocolate crumb quantity you desire.
- Transfer the sheet pan (with the cake) to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and the filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
- At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and use your fingers and thumbs to gently pop the cake out of the cake ring. This was actually more difficult than I anticipated. The cake/acetate sheets were stuck around the cake ring pretty hard, so I ended up taking a knife and running it between the acetate sheet and the cake ring. Be patient — press your fingers around the outside of the cake while rotating it to methodically applying gentle pressure all around. The cake will eventually come loose.
- Transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand and gently peel off the acetate (visual here and here). Let it defrost in the fridge for a minium of 3 hours (or 1 hour at room temperature) before serving.