I’d been wanting to make Momofuku Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake ever since I saw Kitchen Heals Soul’s beautiful rendition of the famous cake. I love the cake’s unfinished look; it’s certainly a departure from your typical beautiful-looking-but-bleh-tasting fondant wedding cakes. According to Christina Tosi (head pastry chef of Milk Bar and winner of this year’s James Beard Rising Star award), they decided not to frost their cakes in the conventional way because they had spent so much time thinking about the different components, layers, and textures of the cake — why not show it off?
So when my 25th birthday rolled around this weekend, I decided to use it as an excuse to finally bake this decadent cake. For myself.
- Birthday Cake Crumb
- Birthday Cake
- Birthday Cake Soak
- Birthday Cake Crumb
Funfetti Birthday Layer Cake (adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook)
For the Birthday Cake Crumb
(makes about 2 1/4 cups)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
- 3/4 cup cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
- 1 tablespoon clear (fake!) vanilla extract
For the Birthday Cake
(makes 1 quarter sheet pan cake)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
- 2 teaspoons clear (fake!) vanilla extract
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
For the Birthday Cake Soak
(makes 1/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon clear (fake!) vanilla extract
For the Birthday Cake Frosting
(makes 2 cups)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
- 2 oz. cream cheese, cold
- 1 tablespoon glucose
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon clear (fake!) vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- a pinch of baking powder
- a pinch of citric acid
Birthday Cake Crumb Recipe
- Heat the oven to 300 (F).
- 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.
- Add the oil and vanilla and paddle again to distribute. The wet ingredients will act as a glue to help the dry ingredients form small clusters; continue paddling until that happens.
- Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch; they will dry and harden as they cool.
- Let the crumbs cool completely before using. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer. I suggest you make these babies a day ahead of when you actually want to make the birthday cake/soak/frosting to save time.
Birthday Cake Recipe
- Heat the oven to 350 (F).
- 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.
- 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 — there should be no streaks of fat or liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt and the 1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Spray a quarter sheet pan with cooking oil and line it with parchment or a Silpat mat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of rainbow sprinkles evenly on top of the batter.
- 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 cake 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 rack.
Birthday Cake Soak Recipe
- Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.
Birthday Cake Frosting Recipe
- Combine the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- 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.
- 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 on 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.
All right. You still with me? Just wanted to check in and see if you had been scared away. I know this cake is kind of a process. I can hear you wondering if it’s even worth it. But it is. Because here comes the fun part. Now we get to build those pretty, decadent layers you’ve been seeing in the pictures:
I normally don’t do step-by-step pictures for my recipe steps, but this was such a process that it merited its own photography session. Momofuku Milk Bar’s cookbook is also severely flawed in that the book doesn’t have large, full-blown pictures of the process — I decided to try and remedy this by providing my own. Sometimes reading written instructions really doesn’t cut it. Admittedly, these photos aren’t great — I don’t know how the bloggers who have picture tutorials manage to bake and take photos at the same time! I kept panicking that I was going to cover my camera in something gross. So sorry about the mediocre photos — it was quite difficult switching back and forth between the two.So, here goes. And remember not to panic. This’ll work. I promise.
Momofuku Milk Bar Birthday Layer Cake (Putting it all together)
- parchment paper or a Silpat mat big enough to hold a 6 inch cake
- 1 6-inch cake ring
- pastry brush
- 2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long*
Makes one 6-inch layer cake, 5 to 6 inches tall; serves 6 – 8
- 1 recipe Birthday Cake (from above)
- 1 recipe Birthday Cake Soak (from above), divided in half
- 1 recipe Birthday Cake Frosting (from above), divided into fifths
- 1 recipe Birthday Cake Crumb (from above), divided into thirds
Prepping the Layers
- 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 measure out two full circles and two half circles in the cake:
- Then stamp out the 2 circles and half circles:
- These are your top 2 cake layers:
- The remaining cake “scrap” and 2 half circles will come together to make the bottom of the cake.
Layering the Layers
- 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.
- Put the two half circle scraps in the ring, like so:
- And fill the remaining gap between the two with the remaining cake scraps:
- You’re going to have more cake scraps than can fit in the gap. Simply take the excess cake scraps and press them down into the cake layer, using the back of your hand to achieve a flat and even layer:
- Okay, maybe not, but close enough.
- Next, dunk a pastry brush in the birthday cake soak and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half the soak:
- Use the back of a spoon to spread one-fifth of the frosting in an even layer over the cake:
- Sprinkle one-third of the birthday crumbs evenly over the top of the frosting. Use the back of your hand to anchor them in place:
- Use the back of a spoon to spread a second fifth of the frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs:
- Next, set one of your cake rounds on top of the frosting. If one of your cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it here for the middle and save the prettier round for the top layer. Repeat the process above.
- When it’s completed, nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. By this point, you should have a fairly tall cake:
- With those famous Milk Bar layers:
- Cover the top of the cake with the final fifth of the frosting. Garnish the frosting with remaining birthday crumbs:
- Transfer the cake and the sheet pan that it’s on to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling.
- 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:
- 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, and then pushing the cake base up and letting the cake ring slide down my arm. Sorry I don’t have visuals of this, I couldn’t really take photos of the process as I had my hands full.
- 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 before serving.
- And now, enjoy!