Is this cake not the happiest, little cake you’ve ever seen?! It’s so colorful and spunky – sort of like Rainbow Brite, the Care Bears or Punky Brewster. In fact, the cake creator and owner of famous Milk Bar, Christina Tosi, came up with this cake to provide a little nostalgia to those days when confetti box mix cakes and store-bought frosting were all the rage. I must warn you: if you plan to bake this cake, it will take you many hours and much preparation. I will also warn you that this is the longest blog post ever.
There are four parts to prepare: the cake, the cake soak, the crumble and the frosting. I started around 10-10:30 a.m. then took a break around noon for lunch. Got back to it around 1 and the cake was in the freezer and all dishes were cleaned by 2:30-3:00. You CAN do it in phases… a little each night to make it less overwhelming:
- The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
- The crumble will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
- Frosting can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- The completed cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
The beauty of this cake is that it lets the cake and frosting speak for itself, without all the hullabaloo. No smooth frosted sides, borders, roses, fondant, royal icing, food coloring, frosting bags or tips! The cake decorating isn’t needed because the “naked cake” display on the Momofuku Birthday Cake is just stunning. When I first saw this cake 4 years ago, I vowed to make this cake and bought the 6 in cake ring, the acetate strips, the grapeseed oil and all the other supplies needed. BUT… I didn’t make the cake. I became absorbed in DIY crafts for my upcoming wedding, My husband and I bought a house shortly after and then the house projects took over. Life took over…
As my 40th birthday loomed closer this past January, I went perusing my Pinterest Cake Recipes board for some ideas on what I wanted to do for this year’s celebratory confection. I posted the question on my Insta and FB pages on which cake I should make… Momofuku, Whoopie Pie or Boston Cream. The response on Instagram was big: Momofuku Milk Bar Birthday Cake (it DOES have ‘Birthday’ as part of its name, after all). So I began reading other blogs who have made this cake and watched a few YouTube videos. Milk Bar actually has the recipe right on their website too.
What’s funny is that even though there was a change of address and so many years gone by, those items I purchased for the Momofuku Milk Bar cake were STILL kicking around! I knew what the cake ring and acetate strips were for whenever I came across them… but I’ve been looking at the cake flour and grapeseed oil and wondering why the heck did I buy this stuff! I knew it was for something specific, but couldn’t remember until now! Phew!
I made this cake on a Sunday, stuck it in the freezer all week and transferred it to the fridge on the following Saturday morning. By 6 p.m. Saturday night, it was defrosted and ready to travel into Boston for my 40th birthday dinner with a dozen fabulous friends! The website says it feeds 12 and it fed 13 that night!
1 6-inch cake ring
2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long
1 quarter sheet pan
I hit up Amazon to buy a quarter sheet pan and my Peapod app to buy the ingredients needed. I then went looking for those supplies purchased all those years ago. Does cake flour keep after 4 years? Better not risk it – it went in the trash. Does grapeseed oil keep after 4 years? It was never opened, so I think it’ll be okay. Now that I’m thinking of it, I didn’t have a Pinterest page, an Amazon app on my phone or Peapod back in 2013. The blogs and YouTube videos I referenced before starting didn’t exist then either. So perhaps it’s for the best that I waited four years until technology made this complicated cake a bit easier on us bakers!
Tip: About an hour before you begin, put out your 2 sticks of unsalted butter and eggs so they reach room temperature. This makes for better mixing.
LET’S START WITH THE CAKE!!
This makes enough for a quarter sheet pan. You can find one on Amazon. They are about 9×13. Apparently, it’s what the “real” bakers use in those “real” bakers. The recipe below is straight from the Milk Bar’s website, with my commentary added in – of course.
4 Tbsp butter, at room temperature (1/2 stick)
1/3 Cup vegetable shortening (see Crisco baking sticks above?)
1 1/4 Cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1/3 Cup grapeseed oil
2 Tsp clear vanilla extract (I used Wilton’s!)
2 Cups cake flour
1 1/2 Tsp baking powder
3/4 Tsp kosher salt
1/4 Cup rainbow sprinkles
Plus 2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles for the last step
1. Preheat oven at 350. Pam-spray your quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment. To do this, simply place pan on the parchment paper and take a pencil around the edge of the bottom of the pan creating a nice, rectangle guide. Take your scissors and cut out the rectangle to place at the bottom of your pan. This will allow for your cake to not stick and come out of the pan completely when baked.
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, add 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 homogeneous. 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 a 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.
5. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan and sprinkle the remaining 2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles evenly on top of the batter. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. 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.
6. Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer.
While your cake is baking/cooling, you will have lots of cleanup to do – but don’t put away all those ingredients (especially that vanilla extract)! You will be using a lot of this stuff again! You can also use this time to make your Cake Soak and prepare the delicious crumbles.
Birthday Cake Soak
1/4 Cup milk
1 Tsp clear vanilla extract
Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.
Birthday Cake Crumble
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp light brown sugar
3/4 Cup cake flour
1/2 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles
1/4 Cup grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp clear vanilla extract
1. Heat oven to 300°f and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
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. Scrape bowl to get every last bit onto that sheet pan. I noticed that the Milk Bar likes to put sizable chunks of this stuff around the perimeter of the top of their cakes so I made sure to shape some 1-1 1/2 in boulders on my sheet before baking for 15 minutes.
Both the cake and the crumble need to be completely cool before you begin assembly. Now might be a good time to break for lunch.
Birthday Cake Frosting Time!
8 Tbsp butter, at room temperature (1 stick)
1/4 Cup vegetable shortening
2 oz cream cheese
1 Tbsp glucose (Mine didn’t arrive from Amazon in time and didn’t miss it in my frosting.)
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1 Tbsp clear vanilla extract (1 tablespoon)
1 1/4 Cup confectioners’ sugar (1 1/4 cups)
1/2 Tsp kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
A pinch of baking powder (pinch)
A pinch of citric acid (I wasn’t going to spend $8 on this to only add a pinch. Again, didn’t miss it.)
1. Get out that stand mixer again! Combine the butter, shortening and cream cheese in the bowl with the paddle attachment. Cream together on medium-high for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. With the mixer on its lowest speed, add glucose, corn syrup and vanilla. Crank the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and a glossy white. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. I like to put my dry ingredients all together in a separate bowl and then gradually add into the wet ingredients on a low speed when making frosting. Combine confectioners’ sugar, salt, baking powder and citric acid in said bowl and then slowly pour into the mixing bowl on low speed – until incorporated. 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.
Are we ready for assembly? Yes, yes we are!
Put a piece of parchment, silpat (pictured above), large tray or other other flat surface on the counter. Take a knife and run it along the edges of the cake. Flip the pan over so cake comes out upside down and peel away your baked on parchment paper. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake, as seen in my photo above. These are your bottom and top cake layers. The middle layer will be made up of those 2 half circles and cake scrap as needed.
1. Layer 1: Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a cake board or sheet pan lined with clean parchment. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring.
2. Place one of your “good” cake circles in the bottom. Use a ladle or pastry brush to apply a good amount of that cake soak on cake layer #1.
3. Using a spoon, scoop 1/5th of the frosting onto the cake and smooth it around with the back of the spoon. I tried my smaller spatulas, but the spoon is absolutely the best tool for this job.
4. Sprinkle 1/3 of the crumble evenly over the frosting and use the back of your hand to smoosh them down into the frosting. Then take another 5th of the frosting and again with the back of a spoon, smear it around to mix in with the crumble.
5. Layer 2: With your index finger, 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 5 to 6 inches tall – high enough to support the height of the finished cake.
6. Put the 2 half circles together and mash some cake scraps down the center to create 1 flat even layer. Get out the soak and give this layer a healthy milk bath. Then repeat the 1/5th of frosting, then 1/3rd cake crumbles, then another 5th of frosting step.
7. Layer 3: The final layer should be your best cake circle. Cover the top of the final layer with the remaining frosting. Give it some wavy swirls or try for a perfectly flat top.
8. This is when those big fatty crumbles come in. I placed those delicious boulders around the edge and then sprinkled the smaller crumbles are the perimeter as well. (I may have made these too big. Live and learn.) As a final step. I grabbed some more sprinkles and gave the perimeter some additional decorative color.
9. Transfer 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.
10. At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake (I did 12 hours just to be sure), pull the cake 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).