Back in November I hosted Thanksgiving with AJ and made a huge dinner with all the fixings for us two, my brother and his wife, and their utterly cute daughter (my niece) who I absolutely adore. It also happened to be her second birthday so, of course, I had to make her a birthday cake. After hemming and hawing about what sort of cake to make her, I decided the best thing to do was the straightforward birthday cake that one makes for a child. A white chocolate funfetti birthday cake made from scratch, not the kind you make from a box mix. Luckily I had received a preview copy of the Momofuku Milk cookbook by Christina Tosi and there, in all it’s glory, was Chef Tosi’s version of the funfetti cake, made from scratch: the ultimate child’s birthday cake.
Of course, when I had initially thought to making a birthday cake for my two-year old niece, I did not think of what she might like. No, being the slightly self-absorbed typical San Francisco food blogger, I started to think about all the “seasonal” recipes I could create for her, the type that would be perfect for this blog! Maybe I could make a gorgeous upside down butterscotch pear cake, or an apple and quince bundt cake with toffee glaze. Maybe I could take advantage of the winter citrus and make a blood orange cornmeal cake or meyer lemon olive oil cake. Winter had just started up and I was falling back in love with grapefruit and pomegranates and kumquats. Gingerbread, peppermint, dark chocolate, all the heavy, beautiful flavors of the holiday season, start peaking around the corner of Thanksgiving, and my little niece was the excuse for me to bring them into the forefront.
But then I had to take a step back. Reason kicked in, and I remember that my adorable two-year old niece didn’t care at all for seasonal ingredients or fancy holiday flavors. She wanted cake. Heck she DESERVED a proper straight forward classic birthday cake. So, as the cool gay uncle that I was, I gave it to her. She got her funfetti birthday cake and oh boy was she happy.
Turns out my niece now associated her Uncle Irvin with cakes and cookies. True, she still hasn’t quite figured out which one is Uncle Irvin and which one is Uncle AJ (we’re both one single unit to her, names interchangeable) but that’s ok. She still picks up my brother’s calculator, presses a bunch of buttons on it, and then puts the calculator to her ear and speaks into it “Uncle Irvin? Uncle AJ? Cake? Cookie?” like a cell phone. That makes me love her all the more. It makes AJ and Irvin love her all the more in fact.
So I was thrilled I found this recipe in the Momofuku Milk Cookbook. If you don’t have it, I definitely recommend running out and getting it. Sure there may be a number of recipes that have some difficult ingredients to get ahold of (milk powder, glucose, clear vanilla extract, citric acid etc). However, Chef Christina Tosi really just wants you to be able create her desserts the way she makes them which is why she wants you to use these ingredients. Thankfully she also includes some substitutions (not for the milk powder though – you should just bite the bullet and buy some, you won’t regret it). Though most of the recipes in the Momofuku Milk cookbook are super sweet (she tries hard to replicate the flavors or childhood, which is that super sweet packaged baked goods flavor) every now and then a treat like that, made from scratch without the weird preservative chemicals, is exactly what you need for a two-year old who equates you with cakes and cookies.
Special thanks goes to Clarkson Potter Publishing for providing me a review copy of Momofuku Milk Bar. Though the book was provided by them, I was not compensated for anything I wrote above and all opinions are my own.
By Irvin LinAdapted and inspired by the Momofuku Birthday cake, from the Momofuku Milk Cookbook by Christina Tosi this cake itself is a slightly more sophisticated in flavor, as I used a white chocolate cake adapted from Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard for the actual cake layers instead of the box cake inspired batter from the original recipe. Technically this cake isn’t COMPLETELY made from scratch, as I didn’t bother to make my own rainbow sprinkles (I didn’t have time, after all, I WAS also prepping for Thanksgiving dinner) but I did use Let’s Do…Sprinklez which are made (mostly) with organic ingredients. It’s the best I could do. That said, the cake is REALLY sweet, so be sure to slice it thinly, as you don’t need a lot of it.
The recipe looks really daunting because it has so many steps. Keep in mind that you can make the cake crumbs earlier and just can keep it, up to a week in an airtight container, or a month in the freezer. Just make sure to cool completely before storing. You can also make the cake layer a day ahead as well, just wrap it (uncut) with plastic wrap to keep it moist. Once you read over all the instructions, you’ll see it’s not as labor intensive as it may seem initially. Still this is one of those special occasion recipes that require thinking ahead, as well as freezing it 12 hours in advance, so you might not just want to make it on the spur of the moment.
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated white sugar
25 g (1 1/2 tablespoons) dark brown sugar
100 g (3/4 cup) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup mild flavored oil (I used canola, but you can use whatever you have on hand)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
260 g (2 cups) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
85 g (3 oz) white chocolate (please use one made with real cocoa butter)
4 large eggs, separated
1/8th teaspoon cream of tartar
170 g (3/4 cup or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
350 g (1 3/4 cups) granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles
113 g (1/2 cup or 1 stick) unsalted butter
50 g (1/4 cup) transfree shortening
57 g (2 oz or 1/4 brick) full fat cream cheese
30 g (2 tablespoon) invert sugar, glucose, corn syrup or mild flavored honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
200 g (1 1/4 cup) confectioners’ sugar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1. Make the cake crumbs by preheating the oven to 300˚F. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.
2. Place the sugars, flour, baking powder, sea salt and sprinkles in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn to low speed and blend until the ingredients are evenly distributed and uniform.
3. Add the oil and vanilla and mix on low to medium speed until the dough starts to clump up. Pour the crumbs onto the lined baking sheet and spread out evenly. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
4. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crumbs on the edge of the pan start to turn golden brown. The crumbs may be moist while hot, but will crisp up when cooled. Let cool in pan completely before using. Once you pull out the cake crumbs, turn the oven up to 350˚F for the cake.
5. While the cake crumbs are baking, make the cake batter by first lightly spraying a 12 x 17 inch half sheet pan with cooking oil then using parchment paper and then spray that parchment paper and the sides of the pan.
6. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Using a balloon whisk, vigorously stir the dry ingredients until they are uniformly blended.
7. Chop the white chocolate into 1/2 inch pieces and place it in a heatproof metal bowl, fitted over a pot of water. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Turn the heat on to high, until the water boils. Then turn off the heat and let the residual heat of the hot water and steam melt the white chocolate (stir occasionally to help it melt).
8. Place the egg whites (reserving the egg yolks for later) along with the cream of tartar in a clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the wire whisk. Beat the egg whites on high until they form soft peaks. Slow the mixer down to medium speed and sprinkle 50 g (1/4 cup) of white sugar into the egg whites until the egg whites become stiff and glossy white. Scoop out, and place in a large bowl.
9. Place the butter and remaining 300 g (1 1/2 cup) sugar in the bowl and replace the wire whisk with the paddle. Beat the butter and sugar on high speed for 2 minutes or until the butter is light and fluffy. Scoop out two tablespoons of the butter and mix it into the melted white chocolate, then scrape the white chocolate mixture into the butter and beat on low speed until incorporated. Add two egg yolks and beat until incorporated, then add the other two and repeat. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.
10. Add half the buttermilk and beat on medium speed until incorporated. Add half of the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until incorporated. Repeat with the buttermilk and then the dry ingredient again.
11. Scoop out half of the beaten egg whites into the cake batter, and fold it in with a large spatula. Then add the other half and fold it in. Add the rainbow sprinkles and fold into to evenly distribute. Scrape the batter out onto the prepared baking sheet and smooth it out evenly to distribute the batter throughout the pan (I used an offset spatula to help me with this, but a butter knife will work just fine).
12. Bake the cake in the 350˚F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown, the center of the cake bounces back when touched, and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in the pan.
13. Once the cake has cooled, make the frosting by placing the butter, shortening and cream cheese in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream the fat and cream cheese until it is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the invert sugar (or glucose/corn syrup/honey) into the bowl and beat for another 3 minutes until smooth and glossy. Add the sugar, salt, and baking powder and beat on low until the dry ingredients start to incorporate and then increase speed to medium and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until smooth.
14. Assemble the cake by first take the back of another 12 x 17 inch half sheet pan and lightly spraying it with cooking oil. Place a piece of parchment paper on the cake, and then place the bottom of the half sheet (the one that you just sprayed with cooking oil) on top of the cake. Invert the pans, and then unmold the cake onto the back of the half sheet. The cooking oil should keep the parchment paper from sliding off. Then peel off the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Taking the 6 inch cake ring and cut out three circles of cake in the pan by placing the ring on the cake and pressing firmly down. You will have to “stagger” the cake circles, by punching out one cake circle on the top left side of the cake sheet, one in the bottom middle of the cake sheet and one on the top right side of the cake sheet.
15. Place the cake ring on the platter/plate that you want the cake on (keep in mind that the platter has to go into the freezer overnight so pick something durable). Line the inside of the cake ring with one strip of the acetate. Place 1 of the cake circles in the bottom of the ring (it should be resting on the platter). Spread 1/5th of the frosting over the cake circle all the way to the edges (touching the acetate strip). Sprinkle 1/3 of the cake crumbs over the frosting and press down with your fingers to push them into the frosting (don’t mash them down hard, just press enough so they are firmly in the frosting). Spread 1/5th of frosting over the cake crumbs.
16. At this point, take the second acetate strip and wrap it around the inside of the cake ring, tucking it about 1/4 inch deep into the side of the bottom acetate strip. You should have a strip of acetate sticking up about 5 or 6 inches high. Place the second cake circle on top of the frosting and repeat the process, first frosting with 1/5th of the frosting, 1/3 of the crumbs and then another 1/5th of the frosting.
17. Repeat with the final cake layer then cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the remaining cake crumbs decoratively on top (pressing down to anchor some of them). Place the entire cake in the freezer for 12 hours. Take the cake out at least three hours before serving. Once you take it out of the freezer, pull the cake ring straight up and off the cake. Then peel the acetate strips off the cake gently. Let the cake defrost at room temperature for three hours or refrigerate the cake for up to five days, wrapped well in plastic wrap.
Makes one 6-inch cake. Serves 6 to 8 people