Sure to be a winner for any birthday boy or girl, this funfetti-filled, towering Milk Bar birthday layer cake will feed an army of party-goers and will not ever disappoint even the pickiest of cake eaters (and they do exist!)!
I’ve made a lot of birthday cakes, starting from box mixes when I first started baking to scratch cakes like the famed Hershey’s chocolate cake, my first and then second – and favorite – chocolate peanut butter cake, a basic vanilla bean cake dressed up in pink frosting and sprinkles, and even an peanut butter Oreo ice cream cake. Each one of those cakes have meaning for me.
This birthday layer cake was my own from this past August and it’s truly a bittersweet cake for me. On the upside, this is, by far, the most intricate and rewarding cake I’ve made yet. It’s not a difficult cake, by any means, but one that includes a number of steps and four distinct components which combine into a absolutely gorgeous and delicious birthday cake.
The bittersweet part is that this birthday was the first since my dad passed away in July. I had tried to prepare for what this would be like but in reality, nothing could prepare me for how I would actually feel. This was the first birthday that was dad wasn’t in my life. It was (and still is) absolutely heartbreaking to think that he was there on my very first day in this world but was no longer with me to celebrate any more birthdays. He was the bike builder for my 5th birthday, the magician at my 6th birthday party, the sea captain at my 11th birthday party where we took some of my friends to the beach on our boat for the day. He loved every cake I made, and without exception, the cannoli cake I made for him on his last birthday. I miss everything about him so terribly.
I don’t mean to turn this blog into my personal journal but so much of the food I make has such an emotional tie and obviously, this cake is no different. I can wholeheartedly say that this birthday layer cake was worth all of the effort and all of the tears I spilled while making, eating, photographing, and writing about it.
While it’s a 6-inch round cake, it’s not an insignificant cake at all. Baked in a quarter sheet pan, two layers are cut out of the larger sheet and the third is cobbled together with the scraps. The cake is assembled in a ring mold with clear acetate around the rim as structure. Between the funfetti layers is a vanilla milk soak to add moisture and flavor, a hefty vanilla buttercream, and a whole lotta sweet, crunchy, and completely addictive funfetti birthday cake crumbs (this might be the best part of the whole cake!). Then more of the crumbs are piled high atop the cake to finish it off. Completely over the top but OMG, so completely awesome! Plan plenty of time to make and freeze the cake before you serve it (it needs 12 hours in the freezer and 3 hours in the fridge to thaw) but I guarantee there won’t be a sole at your party who won’t devour this cake.
Tools and specialty ingredients you will need for this cake:
- 6-inch cake ring
- Acetate (I’m sure smaller rolls are available, as are sheets – I didn’t want to cut them to size – but I plan to make more of this style of cake and will need the extra acetate eventually.)
- Clear vanilla extract. I used McCormick’s clear vanilla flavor which I found at my local grocery store. Michael’s also sells this in the Wilton cake decorating section.
- Glucose (see ingredient note below)
- Citric acid
- Rainbow sprinkles. Any kind will do but I ordered a big batch from The Baker’s Party Shop since my local cake decorating store is woefully devoid of fun sprinkles.
- 4 tbsp (55 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup (60 g) vegetable shortening
- 1 ¼ cups (250 g) granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp (50 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
- 2 tsp clear vanilla extract/flavor
- 2 cups (245 g) cake flour
- 1 ½ tsp (6 g) baking powder
- ¾ tsp (3 g) Kosher salt
- ¼ cup (50 g) plus 2 tbsp (25 g) rainbow sprinkles, divided
- ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp (25 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- ¾ cup (90 g) cake flour
- ½ tsp (2 g) baking powder
- ½ tsp (2 g) Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp (25 g) rainbow sprinkles
- ¼ cup grapeseed or canola oil
- 1 tbsp clear vanilla extract/flavor
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 tsp clear vanilla extract/flavor
- 8 tbsp (115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup (50 g) vegetable shortening
- 2 oz (55 g) cream cheese
- 1 tbsp glucose (or 2 tsp light corn syrup)
- 1 tbsp corn syrup
- 1 tbsp clear vanilla extract/flavor
- 1 ¼ cups (200 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
- ½ tsp (2 g) Kosher salt
- Pinch (.25 g) baking powder
- Pinch (.25 g) citric acid
- To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a quarter sheet pan (11x7-inch) and line it with parchment paper or a Silpat/silicone baking mat.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, shortening, and sugars together at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs, and continue beating for another 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again.
- With the mixer on low speed, pour in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Bring the speed up to medium-high and beat for 4-6 minutes, until the mixture is almost white in color, has just about doubled in volume, and is completely homogeneous. There should be no streaks of fat or liquid left in the batter. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl once more.
- With the mixer at the lowest speed (just a stir), add the cake flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles (¼ cup (50 g)). Mix for 30-45 seconds, until the batter just comes together. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again. Spread the batter in an even layer in the prepared quarter sheet pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp (25 g) sprinkles over the top of the batter.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes. During baking, the cake will rise and puff up so don't be alarmed. When completely done, the cake should bounce back when lightly pressed at the edge and not jiggle in the center when gently nudged - check for this at the 30-minute mark. If the cake isn't finished after 30 minutes, bake for another 3-5 minutes. Keep in mind that dark pans will require less time and probably not the full 35 minutes.
- Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack until completely cool (you can speed this up in the fridge or freezer). Either wrap the cake in the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days or proceed with the assembly instructions below.
- To make the birthday cake crumb: Heat or reduce the oven to 300° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat/silcone baking mat.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles on low speed until well-combined.
- Mix in the oil and vanilla until the mixture starts to stick together and form clusters. Spread the clusters on the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally throughout the baking time. When finished, they will be slightly moist but will dry as they cool. Allow the crumbs to cool completely before using in the recipe. Put them out of sight to ensure you'll have enough for the recipe - they're addictive! Once cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
- To make the birthday cake soak: Whisk the milk and vanilla together in a small bowl.
- To make the birthday cake frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, shortening, and cream cheese together at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- With the mixer on low, pour in the glucose (or corn syrup if using in place of the glucose), corn syrup, and vanilla. Increase the speed up to medium-high and beat for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy white. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again.
- Mix in the confectioners' sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid on low speed until just incorporated and then increase the speed back up to medium-high and beat for another 2-3 minutes. The frosting should be bright white and very smooth. Use the frosting immediately (recommended) or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- To assemble the cake: Invert the full cake layer from the pan onto a piece of parchment paper or Silpat/silcone baking mat on the counter. Peel off the top piece of parchment away from what is now the top of the cake. Using a 6-inch cake ring, cut out two rounds of cake. These will be the top two layers of the finished cake. Use the remaining scraps for the bottom layer of cake in the following steps.
- Wash and dry the cake ring and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet (I washed and reused the quarter sheet pan so it will fit in the freezer later in the process). Line the inside of the cake ring with a piece of acetate that overlaps at the edges and tape the edges together from the outside.
- Cobble the cake scraps together in the bottom of the ring to form the first layer - the height should be about equal to that of the other layers. When you think you can't squeeze any more cake in, keep going - you want this to be a sturdy layer under what will be a heavy cake. Brush the top of the layer with some of the cake soak. Spread 1/5 of the frosting (each filling layer will have 2 layers of frosting) out over the cake in an even layer. Sprinkle the top of the frosting with 1/3 of the cake crumbs in an even layer. Spread another 1/5 of the frosting over the top of the cake crumbs - and this doesn't have to be too neat, just make sure you spread the frosting all the way out to the acetate in order to achieve the look of the Milk Bar cakes.
- Add another strip of acetate into the cake ring, just nudging it down below to top of the frosting so that it overlaps at the edges; tape the edges together from the outside. You'll want the total height of the acetate pieces to be about 6 inches tall.
- Gently place one of the cut out cake layers on top of the frosting and repeat the filling instructions: cake soak, frosting, crumbs, and frosting. Place the remaining cake layer atop the frosting, brush with the remaining cake soak, slather on the remaining frosting, and pile the remaining cake crumbs atop the frosting.
- Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to allow the cake and filling to set. The cake, wrapped tightly, will keep for 2 weeks in the freezer.
- On serving day: At least 3 hours before you plan to serve the cake, remove the cake from the freezer and with your fingers, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Transfer the cake to a cardboard cake round (at least 6-inches in diameter) and place the cake in the fridge to thaw for at least 3 hours. When ready to serve, transfer the cake on the cardboard round to a cake stand or round platter. With a long, sharp knife, cut the cake into wedges and serve. Store the leftovers in the fridge, wrapped tightly, for up to 5 days. It's doubtful they will last that long, however.
adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi