The famous Momofuku Milk Bar Birthday Layer Cake – Layers of funfetti cake loaded with sprinkles, vanilla frosting, and birthday cake crumbs!
Well over a month ago (February 11th, to be exact), Brown Eyed Baker turned 10 years old young. I wanted to share a crazy awesome amazing cake to celebrate the milestone, but I took forever to decide what I wanted to make (making prompt decisions is NOT my strong suit – ask my husband). Eventually, it dawned on me that even though I’ve owned the Milk Bar cookbook for nearly four years now and have made a few recipes from it (see: compost cookies and crack pie), I had never tackled one of their signature cakes.
The site’s tenth anniversary/birthday seemed like as good a reason as any to finally make one, but first I needed to order a few special things (explained below, but a cake ring and acetate strips), and then I got sick for two weeks, and then I had to time everything so I could assemble the whole thing during daylight hours so I could photograph the process, and SO…
Here we are, over a month later, but with one HECK of a cake to share with you!
You’re probably wondering (as I was before buying this cookbook)…
What is the Momofuku Birthday Cake?
So, Momofuku is a group of restaurants and bars with multiple locations throughout North America and Australia, and Milk Bar is the bakery arm of the enterprise. It was founded by Christina Tosi and her cakes have a cult following. Milk Bar cakes are truly unique…
They are baked in a quarter sheet pan, then stamped out and assembled in a 6-inch cake ring for a triple-layer cake.
The cakes are not frosted on the sides, only between the layers and on top.
They all include a complementary “crumb” recipe that are sandwiched inside of the frosting between layers.
The cake layers are brushed with a “soak” as the cake is assembled to keep it moist and to add more flavor.
As you can see, this isn’t your typical bake-in-a-cake-pan-and-slather-in-frosting kind of cake.
And… it’s pretty awesome.
How to make the Momofuku Birthday Cake (step-by-step)
As I said, this is not your typical cake assembly, so I wanted to document process for you step-by-step, so you could have a picture of how the whole thing comes together. Here we go!
Birthday crumbs (I could eat these by the handful!)
Frosting (a fabulous vanilla)
Soak (a mixture of milk and vanilla extract)
The First Layer
You will use a cake ring to stamp out two 6-inch circles of cake, then piece together the scraps to build your first layer. The cake ring + strips of acetate act as a mold to build your cake.
Next, you will brush the first layer with half of the soak to keep it nice and moist.
The Frosting & Crumbs
Now, it’s frosting time! You do not use a lot of frosting for this cake, and you just soaked a cake layer, so you want to be sure that if you made the frosting ahead of time, you’ve let it come to complete room temperature so it spreads easily. Otherwise, you’re going to pull up wet cake crumbs as you try to spread it.
A portion of the birthday crumbs are pressed into the layer of frosting, then another layer of frosting covers them.
The Second Layer
This whole process (cake layer, brushing with soak, frosting, crumbs, more frosting) is repeated again for the second layer.
The Final Layer
Then, the last cake layer is placed on top, covered with frosting and topped with the remaining birthday crumbs.
The Waaaiiiiiiting is the Hardest Part
(ahem, I was big into Tom Petty in high school)
The cake goes into the freezer for at least 12 hours to allow it to set, then it’s popped out of the cake ring, the acetate strips are peeled away, and you’re left with an absolutely stunning cake that will wow anyone who sees it.
When you read the recipe below, you’ll see that there are some unconventional ingredients, specifically grapeseed oil, clear vanilla extract, citric acid, and glucose. I’ve included notes below the recipe that explain why these are included and possible substitutions for each, should need or choose to use them.
The author does state that the ingredients are chosen and used very purposefully for the specific textures and flavors that they impart. I made the cake exactly as the recipe was written.
Making & Assembling Ahead of Time
While this cake does have a number of components, they all can be made ahead of time to varying degrees. You’ll see at the end of each instruction section, I note how far in advance each component can be made, and how it should be stored. It really makes this cake much easier to tackle if you are tight on time most days!
My Thoughts on the Momofuku Birthday Cake
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the Milk Bar cake, primarily because I am a huge frosting person. To have a cake with naked sides is like blasphemy to me, but I went with it and crossed my fingers. As it turns out, I feel like this cake has the absolutely PERFECT ratio of frosting to cake, and IT. WAS. PHENOMENAL.
It’s not a big cake (6 inches in diameter), but the multiple layers and components makes it rich and full of flavor, so a little really does go a long way. This was finished and photographed on a Thursday… my husband and I each had a slice in the evening on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and there was still enough left for people to try on Sunday (AND we were left with one piece remaining after that). Everyone who had it on Sunday loved it just as much as we did and were so curious about all of the different layers.
There are quite a number of different types of Milk Bar cakes in the cookbook, and I can’t wait to try some others! I think next on my list might be the chocolate chip cake + passionfruit filling + coffee buttercream frosting… so intriguing, right?!
If you have something (or someone!) special to celebrate, give this a try! It’s totally different and people will LOVE it!
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper or Silpat.
Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until well combined. Add the oil and vanilla and mix on low speed until small clusters form.
Spread the clusters on the prepared sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking up the clusters once or twice during baking. The crumbs should be slightly moist to the touch; they will dry and harden as they cool. Allow the crumbs to cool completely on the pan before using. The birthday cake crumbs can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week, or in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 1 month.
Make the Birthday Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a quarter sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray and line with parchment paper, or with Silpat.
In a measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, grapeseed oil, and vanilla extract.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ¼ cup of the sprinkles.
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, gradually pour in the buttermilk mixture. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture has nearly doubled in size and is completely homogenous (don't rush this step!). Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix just until the batter comes together, about 45 to 60 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give the batter a final mix with a rubber spatula.
Spread the cake batter in an even layer in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles evenly on top of the batter. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes; when you gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger, the cake should bounce back slightly, and the center should no longer be jiggly. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely. The cooled cake can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
Make the Birthday Cake Frosting
In a small bowl, whisk together the glucose, corn syrup and vanilla extract.
Combine the butter, shortening and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and 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 mixture. Increase the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the powdered sugar, salt, baking powder and citric acid, and mix on low speed just to incorporate them into the batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is completely smooth. Use the frosting immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. (Bring to room temperature before using in the recipe.)
Assemble the Birthday Layer Cake
Put a piece of parchment or 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 stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake "scrap" will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
Layer 1, The Bottom: 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 cake scraps in the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and vanilla extract for the birthday cake soak. Using a pastry brush, brush half of the soak over the top of the cake.
Using the back of a spoon, spread one-fifth of the frosting in an even layer over the cake.
Sprinkle one-third of the birthday cake crumbs evenly over the top of the frosting. use the back of your hand to press them gently into the frosting.
Use the back of a spoon to spread a second fifth of the frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs.
Layer 2, The Middle: 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. Set one of the cake rounds (the more imperfect of the two) on top of the frosting, brush with the remaining soak, and repeat the process for Layer 1 (a fifth of frosting, a third of crumbs, and another fifth of frosting).
Layer 3, The Top: Nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the last fifth of the frosting. Garnish the frosting with the remaining birthday crumbs.
Transfer the sheet pan 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.)
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. Gently peel off the acetate and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours before slicing and serving. (You can store the cake, wrapped well in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.)
Canola oil can be substituted for the grapeseed oil.
The glucose is used to keep the frosting smooth, give it body and meld the ingredients together. You can purchase glucose on Amazon, but an additional 2 teaspoons corn syrup can be substituted for the glucose in the frosting.
The citric acid is used to enhance flavor and cut the sweetness of the frosting. My regular grocery store sells it with the canning supplies, and you can also buy it on Amazon.
The author calls for clear vanilla extract because of the distinct flavor it imparts. My regular grocery store sells it, but you can also buy it on Amazon.