It was recently the birthday of my friend Melissa's blog, Smell's Like Brownies. And by recently, I mean a couple of months ago... She wanted to make the famous Milk Bar Funfetti Birthday Cake to celebrate and asked if I wanted to help. Heck, yes, I did!
This cake is supposed to taste like the classic boxed version, but elevated. And the presentation is striking with naked cake layered between stark white frosting and topped with funfetti crumble. It takes a lot of steps to achieve those things (I think this is the longest recipe I've ever posted), but the end result is gorgeous and tastes amazing. Let's dive into the process!
The first step is to make the funfetti crumble, which is pretty crucial to the cake. It gives some really awesome crunch that just makes the whole thing work. To make it, mix together sugar, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles. By sprinkles I mean the long kind (Jimmies) not the spheres (Nonpareils). Then add in canola oil and clear imitation vanilla, form into crumbles, and bake to crisp up.
I know what you're thinking and I'm going to stop you right there. Clear imitation vanilla is crucial to this recipe. It is involved in every step and it is chosen by Christina Tosi for a reason - it keeps the frosting super white, and it is what makes the cake taste like the boxed version. You can certainly use the good, real stuff if you like, but it won't look or taste the same.
Next, it's time to make the cake batter. Combine butter, shortening, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, buttermilk, canola oil, clear imitation vanilla, cake flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles. Spread into a quarter sheet pan lined with parchment.
Add more sprinkles over the top. So pretty. This ensures that all your sprinkles don't end up sinking to the bottom.
Bake for 35 minutes, until it is golden brown and springs back when very lightly touched in the center. We were concerned that the edges were getting too dark and crispy by the time the center baked, and thought about putting in a note to cover it with foil. But later, we realized that those edge bits end up crumbled and soaked in milk. So don't worry about it!
Cool the cake completely (you can put it in the fridge to help).
Meanwhile, make the frosting. This is the best frosting I have ever made, seriously. Not only is it gorgeous and stark white, it is a dream to work with/spread, and it tastes amazing. Combine butter, shortening, and cream cheese. These three ingredients are the trifecta that make this frosting what it is. Then add in clear imitation vanilla and corn syrup. Tosi uses glucose in addition to corn syrup, and we were actually able to find some at Michael's, but we realized it looks exactly like corn syrup and we could probably just double the corn syrup and move on. Next, add in confectioner’s sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid. Citric acid is another strange sounding ingredient, but it's easy to find and enhances the tang of the cream cheese.
Once the cake is cool, flip it over and use a 6-inch cake ring to cut out 2 circles and 2 semi-circles. Don't eat the scraps (so hard, I know) - we are going to use them!
Place the cake ring onto a foil or parchment lined plate or tray - this will let you move the assembled cake when it's done. Line the inside of the cake ring with acetate or parchment paper to form a cylinder - which should be 6-inch diameter and about 9-inches tall.
Place the two semi-circles of cake into the base of the cake ring and fill in the gap with crumbled scrap pieces from the sheet cake. Add more crumbled pieces over the top to form a level(ish) surface.
Brush the top of the crumbs with a milk and clear imitation vanilla mixture. It will soften them into a homogeneous layer and keep the cake moist.
Mmm - moist cake crumbs. I'm guessing that the reason this broken layer goes at the bottom is so that the weight of the rest of the cake compresses it together. Just a theory.
Then you are going to lay down some frosting, 1/3 of the crumbs, and more frosting. You could just mix the frosting and crumbs together to make it simpler. It doesn't look as pretty in the final product, and there is a little less crunch (we tried it ourselves). So up to you on that one!
Anyway, do that again (cake, soak, frosting, crumbs, frosting). And for the third, and final, cake layer - skip the soak and put the remaining crumbs on top of the remaining frosting (so cake, frosting, crumbs).
Move the whole thing into the refrigerator to chill for 30 min to an hour to set. Tosi sets it in the freezer for 3 hours, then thaws for 1 hour. That seems excessive to me. We just put it in the fridge for a bit and it came out just fine. Remove the ring and the parchment, fill in any gaps in the frosting to make it look pretty, and revel in its beauty.
When you are done admiring it, make sure you try a slice! I don't even like cake that much, but this was delicious. Melissa and I loved it so much that we want to create a simpler sheet cake version, so that yummy cake can be had without so much effort.
Milk Bar Funfetti Birthday Cake
adapted from Christina Tosi of Milk Bar
Cookie Crumb Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp light brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine kosher salt
2 tbsp rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp clear imitation vanilla flavoring
Cookie Crumb Directions:
Preheat oven to 300 deg F. Line a quarter sheet with parchment.
Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles in a mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until well combined.
Add the oil and vanilla and mix again until small clusters form.
Turn the crumbs out onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15–20 minutes, until the crumbs are set and firm on the outsides. They will continue to crisp up as they cool.
Store the crumbs in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Birthday Cake Ingredients:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup unflavored vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp clear imitation vanilla flavoring
2 cups cake flour OR 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp fine kosher salt
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles, plus 2 tbsp
Birthday Cake Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Spray a quarter sheet with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment.
In a mixer bowl, cream the butter, shortening, and sugars at medium-high speed for 2–3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing and scraping in between, then beat for 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
Whisk the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla together. With the mixer on low speed, stream the liquids into the batter. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 4 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of the original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogeneous.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, salt, 1/4 cup of the rainbow sprinkles. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in two batches, stirring until just combined, about 45 to 60 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure all the flour is incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared quarter sheet and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp sprinkles evenly over the top.
Bake the cake for 30–35 minutes, or until it springs back when very lightly touched in the center. (This may require an extra 3–5 minutes.) The top of the cake will be puffed and golden, but still dense.
Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack.
The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup unflavored vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (2 oz) cream cheese
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tbsp clear imitation vanilla flavoring
1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp fine kosher salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp citric acid
Combine the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in a mixer bowl and cream for 3 minutes, until smooth and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
Add the corn syrup and vanilla. Beat another 2 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy white. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
Sift the confectioner’s sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid into the bowl. Mix on low speed until incorporated, then beat on high speed for 3 minutes, until the frosting is smooth, creamy, and stark white.
Store the frosting in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Assembly Ingredients and Tools:
1 recipe Birthday Cake
6-inch cake ring
2 strips acetate (3-x20-inches)
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp clear imitation vanilla flavoring
1 recipe Frosting
1 recipe Cookie Crumbs
Turn the birthday sheet cake out onto a thin cutting board. Using the cake ring, cut two rounds as close to the edges as possible. These will form the top two layers of the cake. Then cut two semicircles from the scraps.
Place the cake ring on a cutting board or cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Line the inside of the cake ring with the acetate strips, taped together to form a 6-inch tall cylinder.
Lay the two semicircles of cake in the base of the cake ring. Fill in the center with as much of the remaining cake scraps as needed to make a flat, even layer.
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and vanilla to make a soak for the cake. Using a pastry brush, paint about half of the soak over the whole base layer of the birthday cake.
Divide the frosting into thirds. With a small spatula or the back of a spoon, spread half of one portion of the frosting over the bottom layer of cake. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cookie crumbs (2/3 cup) evenly over the frosting. Carefully spread the other half portion of frosting over the cookie crumbs, making sure to work the frosting all the way to the edges of the cake ring.
Gently press one of the 6-inch cake round down into the acetate cylinder over the frosting. Brush with the remaining milk soak. Repeat the layers of frosting, cookie crumbs, and frosting.
Press the last round cake down over the middle layer of frosting. Spread the final third of frosting over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining cake crumbs (you don't have to use all of them if it seems like too much).
Place the cake, still sitting inside the ring and acetate strips, into the refrigerator for 1 hour to help set the shape.
Remove from the fridge and unmold from the cake ring and acetate. Allow to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes before cutting with a very sharp knife.
The cake can be stored in the fridge with the edges wrapped in plastic for up to 5 days.
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