Milk Bar’s Birthday (or Mother’s Day or Any Day) Cake

Birthday Layer Cake7Christina Tosi from Milk Bar loves classic, sweet, indulgent and at times industrial (oh no!) desserts. At least that is what she claims. I really have my doubts about that. You know, about her actually enjoying the shitty cake that comes out of a mix box tasting of chemicals and sugar. I digress, regardless of her inspiration, Tosi produces fantastic sugary treats that are playful, beautiful and delicious. She seems like a delightful person as well judging by her appearances on Chef’s Table and Mind of a Chef TV shows.

Birthday Cake

The cake batter has not one but three different fats: butter, canola oil and shortening. That must be what helps give it an excellent texture and a very good “fridge life”. It is flavored with vanilla and has a bunch of sprinkles mixed in. I baked it in a quarter sheet pan and let it cool there. Then I used a 6 inch cake ring to cut 2 circles and large “scraps”. The scraps will make the bottom layer. This process is pretty typical of all the cakes in Milk Bar cookbook recipes.

Birthday Cake2

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I love some textural variation in cakes. A big part of why I think most cakes are boring is the uniform texture and lack of crunch. Tosi uses a “crumb” between the layers to add that much needed texture and boosts of flavor. Crumb is very much what it sounds like, made from sugar, fat (canola oil in this birthday cake crumb), flour, salt, baking powder and flavoring. Since this is birthday cake crumb it also has sprinkles mixed in. The mixtures is combined in a stand mixer then baked at 300 F for about 20 minutes. Once it is completely cool it is crunchy, crumbly delicious stuff. I used the extras to mix into a homemade ice cream I made. Very proud of that idea. The ice cream was excellent.

Birthday Layer Cake

Birthday Layer Cake8

Frosting is what brings it all together, holds the layers in place and of course it…well it’s frosting. This one is butter, shortening and cream cheese whipped very well. Then you add glucose, corn syrup, vanilla, powdered sugar a pinch of baking powder and a pinch of citric acid. Why those last 2 ingredients? I’m guessing Tosi again is trying to get it sort of close to what a “store frosting” tastes like. Don’t know, but this stuff tastes 100 times better than any crappy store bought frosting.

Birthday Layer Cake2

To assemble, the fun part, using the 6 inch ring mold and acetate sheets we start layering. The “scraps” in 3 or 4 pieces go in the bottom. The cake gets brushed with a birthday cake soak (really it’s just milk and vanilla). Then goes the frosting, then goes a layer of crumb. Then a layer of cake and the same sequence again. When that is done the cake gets frozen until 3 hours or so before cutting into it. Slip it out of the ring, remove the acetate and place on a cake stand. Let it defrost and come to proper temperature. Slice and serve.

Birthday Layer Cake3

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A distinctive feature of Milk Bar cake is that they are “naked”, no frosting covering the whole thing and sides. Why? Tosi explains it best. Why go through all that hard work with cake and crumb and frosting and then cover the whole thing up! I agree. It is really beautiful, rich and so delicious.  Below is a gratuitous picture of a recent cake I also made based on Tosi’s formulations; chocolate cake with milk crumb and strawberry frosting. This one stayed delicious even after being in the fridge for a week.

Layer Cake-Chocolate-Strawberry

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A Cake for Mom: Strawberry Ricotta Cake

The decision was made a while back by my 6-year-old that the cake for Mother’s Day will have lots of strawberries. So that was that. Diana had to choose if she wanted it chocolate mousse based or “something white and lighter”. She went for the latter choice. This delicious cake is a perfect spring time cake and a very good showcase for ripe strawberries. The recipe is from “The Pastry Queen” the book by Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe in Fredericksburg, Texas. That’s about an hour from Austin, in the Texas hill country. Her Tuxedo Cake, Mahogany Cake, Orange Muffins and Chocolate Chip Scones are all-time  favorites in my house. 

The base here is an angel food cake (egg whites+sugar+flour and NO fat) that incorporates orange and lemon zest and lemon juice in the mix for a good kick of flavor. I’ve baked this by itself before to eat with a dollop of whipped cream and a cup of coffee. The cake is sliced horizontally and built in a plastic-lined bowl with a filling of sweetened ricotta flavored with vanilla. I let it sit in the fridge overnight to give it a chance to “meld”, the cake gets a bit softer as it absorbs a little of the ricotta’s water and the whole thing holds together very well in a dome shape.

To finish the cake, I flipped it out of the bowl and frosted it with sweetened whipped cream. To make sure any whipped cream frosting stays put on a cake, especially if the cake is not going to be served right away, I always add a little bit of gelatin (about 1/2 teaspoon per 2 cups). It’s enough to make sure the frosting is stable but certainly not high enough to be noticable or to make the frosting rubbery. The last step is to cover the cake with rows of sliced ripe strawberries to resemble shingles on a roof. I served it with a bittersweet chocolate sauce. The cake was fantastic and mom was pleased.