Monday, February 11, 2013

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Momofuku Milk Bar Layered Birthday Cake

The Super Bowl demands a touchdown dessert. Which is why I went to my source of reliably impressive recipes: the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. The NYC bakery's desserts are over-the-top sweet, in a candy-induced, sugar-high kind of way. They're fun and frivolous. Colorful. And brightly-hued desserts always draw a crowd. (Think about it: The taste of Funfetti is almost indistinguishable from white cake, yet the sprinkles make it infinitely more appealing.)

The one downfall of Momofuku's desserts is their complexity. Vegetable oil is replaced by rarely used grapeseed oil; ingredients like "glucose" or "citric acid" make repeated appearances. That's why I save their recipes for special occasions. This time, I decided to conquer the Layered Birthday Cake, which requires baking a cake, baking a cake crumble, mixing a whole milk soak, and preparing frosting. Then putting all of that together. I spent a good two or three hours on the endeavor. But, man, was it worth it, even though the Super Bowl isn't really that exciting.

The first slice I ate, shortly after I finished assembling the cake, wasn't that impressive. (My reaction: "Why didn't I just make a layered Funfetti cake?") But after the cake sat overnight (as the directions tell you to do), and the flavors mingled, it was divine. 

In the words of a friend, "it's so good it's almost bad." Bad, because one slice is not enough, even though it may leave you with a dull sugar stomachache. The whole milk soak imparts a density that distinguishes Momofuku's creation from boxed cake, and the frosting has a lightness you won't find in a can (even if you buy whipped!). The crumb gives it a delightful, crunchy sweetness, almost like pieces of sugar cookie mingled in to surprise your taste buds.  

Momofuku Milk Bar Layered Birthday Cake

What you need

For the cake: 
4 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 Tbsp tightly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup grapeseed oil*
2 tsp clear vanilla extract (Momofuku uses McCormick brand) 
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles
Nonstick spray

*Grapeseed is best, because it's flavorless. But in a pinch, canola oil works just fine.

For the soak:
3/4 cup whole milk 
1 tsp clear vanilla extract 

For the crumb:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp tightly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp clear vanilla extract

For the frosting:
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 oz cream cheese
1 Tbsp glucose*
1 Tbsp light corn syrup
1 Tbsp clear vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of baking powder
Pinch of citric acid (often called "sour salt")**

*You'll probably have to order this online. Or simply sub in 2 tsp light corn syrup.
**You can use a few drops of lemon juice instead, if need be. 

  Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. To make the cake, combine the butter, shortening, sugar, and brown sugar in a stand mixer; cream on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, then mix on medium-high for another 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides again.  
  3. On low speed, gradually mix in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is nearly white, double the size of the original mixture, and completely uniform in appearance. (There should be no fatty or liquidy streaks. This can take a while, and that's fine.) Scape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. On the lowest speed possible, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles. Mix for about a minute, just until the batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  5. Grease a quarter sheet pan (I used a large cookie sheet with rimmed edges) and line it with parchment paper. Spread the cake batter in an even layer across the pan, and spread the remaining 2 Tbsp sprinkles evenly over the top. 
  6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake has doubled in size. At 30 minutes, poke the edge of the cake with your finger. It should bounce back slightly, and the center shouldn't be jiggly. If necessary, bake the cake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. 
  7. Remove the cake from the oven onto a wire rack, and reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
  8. To make the crumb, combine the sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles, and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix again until small clusters form. 
  9. Spread the clusters on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Break the clusters up occasionally. Don't worry if they are slightly moist when you remove them from the oven. They will harden as they cool. Allow to cool completely. 
  10. To make the frosting, mix the butter, shortening, and cream cheese on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, so the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  11. Set the mixer on its lowest speed, and slowly pour in the glucose, corn syrup, and citric acid. Mix until just incorporated, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes. 
  12. To make the soak, whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.
  13. Now assemble it all: Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter, and invert the cake onto the parchment. Use a 6-inch cake ring to stamp out two circles from the cake. (I don't have a cake ring, so I just placed a 6-inch bowl upside down on the cake and cut around it with a sharp knife.) These are your two top cake layers, and the scraps are what will make up your bottom layer.
  14. Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with parchment. Use a strip of acetate (3 inches wide, 20 inches long) to line the inside of the cake ring. (Again, I don't have a cake ring or acetate. My solution: I constructed the bottom of the cake in a 6-inch skillet, then transferred it to a cake stand.) Place the cake scraps in the ring, using the back of your hand to flatten the scraps into a smooth, even layer.
  15. Dip a pastry brush in the cake soak, and generously bathe the bottom layer of cake.
  16. Using the back of a spoon, spread a fifth of the frosting evenly over the cake, then sprinkle a third of the crumb over the frosting. Spread a second fifth of the frosting evenly over the crumb.
  17. With your index finger, tuck a second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top 1/4 inch of the first strip of acetate, so you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall. Set a cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer one. (No acetate? Just free hand it!)
  18. Nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover with the last fifth of frosting, and garnish with remaining crumbs. 
  19. Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for at least 12 hours. (I skipped this. I was dying to try the cake.) At least 3 hours prior to serving, remove from the freezer, pop the cake out of the cake ring, peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a platter. Let it defrost in the fridge for at least 3 hours, then slice and serve.


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