Momofuku Birthday Cake

Everything about living in Vienna for 4 months was unbelievably fantastic. Everything except for a noticeable lack of moist cake.

I had plenty of pastry in Europe. Kipferl. Strüdel. Macarons (oh my goodness, so many beautiful little macarons). Unfortunately, despite my fortune of beautiful European treats, halfway through my trip, all I had was a giant American craving for a thick slice of chocolate cake.

So, naturally, once I came home and finally had access to an oven, one of the first things I did was make me some cake.

I’ve personally never been to Momofuku Milk Bar, but once I saw this cake, I had to make it. My kitchen lacks some of the special features that the original recipe requested, but even with my adaptations, my “birthday” cake – it was no one’s birthday and I don’t own sprinkles 😦 – was dang tasty. I was scared that the cake soak would make the cake soggy, but I was pretty liberal and the cake was just normal moist, so really just go for it when it comes to that step.

I’ve never done a layer cake before and thought it was going to be a tedious process (I read somewhere that it took one person 5 hours – what?! – to make this whole cake), but it took me a total 2 hours (including washing dishes and clean-up) to make this little darling cake. So worth it.

Momofuku Birthday Cake
adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar
For one 6-inch cake (plus a little baby cake from the scraps)
For the cake:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk, 7/8 teaspoons cream of tartar)
⅓ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups granulated sugar
⅓ cup vegetable shortening
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 large eggs

For the crumbs:
¾ cup cake or all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the frosting and assembly:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup vegetable shortening
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
1¼ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup milk

  1. For the cake:
    1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13×9″ rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with nonstick spray; set aside.
    2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Combine buttermilk, oil, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
    3. Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat granulated sugar, shortening, butter, and light brown sugar in another large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Continue to beat mixture, occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl, until almost doubled in volume and very light, airy, and pale yellow, about 4 minutes.
    4. With mixer on low, add buttermilk mixture until incorporated. Add dry ingredients, beating until just combined, about 1 minute.
    5. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. sprinkles. Bake until cake is light golden brown, the center springs back when gently pressed, and a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 30–35 minutes.
    6. Remove cake from oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating).
  2. For the crumbs:
    1. Preheat oven to 300°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
    2. Combine flour, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add oil and vanilla, and using your hands, mix until no dry spots remain and large clumps form when mixture is pressed together. As though you were making a crumble topping, break mixture up into clusters (some small, some large) and spread onto prepared baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until crumble is light golden brown and crunchy, 10–12 minutes (it will firm up as it cools). Let cool completely.
  3. For the frosting and assembly:
    1. Combine butter, shortening, and cream cheese in large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high until mixture is smooth and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and slowly stream in corn syrup and 1 Tbsp. vanilla. Beat until mixture is silky smooth and glossy white, about 3 minutes.
    2. Scrape down sides of bowl and, with mixer on low, add powdered sugar, salt, and baking powder until just combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until you have a brilliant stark white, beautifully smooth frosting, about 4 minutes.
    3. Place a silicone baking mat or piece of parchment on a counter. Invert cake onto mat, then peel off parchment. Cut out two 6″ rounds with a paring knife (I printed a 6″ circle on a sheet of paper and used it as a stencil). These are your top 2 cake layers (the remaining cake scraps will form the bottom layer of the cake).
    4. Line a sheet pan with a clean piece of parchment.
    5. Combine milk and remaining 1 tsp. vanilla in a small bowl. Dunk a pastry brush in milk mixture and use half of it to generously moisten the base layer.
    6. Use the back of a spoon to spread about 3 Tbsp. frosting evenly over cake. Sprinkle ⅔ cup birthday crumbs evenly over frosting. Use the back of your hand to press them in place.
    7. Repeat with scraps for the middle layer, saving the nicest round of cake for the top. Then repeat the soak-frosting-crumb process once more.
    8. Transfer cake to freezer and freeze at least 3 hours to set cake and filling.
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