Learn how to make the famous Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake from Christina Tosi’s recipe from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. This birthday cake is a play on the quintessential funfetti birthday cake loaded with rainbow sprinkles (jimmies). This recipe has a lot of steps, but isn’t too difficult. Spread out the work over a couple days, and you’ll be fine!
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When I said good-bye to my twenties (good riddance!) and hello to my thirties, I obviously had to bake myself a birthday cake to celebrate the occasion. I didn’t just bake any old cake. Instead, I opted to make THE Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake from Christina Tosi’s new book Milk Bar available on Amazon.
I think this is the perfect cake to say good-bye to my twenties, and to greet my thirties. It’s fun, and maybe a little whimsical, full of brightly coloured sprinkles, and birthday cake crumbs. I’d suggest you make an extra batch of the Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake crumbs so you can make these birthday cake truffles with the cake scraps. Just sayin’.
Everything you will need to make the Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar birthday cake
Christina Tosi’s birthday cake recipe, like most of her layer cakes, requires a lot of special ingredients and tools that most of us home bakers don’t have. It’s a fact. Before you make the Milk Bar birthday cake, you will most likely need to buy the following items.
Special ingredients to make the Milk Bar birthday cake
- liquid glucose: you may find it at Bulk Barn or your local bulk ingredients store, or restaurant/baking supply stores in your area. If not, you can Wilton brand glucose from Amazon.
- citric acid: you may find it at Bulk Barn or your local bulk ingredients store. If not, you can order citric acid from Amazon.
- rainbow jimmies: the sprinkles used for this cake recipe are rainbow jimmies, that kinda look like tiny coloured grains of rice. Your grocery store will most likely have rainbow jimmies that you can buy. If not, order them on Amazon.
- cake and pastry flour: cake and pastry flour has a lower protein content than regular all-purpose, which will help you achieve a fluffier, more tender cake. You can find it on Amazon if your grocery store doesn’t have it.
- grapeseed oil: grapeseed oil is a flavourless oil. If you don’t want to buy grapeseed oil, Tosi recommends using canola oil. If you feel like buying grapeseed oil, you can buy it on Amazon.
- imitation vanilla: Christina Tosi recommends using artificial or imitation vanilla for many of her recipes because imitation vanilla tends to have a more pronounced vanilla flavour that is very nostalgic. Use a clear imitation vanilla extract if you can find it. You can also buy it on Amazon. You can also use real vanilla extract if you prefer, but the flavour won’t be the same.
Special equipment to make the Milk Bar birthday cake:
- stand mixer: Christina Tosi has a very specific way of mixing cake batters and they require a ton of beating. Unfortunately, this means using a hand-held electric mixer is a terrible option for this recipe (as is a wooden spoon for mixing by hand). Your best bet is to use a KitchenAid Artisan 5 quart mixer. If you don’t have one and you want to bake more, I highly recommend getting one on Amazon.
- 6-inch cake ring: I actually used the ring of a 6-inch springform pan from Amazon to build my cake, but it was not ideal because of the rim/seam on the springform which made it extra hard to unmold. Buy a cake ring from Amazon if you can.
- acetate: when I made this cake, I didn’t know where to buy acetate, so I used acetate sheets from an office supply store. No clue if it’s food grade. Don’t do that. Buy a roll of acetate from Amazon.
- mini offset spatula: I love my mini offset spatula from Ateco and I use it all the time when I am making cakes. You can buy it on Amazon! Tosi actually uses a spoon that she’s bent to assemble cakes. That’s another option if you don’t mind bending one of your spoons.
- quarter sheet pans with rims: I like these Nordic Ware quarter sheet pans on Amazon.
The recipe for the Milk Bar birthday cake is brilliant and inspiring, but if you want to bake this cake (or anything from the Momofuku Milk Bar book), you will need to start baking ahead of time. Here are a few important things to note before you get started:
- How long does it take to make the Milk Bar birthday cake? I made this cake a day ahead, and it took me about half a day to make, so it’s really not more time-consuming than any other cake recipe, once you have all the ingredients and equipment
- Can you make the Milk Bar birthday cake ahead? Christina Tosi’s layer cakes, like the Milk Bar birthday cake, are made ahead and this is an integral part of the process. So you absolutely can make this cake ahead of time. I froze the assembled cake overnight to set the layers, then unmolded it and placed it on a cake stand in the fridge for san entire day to slowly defrost.
- When you cut into it, use a giant chef’s knife to make quick, clean slices, otherwise, you will end up with a mess as the cake crumbs will tear through the delicate cake.
Special thanks to Mayssam for sending me a copy of this book. I love it!
Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake recipe
The instructions are not identical to those in the book because there are certain things that I do differently. Better yet, if you love making cakes, buy the book on Amazon. It’s a great investment full of insight and tips. If you want to try another Momofuku Milk Bar style cake, try this gorgeous blackberry almond cake recipe.
Homemade Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake for my 30th
Birthday cake crumbs
- Pam or vegetable oil for preparing the pan
- 245 grams (2 cups) cake flour
- 7.5 mL (1½ tsp) baking powder
- 3.75 mL (¾ tsp) Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- 50 grams (¼ cup) rainbow sprinkles
- 55 grams (¼ cup) unsalted butter room temperature
- 60 grams (⅓ cup) vegetable shortening
- 250 grams (1¼ cup) granulated sugar
- 50 grams (3 tbsp) light brown sugar packed
- 3 large eggs
- 110 grams (½ cup) buttermilk
- 65 grams (⅓ cup) grapeseed oil
- 10 mL (2 tsp) pure vanilla extract
- 25 grams (2 tbsp) rainbow sprinkles
Birthday cake soak
- 55 grams (¼ cup) whole milk (3.25 % fat)
- 5 mL (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract
Birthday cake frosting
- 200 grams (1¼ cups) icing sugar
- 2.5 mL (½ tsp) Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- 1 pinch baking powder
- 1 pinch citric acid
- 115 grams (½ cup) unsalted butter room temperature
- 50 grams (¼ cup) vegetable shortening
- 55 grams Philadelphia cream cheese (full fat, regular)
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) Wilton glucose
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) corn syrup
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) pure vanilla extract
To make the birthday cake crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or a piece of parchment.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles and mix them on low speed until they are evenly mixed.
- Add the oil and the vanilla and continue beating the mixture until the ingredients clump and form small clusters.
- Carefully spread the delicate clusters in a thin layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake them for about 20 minutes. They dry and harden as the cool into crispy crumbs. Let them cool completely before using them. By the time you’ve made the cake and frosting, they will be ready to be used anyways.
To make the cake layers
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (use an oven thermometer to verify the temperature). Prepare a rimmed quarter sheet pan (mine is a 10-x15-inch pan with a 1-inch rim) by spraying it all over with Pam and then covering the base with a sheet of parchment. Set aside.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and 50 grams of sprinkles in a small bowl. Set the dry ingredients aside for later.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, shortening, and the sugars on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- Add the eggs (all at once) and then beat again on medium-high for another 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl.
- In a 1-cup measurer, weigh out the buttermilk, grapeseed oil, and vanilla. With the mixer on low, add the wet ingredients in a steady stream. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for another 4 to 6 minutes. The mixture will double in size almost, and will appear light and fluffy. There will be no trace of oil left.
- With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients, and mix for another minute or so until the ingredients are all combined.
- Pour out the batter into the prepared sheet pan, spreading it out into an even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining 25 grams of rainbow sprinkles.
- Bake for 30–35 minutes until the cake bounces back slightly when gently pressed in the corner. The center of the cake should no longer jiggle when the pan is shook. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack.
To make the birthday cake soak
- Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small cup or bowl. Set aside for later.
To make the birthday cake frosting
- Whisk together the powdered sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid in a medium bowl. Set aside for later.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening, and the cream cheese for 2 to 3 minutes on medium-high until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Be sure to scrape down the bowl periodically.
- Add the glucose, corn syrup, and vanilla, and beat the mixture on medium-high again, for 2 to 3 minutes until it is silky smooth and a little glossy. Scrape down the bowl a few times.
- Now add the whisked dry ingredients and incorporate them on low speed. Increase the mixer speed to medium–high and beat the frosting until it is creamy and fluffy, just like the kind that comes in a can.
- Cut the sheet cake into two 6-inch circles plus two half-circles using your cake ring as a template. Use a spatula to gently loosen and lift (carefully!) the circles and set them aside.
- Place the cake ring on a baking sheet lined with the 8-inch square of parchment. Line the inner rim of the ring with acetate to form a collar.
- Fill the bottom of the ring with the two half circles of cake. Press them slightly so that they are even. If there are any holes, fill them with the rest of the cake scraps.
- Brush half the birthday cake soak over the base of cake.
- Spread about 100 mL (one-fifth) of the birthday cake frosting over the base layer. Then sprinkle with one-third of the birthday cake crumbs, pressing them gently into the frosting. Top with another 100 mL (another fifth) of the birthday cake frosting, carefully spreading it so that it is even, but without disturbing the crumbs.
- Top with a full circle of cake, brush the rest of the cake soak over this layer, top with more frosting, cake crumbs, and another layer of frosting.
- Squeeze in the other strip of acetate between the inner rim of the ring and the first acetate strips (you are essentially making your cake ring taller at this point). Top with the last circle of cake. and the remaining frosting, spread evenly. Top with the remaining cake crumbs.
- Freeze the cake as is for at least 12 hours to set everything and making the unmolding process much easier.
- Three hours before serving, retrieve the pan from the freezer, and gently push the cake through the ring. Place it on a cake stand or cake plate. Now gently pull off the acetate ribbons.
- Let the cake defrost in the fridge before serving. Cut neatly with a large chef's knife.
Since in my early twenties, I had a soft-spot for cake mix vanilla and sprinkle cake topped with a generous swirl of that sprinkle frosting in a can, this was the perfect recipe for me. The cake was designed to taste like the typical “funfetti” birthday cake that many of us ate to celebrate the years of our youth. This recipe brings cake from a box and frosting from a can to a whole other level. With every bite, you can pick out the sweet, salty, and sour notes. The crumbs bring a surprising crispy element to the usual creamy texture of frosting.
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Janice Lawandi is chemist-turned-baker, working as a recipe developer in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and cooking at l’Académie Culinaire. She has a BSc in Biochemistry from Concordia University and a PhD in Chemistry from McGill University. Visit janicelawandi.com to see my portfolio.