Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012: A Cake Odyssey

While looking for a new cooking or craft project to kick off the new year, I came across something that was the perfect combo of both crafts and cooking. The recipe for Momofuku Milk Bar's Birthday Cake in the Milk Bar cookbook by Christina Tosi (the pastry chef) that I picked up back in December. I purchased mine in NYC, but I've seen it at Barnes & Noble too. The recipe is intriguing for various reasons, like the use of (strange to me) ingredients like glucose and citric acid. I was most drawn to the challenge of creating a layer cake that you bake in a sheet pan, then cut out the layers, and stack them with the support of acetate sheets. Feeling scared? Think it's too complicated for you? It's not. And it's TOTALLY worth it. Every single minute of effort is SOOOOO worth it.

Because I work full-time and have a child, my free time is fairly limited. I tackled this cake project over two nights. Well...let me back up just a minute, maybe more than two nights. Before I started the cake, I had to get all of the ingredients and other supplies which involved more than just a trip to the grocery store. Most of the ingredients were basic stuff like eggs, butter, sugar, etc. However,  I didn't have cake flour, grapeseed oil,  glucose, citric acid, or clear vanilla. In the end, I picked up the glucose at a local cake decorating supply store (check the baking aisle at Michael's too). If glucose scares you, then you can substitute corn syrup (she notes this in the recipe). You can find cake flour and grapeseed oil  at most any grocery store. I had no luck finding clear vanilla (I just used my regular brown-colored vanilla) or citric acid, but will keep an eye out for those. I can't say that those two missing ingredients made one difference in the taste or appearance of the cake. I picked up the cake ring, a large round metal cookie-cutter looking thing, that you use to cut the cake layers out of the sheet pan, and then use to form the base of the cake, at Sur la Table. You can also order them on Amazon. I purchased a sheet of acetate (clear plastic) at the local art supply store and cut out two 3"x 20" strips. You can buy these plastic strips online, but for the cost of the strips and the shipping and the fact that this is not my business, it was easier to just go the art supply store route.

So, back to the cake. The cake is made up of four separate recipes: the crumb, the icing, the cake wash, and the actual cake. I made the crumb and the icing the first night. They were very simple and quick. After I made them, I put each in their own air-tight container and placed in the fridge. To use the next night. I think Christina Tosi notes that the icing will keep for a week in the fridge and the crumb up to a month in the freezer.

Birthday Cake crumb
Crumb straight out of the oven. It's perfectly sweet, salty, and crunchy.
The next night I baked the cake. It's a pretty standard recipe, but you really must follow her instructions carefully. If she says you need to let the mixer go for 8 minutes, then you need to make sure that happens. Same thing when she says only let it go for 30 seconds. The cookbook has a great introduction written by Tosi that lays out how she arrived at this job, these recipes, and her reasons why you need to do what she says. I figure she's a renown pastry chef in NYC, not me, so I was very careful to follow each recipe to the letter--which is something I rarely do.

Once the batter was ready, I spread it out on a parchment lined quarter-sheet pan. The recipe calls for sprinkles and you can use any color combos you want. I was making this around the time we were celebrating the Baltimore Ravens' football team in the playoffs, so I figured purple, black, and yellow sprinkles were appropriate.

Straight out of the oven.

Once the cake has cooled, you cut two of the three layers out with your cake ring.

You use the left over "scrap" cake to form the bottom layer of the cake.
So now that all the parts of the cake were ready, I could finally begin to assemble. This is where that fourth recipe comes in...the cake wash. It's just vanilla and milk, so that one's not complicated at all.

Here is my set up: I lined a regular 8" cake pan with parchment. Then I put the cake ring in the middle, and lined the ring with one of the two strips of acetate.
You form the bottom layer of the cake, as I mentioned, with the scrap left over from cutting out the other two layers. So I just pressed the scrap pieces of cake into the round until I had a layer that was flat and about the same thickness as the other layers.

Then I got all excited about assembling the cake and forgot to take photos! So after the bottom layer of cake is in place, you brush the wash over it, then a thin layer of icing, sprinkle some of the cake crumb, then another thin layer of icing.
This is the first layer, before you put the layer of icing on top of the crumb.
Then you put one of the cut-out cake layers in place, after you add the other strip of acetate.

Then you do the wash, the icing, the crumb, and the icing again. Place the last cake layer on top of that, do the wash, the rest of the icing, and place the remaining crumb all over the top, or just in the center (which is what I did). And you have this:

The cake then goes in the freezer for 12 hours (minimum) and can keep in the freezer, well wrapped, for 2 weeks. About three hours before you serve it, place it in the fridge to defrost. And viola!

I must say, that in the beginning I had doubts that all this effort would be worth it for a 6-inch cake (I manged to get 12 slices out of it, so it's share-able). I was wrong. Very, very wrong. It was definitely worth the effort and it's good to know that I can whip this thing out if I need to (with a little notice) for birthdays or any other reason. The cake has the texture of angel food cake, light and fluffy, but with the flavor of a perfect vanilla cake. I think the wash adds just the right amount of moisture. As I mentioned, the crumb is perfectly crunchy, salty, and sweet. The icing is divine! I would make the icing for use on any other cake. It's a combination of buttercream icing with a little cream cheese and a touch of sea salt. Put all of those things together...the light, moist cake with the sweet, salty crumb, sandwiched between the creamy icing and it's perfection. Tosi definitely knows what she is doing!

Since I don't want to be sued, I can't post the recipe here. But someone else did, so you can read that here. Or you can just buy the book. It provides recipes for almost everything they serve at Milk Bar. From compost cookies, blueberries and cream cookies, to their famous crack pie and cereal milk.

1 comment:

duchessofginger said...

OMG!!!! That cake was to die for!!! I have a whole freezer ready for you to fill with them!!! Oh yeah and my birthday is in March (hint, hint).