Birthday Cake

Thursday, May 24, 2012

 I have spent years contemplating what type of cake to make for my future children's birthday and more specifically have spent the past year contemplating what type of cake to make for the little boy's very first birthday. I mean, this is important stuff. I for one devoured my first birthday cake and would only assume that any descendant of mine would do the same.

Even after ten months of pastry school I still did not have the "perfect" recipe for the "perfect" birthday cake and so the quest continued. On a rainy day about 4 years ago I randomly had a Monday off of work and decided to bake some cupcakes out of my newly purchased cookbook, The Sweet Life, by Pastry Chef, Kate Zuckerman. The recipe, a twist on the classic American yellow cake, uses browned butter (you know like the nutty brown butter they infuse with sage and pour over gnocchi in Italian restaurants) for an added depth of flavor and richness. I paired the cupcakes with a sweet milk chocolate frosting and thought the combo was divine. It was definitely a contender for future kids' birthday cakes.

 So when the baby boy's first birthday quickly rolled around the pressure was really on to select the perfect birthday cake. Would it be chocolate, or banana or carrot or classic yellow birthday cake? Since the little boy isn't super keen on banana bread or other spice cakes, those were out. Chocolate didn't seem fitting, so classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles it is!

The cake certainly wasn't as divine as I remember (though sometimes cake baked in a cupcake form comes out better since it bakes more evenly), but you could say, it was pretty darn good. Maybe not the "perfect" cake, but definitely worth sharing the recipe. Although, it doesn't really matter what I think as this cake was not for me. It was for the birthday boy. But to be perfectly honest, I am not entirely sure what he thought about the cake either. First off, he doesn't talk yet and secondly, someone (we won't name any names) was shoveling bites into his mouth before I could sit down at the table. It wasn't exactly the success I hoped it would be. But, oh well, there will be many more birthdays and birthday cakes to come.

 Whipped Butter and Sugar

Yellow Cake Batter

Milk Chocolate Frosting

The Frosted Cake


A Slice of Cake

Brown Butter Vanilla Cake

Makes 16 cupcakes or 2 nine inch cake layers

Browning the butter gives this cake a real depth of flavor. This recipe comes from Kate Zuckerman, pastry chef at New York’s Chanterelle and the author of The Sweet Life. If you do not have vanilla bean you can instead add a teaspoon or two to the cake batter.

1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) butter
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 whole eggs, at room temperature
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature

 A few hours ahead of time brown the butter. To do this, place the butter and vanilla bean seeds (if using) into a medium saucepan. Cook the butter over medium/high heat until the butter caramelizes and begins to have a nutty, rich aroma. Be careful not to burn the butter. Transfer the butter into a medium bowl and stir in the vanilla bean extract. Refrigerate the butter for 1 to 2 hours, or until it solidifies.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 16 standard size muffin tins with paper liners or butter and flour generously.

Place the butter in a bowl fitted for an electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on medium/high speed until the mixture comes together and becomes fluffy and beige in color, about 8-12 minutes. Add the whole eggs, and yolks, one at a time, incorporating after each addition. In another medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches to the wet, alternating with the milk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; then mix until just combined. Pour the cake batter into the prepared muffin (or cake) pans. Bake cupcakes for about 30 minute, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. (Bake layer cakes for 40-45 minutes.) Allow the cupcakes to cool for 10 minutes in the pan; then run a pairing knife around the edges and carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost with desired frosting. This cake is best eaten the day it is made but will keep covered at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for 4 days.

Milk Chocolate Frosting

Frosts 16 cupcakes or 1 nine inch layer cake

This recipe comes from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life. I have made this same frosting with different ratios of milk and dark chocolate, as well as with all semi-sweet chocolate for darker and less sweet variation. The only change that I made to this recipe was a decrease to the amount of butter from 16 tablespoons to 12. It seemed plenty buttery, silky and rich without it.

Note about temperatures: I left the temperatures that Kate Zuckerman recommends in this recipe but I have now made this recipe enough times to do without temperatures and have concluded this: Make sure your ganache is truly at room temperature, not any warmer, and that your butter is not quite at room temperature. If the frosting is at all runny, refrigerate for a bit after you ice the cake.

10 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
12 unsalted butter, slightly chilled (around 60 degrees F)

 In a double boiler, or by carefully using the microwave, melt the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream. Pour the hot cream into the melted chocolate, whisking continuously to make a shiny, smooth ganache. Refrigerate the ganache, and stir with a rubber spatula until it is slightly chilled, about 60 degrees F.

 Use a hand held electric mixer to whisk the chilled ganache with the salt, sifted powdered sugar and slightly chilled butter on medium speed for 4-6 minutes. The frosting should hold the lines of the whisk, lighten in color and increase in volume. Frost cake immediately or whisk again before frosting.


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