In the past two weeks, I have made two cakes for two different birthdays. I have made plenty of cakes in my young life, but I’ve never tackled the art of building a cake, per se. I learned to bake from my grandmother, and while her cakes always turn out delicious, she’s never really been one for gussying them up. Bake the 9 inch rounds, let them cool, frost one, plop the other on top, then frost the rest. A simple equation that always works, right?
But I’ve been really hankering to make a naked cake. Ever since I watched Milk Bar’s segment of Chef’s Table on Netflix, I’ve wanted to tackle a Milk Bar-style cake that exuded fun and fancy, tasted delicious, and opened up the magical world of the inside of a cake rather than covering up the sides with frosting. It turns out, there are quite a few videos of Milk Bar Maven Christina Tosi making and assembling her famous birthday cake. And with a very dear coworker’s birthday right around the corner, I studied up and got to work on making my first-ever dream cake a reality.
So full disclosure: I’m not making Milk Bar’s birthday cake recipe. My coworker requested the ever-classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so that’s what we’re going with. I’m using this recipe. I’m also fashioning the cake after the 10-inch cake that you can order off the site rather than the 6-inch since I want it to be bigger, the only difference being mine will have four layers rather than 3.
As far as frosting goes, in my professional unprofessional opinion, Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting (found online or on the back of their cocoa tin) is a simpleton, but an absolute winner. It’s my favorite go-to chocolate frosting the majority of the time.
The first thing I had to do to make my dream cake was buy a cake ring. I got this one off Amazon. It would be in my hands in two days. Boom. According to Her Majesty Tosi, I also need acetate paper but man is that expensive. After some internet deep-diving (thank you r/baking), I found out I can make parchment paper work. Praise be for us common folk for parchment paper.
Since I am a regular plebeian with a day job, I’m going to make this cake in increments. I’ll make the cake on day 1, then on day 2 I’ll frost and assemble. Day 3 will be actual Cake Eating Day.
I made the cake. The batter is beautiful.
Christina Tosi makes her cake in a smaller sheet pan. 1. I don’t have this pan. 2. Since I am fashioning the cake after the 10-inch cake I will need it to be bigger. 3. The recipe I am using is not adjusted for this pan size, but for two 9-inch rounds or a standard 9×13 sheet. We’re going with two rounds, people.
Cakes are done! I let them cool in their pans for about ten minutes, then I took them out and let them cool completely on a wire rack. When they were done cooling, I wrapped them up in saran wrap and put them in the refrigerator. Day 1 done.
Frosting mode: activated. Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate has come through for me once more.
Since I want my cake to look like the 10-inch cake, I’m going to make these layers thinner by cutting them in half. I used a bread knife to do this, and the cakes had been chilling in the refrigerator for a day so they were nice and sturdy.
After I sawed them in half, I widened my cake ring to 8 inches and stamped out my cake to get those clean lines. Time to assemble!
I cut my parchment paper to size, but then I folded it hot dog bun-style (lengthwise) and then wrestled it into my cake ring.
Take that, acetate paper!
Christina says that your ugliest layer can be your first layer, so I took my ugliest one (that broke and had to be re-assembled back in there which she said is FINE so we’re FINE) and gently guided it into my cake ring.
One method that I am borrowing from the Milk Bar cake is the cake soak. Cake soak is milk and vanilla mixed together that you lightly drizzle over your cake layers with a spoon. You don’t want to drench it or else your cake will be soggy, just a spoonful or two drizzled on the cake will do.
Then I frosted my first layer. Layer, soak, frost, repeat.
A method that I am not using from the milk bar cake is the cake crumbles. I just do not have the time. Plus, I have actual cake crumbles left over from stamping out the cake. I decided to take these cake crumbles, drizzle some cake soak in there, and plop the last little bit of leftover frosting I had into the mix. Cake balls! I topped the cake with these cake balls.
I put the magnificent beast into the refrigerator and let it set overnight.
Cake Eating Day has arrived!
I took the cake ring off, peeled back the parchment paper, and extremely anxiously transported it to the office.
HOLY CRAP I AM SO PROUD OF IT!
What I learned/What I would do differently:
- The recipe for this yellow cake is a solid 8/10. The texture of it was great. I would definitely come back to it if I needed a yellow cake recipe, but I am not opposed to trying others out there!
- Now that I have done this, I understand Christina’s reasoning for baking the cake as a sheet and then stamping. Next time, I would bake this cake in a 9×13, stamp with my cake ring, then saw in half to get the thinner layers.
- I would reduce the amount of sprinkles I put into the cake to 1/2 cup rather than 1 cup (although I do think it looks super pretty).
- One thing that no one talks about when making a cake like this: since you cannot see the sides while you are frosting the layers, it’s hard to gauge when enough is enough. Did I put too much? Did I put too little? That was tricky. Fortunately I think for my first time I got lucky, but I could definitely see me messing this up in the future until I get the swing of things. I would divide the frosting into thirds (or fourths based on how many layers you’ve got) and use each third on each layer. This would make the frosting layers more even.
- For the cake balls – I am well aware they look like meatballs okay? I was wingin’ it with what I had. Next time, solely for aesthetic purposes, I would make a small batch of vanilla buttercream and make the cake balls with that rather than the chocolate frosting. I think it would make the colors of the sprinkles pop more and would look more “yay birthday!” rather than “what the heck are meatballs doing on top of a cake?”
Will I use this cake ring again? Yes, I love it. I love how the cake ring produces a cleaner looking cake. If you’re a lover of cake baking, definitely get this cake ring and start playing around with it.
Was making a cake like this worth it? I think so! It is definitely more tedious than grandma’s “frost the middle, frost the sides and top” method. But I mean come on, doesn’t that look pretty? While it did take longer than the traditional method, I had a blast doing this.
I will definitely be taking more adventures in baking with my cake ring.
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