the best birthday cake

the best birthday cake

Everyone has to have the perfect cake that they pull out for celebrations of any kind; birthdays, anniversaries, Tuesdays, you understand. I am not even a cake person, or really sweets for that matter, but I love this cake. I made it for my wedding. I made it for my cousin's bridal shower. I make it for everyone's birthday, including my own. It is the first cake I turn to when it's time to celebrate anything. Or nothing. This cake is capable of making me just crave cake--something I didn't think was possible. It falls somewhere between a yellow cake and a vanilla cake, with copious amounts of eggs (whole eggs, not just yolk), vanilla bean paste, browned butter and cream cheese which keeps it extremely moist without being too dense. And the frosting. Because it is frosting, not buttercream. It is the most fudgy, delicious frosting because of the cocoa powder. I use Valrhona cocoa powder (find it here) which is the richest, chocolatey-est (in my humble opinion) especially for cakes and the like. This is the only brand I've used in the restaurants I've worked at and it delivers flavor, with great fat content, that Hershey's simply can't compete with.

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I developed this recipe for the last restaurant I worked at and we served it in various forms over many, many months. I had been voraciously reading Christina Tosi's Momofuku Milk Bar at the time and this cake is inspired by her genius--aka stuffing as much fat into a cake, more so than even the flour can handle. This is a tricky part in the mixing process: everything must be emulsified the entire time, or the batter will separate. If you don't have a silicone-lipped paddle attachment for your stand mixer, I absolutely advocate for purchasing one which will eliminate the need to scrape down the bowl a million times. Browned butter is really what takes this cake to the next level and the addition of cream cheese helps to stabilize the batter, lending moisture to the finished product and making the cake easier to bake overall. I like to bake this cake a day or two before it's needed for an event. I simply wrapped the cooled cakes in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge or freezer until it's time (this also makes trimming the cake much easier as well). The frosting comes together easily in one bowl and spreads easily on. I hate frosting cakes. Probably why mine usually look "rustic" which is a kind euphemism we employ with it does actually look like shit. But no matter for me, because I'm two seconds from ripping into it after it's frosted anyway. I hope this cake bring you as much joy, and difficulty buttoning your pants, as it has for me. Happy baking!

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makes 3 9x2in cake layers

300g (about 1 1/3 cups) cream cheese, at room temperature
180g (about 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
600g (almost 3 cups) granulated sugar
9 eggs
12g (about 1 tablespoon) vanilla bean paste, extract, or 2 vanilla bean pods scraped of their seeds
150g (about 2/3 cup) whole milk
60g (about 1/4 cup) canola oil
510g (about 4 1/4 cups) flour
12g (about 1 tablespoon) baking powder
3g (1 teaspoon) kosher salt

In a small sauce pan or pot, heat butter over medium heat. Cook until caramel in color and nutty smelling. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. Dust pans with flour and set aside. Weigh together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. 

Pour browned butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the silicon-lipped paddle attachment. Add cream cheese and beat together until well combined (if you don't have a silicon-lipped paddle, just scrape down the bowl regularly with a rubber spatula). Add sugar and beat until smooth, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add vanilla, milk and canola oil, and beat for 2-3 minutes until everything is very combined. This means, the batter should be very smooth with nothing stuck to the sides. Add the flour mixture in one addition and increase the mixer speed to medium high, beating for 1 solid minute. Immediately pour batter evenly into the prepared baking pans. Bake for 35-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes away clean. Remove cakes from oven, cool in pans on a wire rack. Once cool, invert pans and remove cake. Wrap in plastic and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to use. 

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makes enough to frost one 3-layer cake with a little extra leftover for eating with a spoon

227g (8oz package) cream cheese, room temperature
113g (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
100g (1 cup) good cocoa powder (seriously, use valrhona), sifted
375g (3 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
110g (1/2 cup) heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Alternate between adding 1 cup of powdered sugar and a few tablespoons of heavy cream, mixing well between each addition, until all sugar and cream is used. Frosting should be very smooth and dark. If too stiff, add a little more heavy cream. 

Frost cake and stuff your face. Top with sprinkles if so desired. 

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