Happy New Year! You guys, 2016 was rough. I’m hoping that 2017 will be a better year, but given the impending doom that will befall our nation on January 20, I’m bracing myself for more rough times ahead. But hey, *today* is New Year’s Day, so let’s start things off with CAKE. Because what better way to usher in a new year than with a celebratory cake? (You didn’t think I was going to say ‘salad’, did you?!) I’d like to say that I’m going to eat less sugar this year, but then I’d be starting off the year by lying, so let’s just be honest about the fact that I had every intention of diving into this cake face-first. In fact, I’ve been so excited to make the Baked Ultimate Birthday Cake for quite some time. This is a very special cake because it celebrates the opening of BAKED‘s first location in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on January 1, 2005. This bakery changed my relationship with dessert and baking, encapsulating everything that I wished my baked goods could be, and thanks to Baked Sunday Mornings, I got the chance to bake a great many of BAKED’s fabulous recipes along with a terrific bunch of fellow blogging bakers. I can’t think of a better recipe to make in honor of BAKED, my blogger group, and a fresh year!
It is true that we are in the midst of a rainbow sprinkle revolution, and frankly I could not be happier about that. Why? I think the more correct question is, why not?? They are pretty, fun, smile-inducing, and downright delightful. There are birthday cake croissants and funfetti milkshakes and pancakes and cheesecake and blondies, and of course Momofuku Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake and Confetti Cookies. I am totally okay with all of these, and I am pleased to partake of the trend. This particular cake uses over 2 cups of sprinkles between the cake batter and outer coating– we are going all in!
It is also loaded (loaded, I tell you!) with vanilla. I’ve written before many times about how much I love vanilla, and if you too love desserts speckled with those tiny fragrant flecks, this is for you. (Except this one is mine– you’ll have to make your own.) Some people feel that vanilla is plain or flavorless or bland; I feel sorry for those people. Vanilla orchids in countries like Madagascar, Tahiti, and Mexico are hand-pollinated and painstakingly handled to yield plump, perfumed pods filled with the tiny magical seeds. Their flavor and aroma are wonderfully complex and adding a little vanilla extract to baked goods enhances the other flavors in most recipes.
Anyway, so this cake. It is made using BAKED’s traditional white cake method, that is to say, you cream together butter and shortening, add sugar, vanilla (I used paste instead of extract), an egg, and alternating additions of dry ingredients (cake and all-purpose flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt) and liquid (mixture of ice water, milk, and buttermilk, in this case). Then! you’ll fold in an entire cup of sprinkles, and they will bring you joy.
The final step for the basic batter is folding in whipped egg whites, which lightens the mixture. This mesmerizing, colorful batter bakes for about 40 minutes (I pulled the cake pans at 39 minutes to avoid drying out). I was super happy to see that the sprinkles stayed suspended in the batter and did not sink to the bottoms of the cakes. My only minor qualm, which was my own doing: the cakes turned out a bit lopsided, so I need to make sure to not only move them around in the oven, but also turn the pans around.
I’m already considering this New Year a success because I made BAKED’s tricky frosting without incident, and even though I’ve made it several times before, I’ve learned that I can never take it for granted– must remain vigilant, as it can easily “break” into a gloppy mess. It can be rescued, but how cool that it just came out well the first time! In fact, I made Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream last week for Christmas, which was one of my first ever BAKED layer cakes, and that too turned out great without any frosting tantrums, so I plan to ride these frosting vibes as long as I can. (WOW, going back and reading that blog post from 2012 helps me realize just how far my layer cake skillz have come since then!)
The frosting is made by combining sugar, flour, milk, and cream in a saucepan and bringing this mixture to a boil, cooking until it thickens to the consistency of “light pudding”; it is similar to a roux. You’ll transfer this hot brew to a stand mixer and beat it on high until it cools, then (very patiently) add 3 sticks of butter, a few cubes at a times, before cranking up the mixer and watching it magically transform into a fluffy, silky, cloud of frosting. The butter temperature is crucial here– that is the best tip I can give you after messing up many batches of this frosting in the past. You want it to be softened, but still cool; in other words, neither melty nor firm. If the butter is too cold, it won’t blend and if it’s too warm, you’ll have some sort of frosting soup, both of which will make you sad. (Read more about troubleshooting here.) For this particular cake, you’ll also add another generous dose of both vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste. (Have I mentioned how much I love vanilla??)
Once you stack and fill the cake layers, cover the cake in a crumb coat followed by a thicker frosting layer… then the real fun (and mess) begins. To blanket the outside of the cake in sprinkles, you need to place your cake turntable inside a very wide vessel with high sides to catch the many errant sprinkles that go flying as you apply them to the sides of the cake. I used a wide metal bowl, which worked marginally well, but there were still sprinkles all over my countertop and floor! (In fact, I’ll probably find them for weeks…) Getting them on the sides is not easy, but after a while I got the hang of the technique– what worked for me is grabbing a small handful of sprinkles at a time and slowly dragging them along the side of the cake to gently adhere them (being careful not to smush the frosting), while slowly turning the table with the other hand. This requires a lot of patience and a little cussing; miraculously, I had zero issues, and my cake turned out totally smooth, even, and completely covered in sprinkles! The only thing I would change is the sprinkle mix, which had too many white sprinkles in my opinion, but this is such a minor critique.
The cake is fluffy, creamy, buttery, and oh so vanilla-licious! It is surprisingly not that sweet. I was beyond thrilled with my results, and despite how messy it is, I would absolutely make this again and again. I didn’t love the taste of the waxy sprinkles, so I think in the future I would simply decorate the cake with a smattering of sprinkles on top rather than a full coat. Or, if I can find a better-tasting brand, that could make a big difference as well. There’s one additional thing that I would do next time, which naturally I remembered halfway through stacking the cake: brushing the cake layers with a bit of soaking liquid to hydrate them. The cake wasn’t dry at all, but could be even more scrumptious with a little more moisture. I saw this technique in a video about how to decorate BAKED cakes. I would either do a simple syrup like she does on the Sweet & Salty Cake, or use a “milk soak” (combination of milk and vanilla) like they do at Momofuku Milk Bar.
I can’t think of a better dessert to make to welcome a new year, truly. (And let’s be honest– we’ll probably need to eat a lot of cake to get through this one…) Another great thing I love about this cake is that you can use whatever color sprinkles you want for any festive occasion: pink/red/purple for Valentine’s Day, shades of green for St. Patrick’s Day, red/white/blue for American holidays, etc. It’s the perfect all-around celebration cake.
You can find the recipe for the Baked Ultimate Birthday Cake at Baked Sunday Mornings, and it will fulfill all your vanilla/sprinkle dreams. Take a peek at my fellow bakers’ gorgeous cakes while you’re there! I wish you all a very Happy New Year– let’s work together to make 2017 a good one. 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.