If you told me you had never heard of Milk Bar, or you at least had not seen one of their cakes somewhere, I would genuinely be surprised. It is an extremely popular bakery chain that was created in 2008 by the amazing Christina Tosi. It is part of the Momofuku restaurant group that was founded by one of my favorite chefs, David Chang. They have multiple locations throughout the U.S., most of which are located in New York, but they recently opened two locations that are (semi) near me, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Los Angeles, California. Now, both of these locations are still extremely far away from me, but the possibility of me visiting Milk Bar is far more likely now.
Milk Bar is famous for their Crack Pie, Cereal Milk Soft Serve, Compost Cookies, and of course, their Birthday Cake. I first heard of Milk Bar about five years ago, but the first person who told me about the famous bakery didn't know very much. I vaguely remember them saying, "There's this bakery in NYC... called something like... Momofuku Milk Bar." I forgot all about that conversation until one day, years later, I was watching cooking videos on Youtube and came across a Bon Appétit food video about the coveted Birthday Cake from Milk Bar. I watched the video in which a food editor visited the bakery and made the cake with Christina Tosi herself. It looked absolutely delicious and beautiful. I decided that I would attempt to make that cake...
... And then three years later, I actually made the Birthday Cake. Long story short, I almost made this cake on many separate occasions but I became lazy and didn't want to go search for all of the ingredients and supplies that were required. It seemed so easy yet so complicated all at the same time. Baking has always been easy for me but there are some not-so-average kitchen/baking tools required to make this cake. I didn't use Amazon either at the time so this prolonged my laziness. Finally, in an effort to make Jacob an amazing cake for his 32nd birthday, I decided it would be the Milk Bar Birthday Cake.
I know that this cake uses a few uncommon ingredients and tools but I will give you a detailed list of substitutes that you should be able to find no matter where you are. I will link to some products on Amazon as well as give you "local" craft store chain options, such as Joann's or Michael's.
I have watched and listened to many interviews with Christina Tosi and recently watched her episode on Netflix's Chefs Table. Tosi created the recipe for her iconic Birthday Cake to recreate her childhood memories of the boxed "Funfetti" birthday cakes that we all ate at one point or another. I love this concept. I feel as if everyone is always trying to keep up on what is 'modern' in food and also how they can create something that no one has ever tried before. Don't get me wrong, I do that too and I think that it is completely necessary to constantly improve on food and flavors, but I admire Tosi's ambition to create her version of childhood staple, something that originally came from a box.
I also love the design of the cake. The "naked" design of the cake allows you to see all of the different layers and textures that this cake offers. In the Netflix series, Chef's Table, Tosi said, "I don’t think cake should be frosted... I’ve seen how obsessed you can get with frosting a cake, and that time should be spent elsewhere ... we’re not in pottery class.” and I agree. When you have this much going on in one cake, you should show it. It is so satisfying cutting into one of these cakes. Now, onto the recipe.
There are four different components that go into this cake:
The Cake Layers:
This cake is super moist, full of vanilla-y flavor, and baked into a 9x13" sheet pan. You may be asking, "The cake is round, why are baking it in a sheet tray?" Good question. You bake it into a sheet tray and use a 6" cake ring to cut rounds out. You really only need (and can really only get) one perfect cake layer with the sheet pan method and you use that perfect layer for the top. You can cut out a near perfect round for the second layer and cut two half circles plus some of the scraps to create the bottom layer. No one will see it so it doesn't matter that it's pieced together!
The Milk Soak:
Simple, whole milk + clear vanilla extract. This keeps the cakes moist for longer!
This frosting is simply delicious. It tastes just like the store-bought kind that comes in a small tub, but not in a bad way. Made using a trio of butter, vegetable shortening, and cream cheese, it gives you that classic tub frosting taste. It is light, fluffy, pale white, and full of that classic imitation vanilla flavor.
The Birthday Crumbs:
These are so easy to make and so essential to the overall texture of the cake. It's a brilliant idea really, to add crunchy crumbs as a layer in the cake. Texturally, your average cake is just moist layers of cake and smooth layers of frosting. But where is the crunch? The birthday crumbs in this recipe solve his problem and create that perfect texture that most cakes need.
Glucose: Glucose is essentially liquid sugar. I had never heard of it before this recipe but an easy substitute for it is light corn syrup. However, if you want to stick to the recipe, you can buy glucose syrup from Amazon or you can almost always find it at Joann's or Michael's in the baking section. However, make sure you don't buy Glycerin, it is not the same thing!
Clear Vanilla Extract: This particular kind of vanilla gives the cake that iconic "boxed caked" flavor. In almost any other recipe, you see "Pure Vanilla Extract" but this one is very specific in that you want that artificial flavor. You can buy the clear vanilla extract on Amazon or again, at Joann's, Michael's, and most grocery stores! If you're at your local grocery store, look for clear/imitation vanilla extract.
Vegetable Shortening/Grapeseed Oil: Not very common in recipes nowadays, vegetable shortening is an easy ingredient to find and very inexpensive. I don't recommend substituting this for anything, just follow the recipe and it will be delicious. As for the grapeseed oil, it's easy to find but can be expensive. I opted to use vegetable oil but you could also use canola oil. I don't recommend using olive oil, corn oil, or any other oil because you don't want to alter the taste of the cake too much.
6 inch Cake Ring: This tool is necessary to cut out the cake rounds as well as to build the cake and they are very easy to find. You can buy them at specialty kitchen supply shops such as Sur La Table or Orson Gygi (in Utah). You can also purchase one like this off of Amazon. I wasn't able to find cake rings at at Joann's or Michael's but you can buy a 6" springform pan and just not use the bottom, it will get the job done.
Acetate Rings: No matter how hard I searched in my local area, I could not find acetate sheets or rolls! My kitchen supply store Orson Gygi usually carries them but they ran out and weren't going to have any for a while. I did some research online and found that most art supply stores carry a similar product called Dura-Lar. It's basically a thinner version of acetate used by artists but can be used in the same way for this cake. If you prefer not to purchase from online, I suggest going to a local art supply store and asking if they carry Dura-Lar Rolls. If you want to purchase online, I would buy this Acetate Roll or this Dura-Lar Roll. You cannot make the cake without either of these and I haven't been able to think of an easier to find product that would work as well.
I made this cake for Jake's birthday and we both loved it! It was dense, sweet, and crunchy (from the birthday crumbs)! It was so decadent and filling that we could only eat a thin piece of it but it was worth every bite! It felt very nostalgic eating this cake and it reminded of the late 90's and early 2000's, making Funfetti boxed cake at my grandma and aunts house over the weekend. Although I love making all of my cakes from scratch now, I can appreciate the taste of those earlier cakes I once ate almost exclusively. I highly suggest making this cake for a special occasion. It is delicious and look beautiful! It will no doubt impress everyone!
Here is the original recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar: Birthday Cake
If you try this recipe please comment and share your pictures with me on Instagram or Pinterest @acommonkitchen! Have a great weekend everyone. :)
*Disclosure: This post does contain Amazon Affiliate Links. If you click the link and purchase an item I will get a small commission.