I’ve been on something of a birthday roll this week (yours truly turned 29 again on Monday): dinner out with family, celebratory mint juleps one night and one of my all-time most-favorite meals (rosé and Zuni Café‘s roast chicken) the next. It’s time now to get back in the kitchen and down to business. Birthdays require cake!
The potential snag here is that the homemade layer cakes of my memory (yours too, probably, if you grew up in America with a busy mom) were Duncan Hines with tub frosting. When I read “birthday cake” that’s the image (and the taste) that pops into my head. And those flavors are specific; a fancy-pants genoise with Swiss-style buttercream just isn’t right. After a few near-misses and almost-theres, I’ve found this scratch version captures that nostalgic, homey flavor combination I’m after, without any weirdo food-lab ingredients. Downy, fine-textured yellow cake and fudgey, creamy frosting, sprinkles optional.
Along with birthday cake, I also want to share my heartfelt thanks, friends, for stopping by the blog each week (or just once in a while), for your support and feedback and good cheer. Y’all have been so nice, and I love hearing from you. Special thanks to my guinea pig friends who’ve eaten their way through the good, the bad and the ugly, and to Matt, my biggest-fan husband, who never once complained that his dinner was getting cold. It’s been a wonderful year!
Yellow Layer Cake
adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, 1988
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 C milk
- 2 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 3 C sifted cake flour
- 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 12 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8″ cake pans, line the bottoms with circles cut out from parchment paper, grease again and flour. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the yolks, vanilla and 1/4 C milk. In a large bowl, whisk to combine the dry ingredients and set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides with a spatula.
Add the egg mixture and mix on medium speed to combine (it will look curdled at first, but keep going), scraping down the sides as needed. In three batches, add the dry mixture, alternating twice with the remaining 3/4 C milk. (In other words, add 1/3 of the dry mixture, 1/2 the milk, 1/3 dry, rest of the milk, 1/3 dry.)
Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake, and the cake springs back lightly when pressed, about 30 minutes. (The sides will shrink back from the sides of the pan only after you take it out of the oven.) Let cool for 10 minutes. Gently run a metal spatula or butter knife along the sides of the pan to loosen, then remove the cakes and let cool completely on wire racks. If desired, use a serrated knife to level off the tops or cut into four layers. Frost (don’t forget to remove the parchment paper!) or wrap airtight for up to 2 days or freeze for 2 months, though the cake’s texture is best the same day it’s baked.
Note: Rose Levy Beranbaum has a unique way of blending cake batters, but I chickened out and used a traditional creaming method. Worked great.
Chocolate Fudge Frosting
adapted from Maida Heatter’s Cakes, 2011
- 8 oz milk chocolate
- 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 C sour cream, room temperature
- 10 oz store-bought chocolate fudge sauce
Roughly chop the chocolates and place in a heat-proof bowl over a small pot with 1″ simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon until completely melted.
Transfer to a large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the salt, vanilla, sour cream and fudge and beat on low speed until smooth and satiny. (If it’s too thick to frost the cake, thin out with a little bit of hot coffee or water; if too thin, let stand for about half an hour.)
Add a generous 1/4 C frosting between the four cake layers (or 1/2 C if using two layers) with a little extra toward the edges to fill in the gap between the layers. Smooth frosting over the sides and then the top of the cake; smooth the frosting or make a swirl pattern as desired.
Note: the fudge sauce was my addition, inspired by a frosting I often made at the bakery where I used to work. Look for the kind of sauce sold in glass jars that ask you on the label to microwave before serving; Hershey’s-style syrups are too thin.