Birthday Cake and Other Babble
Since turning 22 is really not that big of a deal, I got it in my head this year that I wanted to bake my own birthday cake. A cute layer cake can turn even the smallest party into a celebration, and I figured it would be a good way to get in the birthday cake-baking game. People questioned my sanity, especially because I wouldn’t stop talking about it, but I’m used to that by now. This was a test of my kitchen mettle.
Given that I tend to make things very complicated for myself, it’s no surprise that this birthday cake turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Pink Lady Cake looked more or less doable (especially with Deb’s layer cake tips), and I even created a schedule for myself: bake the layers before work on Monday and then freeze them, and frost and finish on Wednesday before work, so that the cake would be ready for dinner that night.
My first problem arose when I realized that Deb’s recipe is for a 9-inch triple-layer cake, which was simply too much cake for the small family dinner I was having. So I halved the recipe (after deciding that two-thirds-ing it created too many fraction equations that I’d have to figure out) to make a 6-inch cake.
But I didn’t realize until Monday morning that I didn’t have the right baking pans for the cake that I wanted. Of course, I plowed ahead with the batter anyway. I put it in the fridge so that I could go to work/make my first visit to the New York Cake & Baking Distributors store on 22nd Street, which may be my new favorite store in the city — sorry, Broadway Panhandlers. The store has anything you’d ever need to bake, plenty of things you don’t need but kind of want, and I can’t wait to go back and explore when I’m not rushing to get to work on time.
I baked and froze the layers Monday night, thanks to a last-minute save from my aunt (I still don’t have the flip-and-bang technique for removing cakes from their pans yet, and of course forgot to buy parchment paper like the recipe recommends). Frosting was a much smoother process, though I ended up with powdered sugar everywhere, including on my camera. All in all, it was a fun experiment — one that I’d gladly do again and again. So if you’ve got a birthday coming up, put in your cake requests now!
The halved recipe, which creates a 6-inch triple-layer cake, is below.
– 2-1/4 cups cake flour
– 1-1/2 cups sugar
– 2-5/8 teaspoons baking powder
– 3/8 teaspoon salt
– 3/4 cup puree of frozen strawberries (about 1/4 of a pound of whole frozen berries) — I went with closer to 1 cup of strawberries, because I wanted more of that flavor
– 6 ounces (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
– 4 egg whites
– 1/3 cup of milk (I used a little bit less, since I had the extra berries)
– 1 drop red food dye
*Need 3 6 x 2-inch round pans (or 1 pan, if you want to bake each layer individually)
1) Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
2) Deb suggests that you add the pureed strawberries and then the butter to the dry ingredients, but I noticed in the comments that some people were having trouble with their hand mixers when mixing the puree with the flour (think motors blown out). Since I didn’t want to destroy my aunt’s hand mixer, I decided to mix the butter and strawberries first and then add them to the flour. The mixer had no problems with it, and it certainly didn’t affect the end result.
3) In a separate bowl (or the one you mixed your dry ingredients in, if you want to save the extra dishwashing), mix together the egg whites and milk. Add a drop or two of red food coloring, if you want your cake extra pink. Blend the eggs into the batter in two or three batches, mixing only to incorporate each time.
At this point, if you’re running late for work and don’t have the appropriate baking pans, cover the batter tightly with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. (*Remember to bring the batter back to room temperature before baking.)
4) If you’re less of a mess, butter your baking pans. Or if you’re a baking superstar, you could also line them with parchment paper and butter the paper, to save yourself about 15 minutes of stress and worry. Divide the batter between the three pans evenly, and bake the cakes at 350˚F for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow them to cool for 15-20 minutes before taking them out of the pan and cooling them completely on a wire rack.
To freeze them: once the cakes are completely cooled, trim off the tops so that the layers are completely flat. A long serrated knife works best. Then triple-wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and freeze. Deb also suggests flash-freezing as a layer cake technique: after putting the cakes on the wire rack, stick the rack in the freezer for 30 minutes, until the cakes are chilled, and then triple-wrap. I didn’t have enough freezer space for this though.
For the frosting:
– 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
– 3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
– 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream the butter and cream cheese together until mixed well. Add the vanilla extract and then gradually mix in the powdered sugar.
If you’re fancy, place strips of wax paper on your cake plate to shield the plate from your frosting escapades. Or don’t, if you’re me.
1) Place one layer on the cake plate. Cover the top with an ample amount of frosting, about 1/3 of a cup. (I was concerned that I’d run out of frosting at the end, so I spread mine a little thin. Ultimately, I ended up with a ton of leftover frosting, so don’t be afraid to glob it on.) Top with the second layer, rinse and repeat.
2) Once your three layers are stacked, frost the top and the sides with what Deb calls a “crumb coat.” This is a preliminary layer of frosting designed to keep the cake in place and catch all those annoying crumbs. It makes for a much smoother frosting finish. Add a second layer of frosting, the “final frost” (yes, I made that up). Decorate as you please.
I used a drop and a half of red food dye to make my remaining frosting pink, then spooned it into a Ziploc bag and nipped off a corner to create a very rudimentary piping bag. You could also write a “Happy Birthday” message, but I considered that past the point of acceptable. I mean, creating your own birthday cake is one thing, but wishing yourself a happy birthday on said cake? Even I have limits.
Aside from its undeniable cuteness, the cake was slightly sweet, tangy from the cream cheese, moist and lovely. It was a little light on strawberry flavor, so I’d like to try swapping out more (or even all) of the milk for the puree. Perhaps for pink polka-dotted cupcakes?
Note: In other news, yesterday’s post was my 100th! Not that big of a deal in the larger blogosphere, but I didn’t think that I’d be updating or obsessing about this blog as often as I have (just ask Keith). I’ve really enjoyed finding new places to eat, new recipes to try and new things to think about, and I’m excited that I’ve had the opportunity to share. Thanks for reading!
Also, I didn’t take that picture of me (duh.) — Keith did.