momofuku milk bar birthday (cup)cake

The Tod and I have been drooling over cakes from Momofuku Milk Bar; but, judging from the complaints of several baking/cooking blogs out there, Momofuku recipes seem notoriously involved and touchy (recipes can be found here on Milk Bar's own website or on their recipe books).

To our surprise, the birthday cake was incredibly child-friendly. It is easy and quite forgiving, especially baked and measured with an accuracy of a four-year-old, and super, duper, quad-duper sweet (we will include our tweak to tone down the sweetness level). What's not to like?

I think the key to our success is making it in a cupcake instead of the regular cake form (which requires a ton of extra tools we don't want to buy). We follow the following sequence and by the end of the afternoon, we ended up with 2 dozen yummy, yet cloyingly sweet cakes (even with our tweaks):
  1. Make the cake crumb
  2. Make the cake, let it cool down
  3. Make the cake soak (the cakes are individually basted with vanilla-flavored milk, similar to making Tres Leches Cake) and soak the cakes
  4. Make the frosting
  5. Assemble (if there are still some of the above left)
To make it even more child-friendlier, here's a few note about ingredients: 
  • Clear Vanilla Extract. The idea of this cake is to mimic the white boxed cake mix from scratch, so clear vanilla extract is a must, said Christina Tosi herself. And surprisingly, yet another surprise, they are easy to find! Just go to big-box stores like Safeway, Albertsons, Walmart (we found ours just 1/2 a block away at local Safeway) and they often stock McCormick Artificial Vanilla flavoring. Yeah, don't use the organic good stuff, we want the white, artificial, vanillin kind. 
  • Glucose. Nah.. we don't use such thing nor we want to haul across town to buy it. We simply use extra corn syrup that is more readily available. 
  • Citric Acid. What? Is this a chemical experiment? No, we also omit this. Some bloggers use a wee bit of lemon juice to impart the nice, tangy taste to the frosting. You can use that if you like.
  • Grapeseed Oil. Surprisingly more available than we thought. We bought ours bulk from local co-op store, but they are also available at Whole Foods, Safeway, Albertson, QFC, etc. on the salad dressing aisle.

All recipes are from Momofuku Milk Bar's website, our modification explained or in bold face.

Cake Crumb

50 g granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
25 g light brown sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons, tightly packed)
90 g cake flour (3/4 cup)
2 g baking powder (1/2 teaspoon)
1 g kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon) --> we decrease the salt as we decrease the sugar
20 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons)
40 g grapeseed oil (1/4 cup)
12 g clear vanilla extract (1 tablespoon)

Preheat oven to 300 F. Mix everything together until clumpy -- yes, in fact we dumped everything in the same bowl, both wet and dry ingredients, and mix it with a wooden spoon. Bake clumps in the oven for 15 minutes until crunchy but slightly colored. Cool them down before using.

Birthday (Cup)Cake

The cake + the soak = a very moist, buttery cake. This recipe makes 2 dozen cupcakes

55 g butter, at room temperature (4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick)
60 g vegetable shortening (1/3 cup)
200 g granulated sugar (1 cup)
50 g light brown sugar (3 tablespoons, tightly packed)
3 eggs
110 g buttermilk (1/2 cup)
65 g grapeseed oil (1/3 cup)
8 g clear vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)
245 g cake flour (2 cups)
6 g baking powder (1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 g kosher salt (3/4 teaspoon)
50 g rainbow sprinkles (1/4 cup)
25 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons) we omit this

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Combine the butter, shortening, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for ... forever (at least 2-5 minutes). Then add eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition. 

On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Crank up the speed to medium-high and mix for at least 4-6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture.... etc. etc. and yes, mix this batter for a long time. Mix it well. Literally, this is the way to entertain a kid in the afternoon. 

On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and rainbow sprinkles. Mix briefly and scrape the bowl.

Plop batter 2/3-full into prepared muffin tins lined with paper and bake for 20 minutes, rotating half-way. We found better overall cake browning using metal muffin tins than silicone ones -- if you do use silicone muffin tins, line them with foil muffin cups for the same, even browning. Let the cakes cool on the rack while making the soak and frosting below.

Birthday Cake Soak

55 g milk (1/4 cup)
4 g clear vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)

Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl. Then the cakes are completely cooled, poke a few holes and baste them with the milk soak. Yum....

Birthday Cake Frosting

We make 1 1/2 times of the original recipe, enough to frost 24 cupcakes and a bit extra leftover. The following recipe has been edited to adjust both the amount and the sugar level, sorry for the mish-mash units. Don't be discouraged with all the quirkiness of the ingredients, we omitted a lot but this frosting still tasted buttery smooth (unlike the gritty butter + powder sugar American-style frosting) and delicious!

1 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature (12 tablespoons)
75 g vegetable shortening (1/4 c + 2 tablespoons)
3 oz cream cheese 
25 g glucose (1 tablespoon) --> we omit this
3 T corn syrup 
2 T clear vanilla extract 
200 g confectioners’ sugar (1 1/4 cups) --> we keep this amount the same despite increasing everything else, seriously, it is plenty sweet!
2 g kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
.25 g baking powder (pinch) --> we omit this
.25 g citric acid (pinch) --> we omit this

Cream butter, shortening, and cream cheese on medium-high for at least 2 to 3 minutes.

With the mixer on its lowest speed, trickle in the corn syrup and vanilla. Beat on high for 2 to 3 minutes, at least, or until your kid can no longer stand looking at the beating paddle. Don't forget to scrape down the bowl. 

Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt in a few batches, and crank up the mixer again until the frosting is smooth, fluffy, and super white.

Assemble the cake as you wish and enjoy!

Have you tried any Momofuku Milk Bar recipes before?

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