The Ultimate Birthday Cake. A sweet funfetti cake, topped with a cream cheese buttercream, and delicious cookie crumble.
To say that this cake was involved is an understatement. Not only did I have to purchase specific ingredients (cake flour, glucose, grapeseed oil, clear vanilla extract), I also had to buy new tools and equipment (quarter-sheet pan, 6″ cake ring, acetate). This was a project and I was totally up for it, especially since it was going to be for my husband’s birthday. I wanted it to be over the top and special.
If you know anything about Momofuku recipes, you know they are kind of ridiculous and there are multiple separate components that need to be created for the final product. Many people fail at making them for one reason or another. I’d made their cookies before as a sort of first easy (lol) stab at a Momofuku recipe. I didn’t fail on those, but they were definitely not easy. This cake on the other hand, even though it looks almost perfect, had some pretty epic fails.
After I’d finished making it, I vented over email to my friend Nancy @ Gotta Get Baked, so she’s already heard a (less censored) version of this story, but here goes…
Ok seriously, this god damn cake. It was all going to perfectly fine. I paced myself, measured EVERYthing in advance for each component, and organized myself like never before. I was on point. The crumble was super easy, as was the frosting, both worked out perfectly. No issues.
Then I got to baking. The cake was a frikken disaster. I had cake all over the bottom of my oven and what was left in the pan sank like a ton of bricks after I took it out. Epic fail.
Round 2, I figure I must have messed something up in the mixing so I try again, with the same sheet pan. In hindsight I don’t know what I was thinking, but she said quarter-sheet and I had a quarter-sheet! Basically a repeat of the first cake, except this time I put another sheet pan under it to catch the drippings. There were a lot of drippings. Sigh.
BOTH cakes were a total fail. And why? Pan size. Again, I got totally screwed over by pan size. I’d been screwed over by it before here and here and I’d learned my lesson, so I wasn’t going to mess with changing up the pan size again. So, I specifically purchased a quarter-sheet pan as Christina Tosi’s recipe calls for. Well, did you know not all quarter sheet pans are the same size? Apparently. Even though mine specifically says “quarter-sheet pan” on the back of it, it is evidently not even close to the quarter-sheet pan they use at Momofuku. I finally discovered (post cake completion) that hers are 10×15″ where the one I bought is actually 9.5×12″. That is a HUGE difference! You think they’d specify pan size specifically in their recipes. That’s a pretty standard thing to do!
That was only part of the problem. The cake took forever to set, and I like to rotate my pans part way because my oven sucks. Well when I went to check this one after 30mins, I must have nudged it a bit too much, because it literally deflated in front of my eyes. Many expletives were thrown. To top it off, the second cake wasn’t baked enough because I relied on Christina Tosi’s cake testing instructions of “poke it” and “looks like the centre is set” instead of my trusted method of a wooden skewer. I ended up using mostly the first cake with one layer from the second. All the layers were much thinner than they should have been, but I was done at that point.
Assembly was a bit of a pain as well, but I won’t bother you with the boring details there. Mostly stupid mistakes on my part, and rushing things, and having a disaster of a kitchen. As soon as I stuck it into the freezer, I swore I’d never make another Momofuku recipe again. Ever. But then I tasted it and o.m.g. It’s honestly the BEST cake I have EVER had. No joke. The cake is sweet, but the frosting isn’t, and the cookie crumble with it all basically makes the cake. I’ll definitely make the frosting again, and different versions of the crumble for cakes in the future. I’m for sure taking a Momofuku break for a while though…
So there you have it. Another baker taken down by a Momofuku recipe. Ok maybe I’m exaggerating. Overall, I am happy with how it turned out and it IS delicious, but I could have done without the fails.
Here are a few key things about this recipe, should you attempt it on your own, along with some insider tips now that I’ve gone through it once:
- Clear Vanilla Extract – Use it! Initially I wasn’t going to bother with this and just use my regular stuff, but I’m so glad I did. Christina Tosi says to use it for flavor, but the biggest factor for me was color. I’d seen some pics of other bakers who didn’t use the clear stuff, and their frosting turned out kinda beige. Not the pretty stark white. So, use the clear stuff!
- Citric Acid – I couldn’t find this at my local grocer and didn’t want to hunt it down for just a “pinch” in a recipe so I used a bit of lemon juice instead. Worked perfectly fine.
- Frosting – I used 1.5x the recipe for frosting. In my research, some bloggers were saying to double the recipe, but I opted to do 1.5x and it was perfect. I had a tiny bit left over, but otherwise I think it was a great ratio, even with my super thin cake layers.
- Timing – I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this all in one day. It’s certainly doable, but for sanity’s sake, make the crumble and cake one day, then do the frosting and assembly the next day.
- Pan Size – For the love of all things baked and delicious, make sure your “quarter-sheet pan” is 10×15″ before you attempt this!! I’ve also thought about using three 6″ cake rounds and seeing how that would turn out. The layers might be a bit thicker and have more of a finished look on the outsides, but I’m sure it would taste just as delicious, and would likely be a lot easier to manage.
This cake is not for the faint of heart. It’s a ton of work, but the effort will be worth it in the end when you finally have a slice or two of this amazing cake!
Momofuku Birthday Cake
- 100 g granulated sugar 1/2 cup
- 25 g light brown sugar 1 1/2 Tbsp (tightly packed)
- 90 g cake flour 3/4 cup
- 2 g baking powder 1/2 tsp
- 2 g kosher salt 1/2 tsp
- 20 g rainbow sprinkles 2 Tbsp
- 40 g grapeseed oil 1/4 cup
- 12 g clear vanilla extract 1 Tbsp
- 55 g unsalted butter room temperature (4 Tbsp, 1/2 stick)
- 60 g vegetable shortening 1/3 cup
- 250 g granulated sugar 1 1/4 cups
- 50 g light brown sugar (3 Tbsp tightly packed)
- 3 large eggs
- 110 g buttermilk 1/2 cup
- 65 g grapeseed oil 1/3 cup
- 8 g clear vanilla extract 2 tsps
- 245 g cake flour 2 cups
- 6 g baking powder 1 1/2 tsp
- 3 g kosher salt 3/4 tsp
- 50 g rainbow sprinkles 1/4 cup
- 25 g rainbow sprinkles for sprinkling 2 Tbsp
Frosting (1.5x the original recipe):
- 172.5 g unsalted butter at room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
- 75 g vegetable shortening 1/4 cup + 1/8 cup
- 82.5 g cream cheese 3 oz
- 37.5 g glucose 1.5 Tbsp
- 27 g corn syrup 1.5 Tbsp
- 18 g clear vanilla extract 1.5 Tbsp
- 300 g powdered sugar sifted, 1 7/8 cups
- 3 g kosher salt 3/4 tsp
- .38 g baking powder pinch
- .38 g citric acid I used 1/4tsp lemon juice
- 55 g milk 1/4 cup
- 4 g clear vanilla extract 1 tsp
- Preheat oven to 300F and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all dry ingredients (sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, sprinkles). Mix on low until well combined.
- Add oil and vanilla, mix again on low to distribute until small clusters form.
- Bake for 15mins.
- Cool completely before using on cake.
- Store in an airtight container for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
- Preheat oven to 350F and spray a quarter-sheet pan (10”x15”) cooking spray and line with parchment or a silpat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, salt, and 50g (1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles). Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, shortening, and sugars. Beat on med-high for 2-3mins. Scrape bowl if necessary.
- Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Scrape bowl.
- Turn mixer to low and stream in buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase mixer to med-high and beat for 4-6minutes until mixture is light, fluffy, and no streaks of fat or liquid remain. Scrape bowl.
- On low speed, add flour mixture and mix just until batter comes together, 30-60 secs.
- Spread cake batter in an even layer in the pan and sprinkle with remaining 25g (2 Tbsp) rainbow sprinkles.
- Bake for 30-35mins or until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Cool completely on a wire rack.
- The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
- In a medium bowl, sift together confectioners sugar, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, shortening, and cream cheese. Beat on med-high for 2-3mins until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape bowl.
- Turn mixer to low and stream in glucose, corn syrup, and vanilla. Increase mixer to med-high and beat for 2-3mins until smooth and glossy white. Scrape bowl.
- Turn mixer to low and add in sugar mixture and citric acid (I used lemon juice). Once combined, turn mister to med-high and leaf for 2-3mins until white and smooth.
- Use immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl or measuring cup.
- Cut acetate into two 3” high and 20” long strips.
- Place a piece of parchment or silpat onto the counter and invert cake onto it. Peel off parchment/silpat from bottom of the cake.
- Using the cake ring, stamp out 2 circles (start in the corners to be able to get 2 full ones). These will be your top and bottom layers. Stamp out 2 half circles from the remaining scraps.
- Clean cake ring and place in the center of your quarter-sheet pan lined with parchment or a silpat.
- Place 1 strip of acetate inside the cake ring to line it. **Make sure the cake ring is completely dry or you won’t be able to get it out of the ring after freezing!!**
- Place your less pretty full layer into the bottom. Dip a pastry brush into the soak and brush onto the cake layer.
- Using the back of a spoon, spread 1/5 of the frosting in an even layer over the cake.
- Sprinkle 1/3 of the crumble evenly over the frosting. Press down with the back of your hand to anchor them in place. (I reserved the chunkiest crumbs for the very top).
- Using the back of a spoon, spread 1/5 of the frosting in an even layer over the crumble.
- With your index finger, tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top 1/4 inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall – high enough to support the height of the finished cake.
- Place the two half circle cake pieces on top of the frosting layer and press in additional cake scraps to fill in the layer. Use the back of your hand to press the scraps together into a flat even layer.
- Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8.
- Place the remaining cake round onto the frosting and cover the top with remaining 1/5 frosting. Spread frosting evenly or a bit messier if you like.
- Top with remaining crumble — either around the edge or in the center, however you like.
- Place sheet pan into the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours. Cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
- At least 3 hours before serving, remove the cake from the freezer and using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate and transfer cake to platter or stand.
- Let it defrost in the fridge or counter for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, the cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
Another silly question. How tall are these cakes once constructed? Can’t find that info anywhere. I made the German chocolate Jimbo a year ago and it was perfect. But I forgot to measure how tall it was because I didn’t need to put it in a box for a Customer.
This particular one was about 6″ tall or so I think.
Hi, I just looked up Momofuku Bday Cake. They have a link to the exact pan they use in their FAQ page. It’s 9.5” x 13” aluminum. After your advice, I’m afraid to buy this pan and not one that’s larger. So bizarre that they’d tell us the wrong size.
Hi Robin! If the recipe on their site uses the same amounts as this one here, I would definitely go with the 10×15 pan!
Thank you! Will do!
Lauren Jacquemin says
For the frosting – is glucose powdered or liquid? Where can it be bought?
Hi Lauren! I used liquid. You can buy it on Amazon or in craft stores like Michaels. Wilton makes some.
I’ve been really curious about this cake for a long time and I’m glad you explained things so thoroughly. Do you know if the cake *must* be frozen and then thawed before eating or can it just be chilled in the fridge for like 24 hours? What does the freezing do that the fridge can’t? (There’s no way I could get a cake in my tiny freezer but I really want to try this recipe.)
Hi Sarah! Freezing the cake helps remove it from the ring mold. If it’s not frozen it’s more likely to fall apart when you try this. If you’re not using that though, there is no need!
This is getting exciting! I finished the three layers of cake last night using two six inch cake pans. They’re close as proportional as eyeballing can get – I threw the rest of the batter in the fridge to sit while the first two layers were in the oven for 25-30 mins then let it sit on the counter for a little before I poured the final layer. Cake looks great! I’m making the crumble today and the icing and the assembling, tomorrow. I’m making this for my boyfriend’s 29th (and quarantined) birthday. Curious if anyone has any more tips for assembly or the rest? Should I slice the tops of my cake layers to get them close to flat as possible?
Also – subbed avocado oil for grapeseed if anyone is interested in that. Not sure how it tastes yet but I am sure it’s fine!
Hi Christina! Thanks for your tips. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out for you! Definitely get the layers as flat as possible, this will help immensely when stacking and help avoid disaster especially since the frosting is on the softer side.
It turned out great! I cut off the tops a little to make it more flat. I didn’t seem to use all the milk mixture. I also didn’t have an acetate ring, so I had to frost without the form. I think I might’ve gone through icing quicker this way. I used every bit of the icing! I also used “regular” vanilla not clear – I couldn’t find it in stores and already have a large bottle. I don’t think it drastically made a difference. This cake is good but strange how it all works out; the cake is dense and the icing is definitely on the softer side. I really hated my crumbles – I made two batches. Mostly because I looked up the video where Christina Tosi shows how she makes this, and her crumbles look near perfect. So I was comparing…
Long story short – you can do this recipe with 6″ pans, without the acetate ring, and and sub some of the ingredients for an awesome cake!
Yay! So happy to hear it turned out 🙂 I def didn’t use all the milk either, but that’s often the case with a soak/syrup. Thanks so much for your tips! <3
Diana McFeters says
Wow, and yum. I am not a novice baker, and this cake still threw a few curve balls. But so worth it! I decided to make this for my son’s 20th birthday. With closures from COVID19 I was not able to obtain some supplies so had to adjust. Instead of the sheet pan I used two 8 inch rounds. I got distracted cleaning the kitchen so my first batch was a bit overdone. Yes, cleaning! In my defense my housekeeper has not been here in over a month (COVID19). Well I cleaned the cooktop only to realize the tile behind also needed attention, and then the cupboards, mold around the rim of the sink, the the sink drainers, then what IS THAT under the drainers!) Anyway, you get the picture. Second batch curdled after adding the buttermilk (which was actually milk with vinegar because, yup, no buttermilk to be found in the stores). In my hurry hadn’t let the ingredients come to room temperature. Decided to add the oil and see if it would come together. Nope. On to batch 3. Mixed the milk with the oil and vanilla, and slowly added to the mix. Success! Watched like a hawk and didn’t burn the cakes.
For the icing didn’t have glucose so subbed 2 tsp corn syrup per tablespoon glucose.
Oh, for the cake had to make my own cake flour with AP flour and cornstarch. Worked fine. Yup, no cake flour in the store.
Turns out the overdone cake had nice carmelized edges that was great with the extra icing!
We haven eaten the cake yet, but having tasted all the components can’t imagine it is anything less than devine!
Thanks for bringing us another great cake Olivia!
Hi Diana! LOL I am so with you on the cleaning. I get that way too. One thing leads to another and I often don’t finish cleaning the first before starting on the second. I’m so glad you loved the components of this cake and I hope you love the finished product just as much. Happy birthday to your son!
3/4 tsp Salt was a bit much for the icing, I would go for 1/4tsp next time. I enjoyed the saltiness, but was more overt than merely flavor enhancer.
Hi Daddy-fuku! Thanks for your feedback. I hope you liked the cake! 🙂
I’m a novice baker. Good cake overall but like many, I went straight into the recipe without reading the bakers comments. Flat as a pancake. Kinda sad but if I try it again, will use a more suited tray.
Hi Maggie! This cake was a challenge for sure. I hope you give it a try again!
Thank you for this incredible recipe! I’m planning on baking this soon and I’m loading all of the necessary ingredients and supplies into my cart but I’m having trouble finding a suitable replacement for the cake flour that you linked to. Unfortunately, Bob’s Red Mill discontinued their cake flour. Do you have a recommendation for a new flour that you’ve been using lately perhaps?
I would very much appreciate your recommendation. Thank you and have a wonderful day!
Hi Jennifer! I hope you love this one, it is a delicious cake! Any brand of cake flour will work as long as it’s not “self-raising”. Where are you located? I used Robin Hood flour here in Canada but King Arthur Flour is a great one in the states.
About to test out your recipe…so happy I stumbled upon it first before trying the regular milkbar recipe!
2 questions- what kind of milk do you use for the soak? and what type/ percent % cream cheese?
Hi Erin! You can use any kind of milk you like — I used 2%. For the cream cheese, I’m not sure on % but I would use full-fat brick cream cheese – not tub and not low fat.
I’m going to attempt this cake for my daughters first birthday. I’m having a hard time finding glucose, do you think it would work to use clear corn syrup instead?
Hi Kristin! I think corn syrup will be fine!
OMG! Reading your article made me feel so much better and not quite so stupid. I just made one of momofuku’s cakes (Lemon Berry Crunch Cake) for this Thanksgiving and had a similar experience.
Everything was going fine, all elements working wonderfully until the bloody cake. Nothing like making a double batch of the cake and having it come out flat as a pancake. Quite a hit to the self esteem – I know I”m a decent cook and baker – have made plenty of complicated showstopper recipes, what the heck is up with this cake at 2am on Thanksgiving morning as I’m running out of ingredients, swearing so much the dog’s ears are up… and getting a little better cake the 2nd time around but it’s still less than an inch thick? In my case it was also the pan size – I was using too large a sheet pan. Pretty sure I’m going to use 8″ rounds next time and sacrifice the perfect cut edges look. Thanks for your honest and helpful review of this recipe.
(Mine did turn out, fyi, and got tons of kudos so it all worked out. Tasted great, too. Just took an amazing amount of time and effort.)
Hi Karla! Glad you can commiserate — 2am omg! I admire your perseverance. I may have settled for a store bought cake at that time! LOL I agree the cakes are totally delicious, but so much effort that I haven’t attempted another one since!
I’ve been following your recipes for a while now, and just got to know that you live in Vancouver too… This is the first recipe of yours that I used and I’m about to bake another cake for work tonight.
Hi Patrick! So happy to “meet” a fellow Vancouverite 🙂 I hope your coworkers realize how lucky they are to get homemade cakes brought to them 🙂
Aww im from Vancouver, too!
Hi Calin! Always nice to meet locals! 😀
I am leaving an “in general” comment. I was completely OBSESSED with Milkbar and the Momofuku bakery. I laughed while reading your diatribe of trials and tribulations because that is what the whole concept is momofukedup. I went to NYC last weekend, with my daughter who is equally obsessed, and our only goal was to taste a milkbar cake. We get to the bakery (Is it really a bakery? No it is not.)and all they have are the stupid prepackaged cookies and frozen yogurt. Womp womp womp. We took a menu and left. Such an epic let down. So I feel ya! I am sure this cake was a monster!
Hi Ellison! Bummer about your experience at Milk Bar! I’ve never been there myself and am surprised to hear that. I would have thought there’d be cakes lining every shelf!
Honestly I am super frustrated right now. I am not a novice baker – and I’m the type who would never use a “box” mix but actually I am considering doing it tomorrow so I can somehow salvage my plans for my niece’s birthday cake. I followed this recipe to the T. The colors are nothing like in your photos. The “sprinkles” all seemed to have dissolved into the cake. Its not like I used some weird brand of sprinkles, I went to a national grocery store chain and got the type likely to be purchased by anyone else that would attempt to make this cake. Same goes for the cake flour, clear vanilla, white sugar ect. Also the crumb of the cake is heavy, not light at all; it is yellow and not white like in the photos. I shopped for all of the exact ingredients, went to three different stores to find them all. The cake is heavy, yellow and has no confetti. Tomorrow I am going to try again with a box mix.
Hi Amelia! So sorry to hear you’re having troubles with this one. I completely understand how you feel — it put me through the wringer too! It sounds like the sprinkles you are using are the round nonpareils that are notorious for bleeding in the batter. I would use either confetti sprinkles or the longer jimmies. I’ve had success with both of those. My cake is quite yellow too, not white (the frosting should be white though if you used clear vanilla) and was a bit on the denser side. It’s not a light and fluffy cake. I hope your next attempt goes better!
Thank u so much!!! I did everything tonight exactly like ur recipe says! Im so glad u adjusted more icing because it was definitely perfect for me! I ate the scrapes and The freakin cake is amazing!!!! And the icing was perfect! I cant wait to eat it all together!!
Hi Lena! So happy to hear that you found this all helpful! I’m sure you will love it 😀
For the frosting, what does “steam in glucose..” mean? Also, will i be ok making the frosting with a hand mixer with regular whisk attachment rather than paddle?
Hi Karli! Oops, that should have read “stream in”. Your hand mixer should work just fine!
Wow… I actually just wanna say hi. I was reading your recipe about the cinnamon crunch toast cake and that led me to read this blog post. Although I am sorry that you had to go trough this pain, your story was very entertaining! :O) and your cake looks very delish! I had to google this whole thing about the Milk Bar Bakery, and no offense to them but your “take on their cake” looks more appetizing.
Hi Marcela! Thank you for the sweet comment! I’m glad you found the post entertaining 🙂 I hope you try this recipe!
I am so excited to give this a try but have only been able to track down an 11×15 inch pan (in Australia) – do you think this will work ok? I was hoping it might just result in a bit of a thicker cake? Thanks 🙂
Hi Carla! I think it will be fine, but it will actually be a bit thinner — the pan required is 10×15. Be sure to reduce the baking time if needed!
Thank you! Finding the right pans is proving more difficult than expected & I am trying to avoid buying new ones
I need a fairly large cake so was considering using my 24cm pans (around 9.5 inch) in which case I’d need to double the recipe
I was wondering, is the biggest issue experienced with differing pan sizes the batter overflowing? In which case, how much do you recommend filling the pans? Half way, or three quarters?
Hi Carla! Yes, it was the batter overflowing! I think if you double the recipe and use the 24cms pans though should be fine. I recommend filling no more than 2/3rds full. Let me know how it turns out!
So I cooked the batter in 3 x 24cm tins and I think it was a success. I filled them around 2/3 full (my tins are only 3.5cm high). I put one in first to see how it went and it rose to the top of the tin but didn’t overflow. I forgot the proper method for checking “doneness” and put a skewer in which made it sink a little. With the other two I used the prescribed method but it’s hard to tell whether they are cooked. Is it naturally a very soft/delicate cake? They all came out of their tins fine but do feel like they could break very easily (probably also due to the thickness)
I didn’t time the cooking but it was somewhere around half an hour
The recipe says the cakes are fine in the fridge up to 4 days but do you know if they freeze ok? I want to make my cake 5 layers and didn’t want to attempt a double batch straight up 🙂
Hi Carla! If I recall correctly, it is more of a delicate cake and it should freeze perfectly fine!
Hey! I just did my first attempt at making this birthday cake and the recipe was very easy to follow along! However, the sponge cake did not rise as much as I was hoping for. I didn’t overmix and the baking powder is not expired or bad. Are there any tips for getting it to rise?
Hi Ryo! It doesn’t rise a ton, but should rise some. Did you bake it in the same pan as per the recipe? The only thing I really know to cause flat dense cakes is expired raising agents or overmixing once the flour is added.