Ashley’s Birthday Cake
Makes one 8-inch cake to serve 8 to 12
At Myers+Chang our dessert menu is filled with mostly traditional American desserts with an Asian twist: we have coconut cream pie with lime whipped cream, a matcha cookies-and-cream ice cream sundae with chile chocolate sauce and tamarind caramel, lemon-ginger mousse with a housemade ginger fortune cookie, and more. Our dear friend Ashley Stanley who has been coming to the restaurant since we opened (and in fact started her non-profit Lovin’ Spoonfuls while sitting at our food bar) begged for a good old-fashioned birthday cake every time she came in. Christopher too pined for a straightforward classic slice of cake. “So how do I make chocolate cake with chocolate frosting Asian?” I asked him. “Easy,” he told me. “You don’t. We’ll put it on our menu for Ashley and it will be so good no one will wonder why it’s on the menu.” I think we accomplished that with this cake. A soft chocolate cake made with a mix of cake and rye flour frosted with a chocolate pudding frosting you loved as a kid (and still do as an adult). The cake mixing method is my favorite way to mix a butter cake; I learned this technique from one of my baking mentors Rose Levy Barenbaum who preaches this method in her many excellent cookbooks. The cake is topped with homemade rainbow sprinkles that are as fun to make as they are to eat. The recipe scales up easily if you want to make enough for several cakes.
Homemade Sprinkles (recipe follows)
1/2 cup/60 grams Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 ounce/30 grams unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup/240 grams boiling water
1 1/2 cups/330 grams tightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup/120 grams cake flour, sifted (sift after measuring)
1 cup/120 grams light rye flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup/2 sticks/225 grams softened unsalted butter, at warm room temperature
1/4 cup/60 grams crème fraiche
2 large eggs (about 100 grams)
2 large egg yolks (about 40 grams)
Chocolate Pudding Buttercream (recipe follows)
Coffee Syrup (recipe follows)
Make the Homemade Sprinkles and set aside.
Heat the oven to 350°F and place a rack in the center of the oven. Line the bottoms of two 8-by-2-inch cake pans with parchment circles and spray generously with pan spray or butter generously. Set aside.
Combine the cocoa powder and chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water on top and whisk until the mixture is completely combined and smooth. (Tip- start by bringing more than 1 cup of water to a boil and then measure out 1 cup. If you boil 1 cup of water it will end up being less than 1 cup once it starts to boil.) Set aside and let cool to room temperature (about 4 hours at room temperature or 1 hour in the refrigerator, whisking every 15 minutes if refrigerating).
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or using an electric hand mixer, combine the brown sugar, cake flour, rye flour, baking soda, and salt on low speed for about 20 seconds until mixed and there are no longer any brown sugar lumps. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and continue to mix until the butter is just barely mixed in, 20 to 25 seconds, and the mixture resembles dough. Turn off the mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the crème fraiche, eggs, and yolks. Pour the liquids into the butter-flour mixture and gradually turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes, until the batter is fluffy and light. Stop the mixer a few times and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn the mixer to low speed and slowly pour the cooled chocolate mixture into the bowl. Mix for about 10 seconds to combine. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and then mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds until the chocolate is thoroughly mixed in.
Scrape 1/3 of the batter into one of the prepared pans and 2/3 of the batter in the second pan. Bake the cakes in the 350°F oven until the centers of the cake spring back when you poke them in the middle. The shallower cake will take 25 to 35 minutes and the thicker cake will take 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the cakes from oven and let them cool in the pans on a cooling rack.
While the cakes are baking make the Chocolate Pudding Frosting and Coffee Syrup. Set aside.
When the cakes are completely cool, run a knife around the edge of the pans and remove them from the pan. Trim the tops with a serrated knife to level them (they will have rounded a bit in the oven—these scraps make for great nibbling). Again using a serrated knife, split the thicker cake in half horizontally. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate or pedestal (or use a cake turner if you have one). Use a pastry brush to brush about a third of the coffee syrup evenly over the whole cake. Spoon 1 scant cup of frosting on top; use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly to the edges of the cake.
Carefully place a second layer of cake on top of that and brush with another third of the syrup. Spoon on about 1 scant cup of frosting. Spread this to the edges of the cake and then place the last cake layer on top of that. Brush with the rest of the syrup and spoon about 1 cup of frosting on the top of the cake and spread this along the top and down the sides of the cake, smoothing the frosting as well as you can and covering the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting. This is called a crumb coat (see page 00), and it will keep any loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. Place the whole cake in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the buttercream to firm up. Remove the cake from the fridge and beat up the remaining frosting with a wooden spoon to fluff it up again. Spoon another cup or so of frosting on the cake. Spread it evenly across the top and sides again. This is the final finishing layer of frosting. Use the remainder of frosting to pipe an edge along the top and/or the bottom edge of the cake as desired. Place the cake back in the fridge for about 30 minutes to allow the frosting to firm up. Remove from the fridge and sprinkle the top with Homemade Sprinkles right before serving. Store the cake at cool room temperature for up to 2 days in an airtight container.
Makes about 1 cup
1 1/2 cups/180 grams confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons/25 grams egg whites (just under 1 large egg white) (slightly whipping the white makes measuring much easier)
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few drops of at least 3 different food colorings
Line 3 or 4 baking sheets with parchment and set aside. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, egg white, salt, and vanilla extract in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in up to 1 tablespoon of water, a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture is still thick and has the consistency of peanut butter. Divide the mixture evenly into smaller bowls, keeping one bowl plain white and coloring the rest with food coloring, stirring 2 to 3 drops of each color into each bowl, adding more drops as desired for brighter color. Keep bowls that are not being used covered with plastic wrap (this prevents the paste from drying out). Spoon the paste into a piping bag with a tiny round tip (#5). Pipe straight long lines onto the prepared baking sheet, using up all of the paste of one color before switching to another color. Wash out the tip with each color and continue piping with all of the paste. Let dry overnight uncovered at room temperature. The next day, cut the sprinkles into 1/8-inch pieces using a pizza cutter. Store sprinkles indefinitely in an airtight container. Note that sprinkles will start to bleed on a cake after a few hours so it’s best to decorate your cake shortly before serving.
Chocolate Pudding Frosting
Makes about 4 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups/300 grams sugar
6 tablespoons/50 grams all-purpose flour
1/4 cup/30 grams Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups/360 grams whole milk
5 ounces/140 grams bittersweet chocolate, chopped in small pieces
3 ounces/85 grams unsweetened chocolate, chopped in small pieces
1 1/2 cups/3 sticks/340 grams unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and cut into cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Whisk together the sugar, flour, and cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Whisk the milk into the dry ingredients. It’s really important to whisk all of the dry together before adding the milk or it will be lumpy. Scrape pudding mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat whisking constantly until it comes to a boil, 4 to 6 minutes. Count to 30 while continuously whisking once it boils. It will be a smooth thick sauce that coats the back of a spoon. Remove the pudding mixture from the heat and pour it into a shallow container and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool to room temperature for about an hour.
Combine the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate together in a small bowl and melt in the microwave over medium heat until completely melted or place over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk occasionally until completely melted. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium high speed until smooth and light, about a minute. Reduce the speed to medium low and add the cooled mixture a few tablespoons at a time. Add the vanilla and salt. Add the melted cooled chocolate.
Turn the speed up to medium and mix for 6 to 8 minutes. The frosting will look curdled and clumpy at first and then gradually it will start to look creamy. When the frosting is entirely smooth it is ready to use. The frosting keeps for up to 1 week in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You’ll need to re-beat it for a long time to bring it back to a silky consistency. It’s best to remove it from the refrigerator up to 8 hours in advance so when you re-beat it, it doesn’t separate.
Makes about 1 cup
3/4 cup/180 grams brewed strong hot coffee
3/4 cup/150 grams sugar
In a small bowl whisk together the coffee and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 months.