How to Make Birthday Cake

When I was a kid, my mom would make me whatever I wanted for Birthday Dinner. The only thing I ever remember asking for was fried flounder, egg noodles and peas & carrots. And for dessert, it was always Boston Cream Pie.

As an adult, I’m continuing this tradition with my husband. I asked him what kind of birthday dessert he wanted and he said “Birthday Cake.” After a few days of deliberation and hemming and hawing about what kind of birthday cake, he decided on a yellow cake with mocha frosting.

You’ll need four 9″ cake pans, with enough cooling racks to turn the cooked cakes out on to.

Yellow Cake
3 cups all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract (bourbon vanilla if you can find it)
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs

Heat the oven to 350º.  Use non-stick cooking spray to grease the cake pans, then line the bottom of each with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt with a fork. Set aside.

In a second large bowl, combine the milk and vanilla exctract.

In the bowl of your mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

One by one, drop in the eggs and mix until each is completely incorporated before adding the next. When all the eggs are in, stop the mixer, and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mixer back on and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the flour and milk mixes, on medium-low speed and continue to stir until you have a smooth, creamy cake batter. If it looks curdled or separated, just keep mixing, maybe add a little more speed to the paddle.

Pour the batter into the four prepared cake pans and bake until dark golden on top and until a tooth pick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out with just a crumb or two stuck to it, about 35 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven. Let cool in the pans 10 minutes, then turn them out onto the cooling racks and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Mocha Bourbon Buttercream
18 oz excellent quality chocolate – I used a combination of bittersweet and semi-sweet
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 T espresso powder
2 T bourbon
4 egg whites at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp cream of tartar*
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 pound unsalted butter, softened (they don’t call it buttercream for nothing!)

Melt the chocolate in a double burner set up, whisk until all the lumps have dissolved, then our out onto a metal baking sheet and allow to cool. Keep the pot of hot water at the ready for cooking the egg whites.

Combine the vanilla, espresso powder and bourbon in a small bowl and stir until the espresso powder is dissolved. Set aside.

Place the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt into the bowl of your mixer and whisk to combine. Then, set the bowl over the reserved pot of hot water and whisk constantly until the egg whites are warm to the touch, about 4 minutes.

Put the bowl onto the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on high to stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the softened butter a few tablespoons at a time until it is all incorporated.

Turn off the mixer, take the bowl to the counter and by hand, fold in the vanilla-espresso-bourbon mixture until there are no white streaks left.

To Assemble the Cake

In addition to the cake layers and the buttercream, have 1/2 cup bourbon and 1 T fleur de sel.

Place one layer of the cake on to either a 9″ cardboard round (best idea, if you have a kitchen supply store near you and have access to these) or right onto the plate you’ll be serving from (which is what I did because I forgot to pick up the cardboard round.)

Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the cake layer with bourbon.

Plop down about 3/4 cup buttercream and smear it around until its relatively evenly spread to the edges.

Sprinkle with 1/3 of the fleur de sel.

Repeat with the remaining three cake layers, Frost the top and sides using up as much buttercream as you like.

Wipe the rim of your serving plate with a damp paper towel and add candles.

If you have extra buttercream, put it into the container in the fridge. Its a great afternoon pick me up, in small doses of course, and lasts about a week. That’s what i hear, anyway. Mine has never lasted that long.

*Here’s a great explanation of the role of cream of tartar in beating egg whites, for all my food science friends out there. I’ve also heard that whipping egg whites in a copper bowl eliminates the need for the addition of cream of tartar because the copper molecules will do the same job.