Birthday Cake, straight up


Cutting into Auralee's birthday cake at our evening picnic in Sacher Park last night.

There are a lot of cakes on this blog; chocolate, upside-down, fruit-filled, vegan, tea cakes, honey cakes,  whathaveyou. But I recently realized that I had yet to post a simple, straightforward, traditional birthday cake recipe, which is quite silly, considering the frequency with which I make them. I adore birthday cake, and although in the States it is very possible to make an entire cake, filling, frosting and all, with easy-to-find vegan ingredients, the same cannot be said for cake-making in Jerusalem. So this is a typical example of a no-holds-barred buttery, buttercream laden, chocolate cake that never grows old and nearly everyone has the need for from time to time.

Also, it’s pink (I am the obliging mother of a four-year-old girl, after all).


Chocolate Birthday Cake with Rich Vanilla Buttercream and Strawberry Filling

For the cake (Devils Food Cake from Gourmet Today):

I like to make my cakes ahead of time, leaving party day a little less busy. You can freeze baked cakes, wrapped well in plastic for up to a month. Also, frozen cake layers are much easier to frost because they are not as crumbly as freshly baked cakes. 

1 cup boiling water

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)

1/2 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 3 (8- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottoms of each with rounds of wax or parchment paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together boiling water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.

Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture (batter may look curdled).

Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until a tester comes out clean and layers begin to pull away from sides of pans, 20 to 25 minutes total. Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, remove wax paper, and cool completely.

Rich Vanilla Buttercream

This recipe is from my pastry chef course at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. I love the recipes I have from my studies there because they are all so incredibly reliable. If you follow this recipe exactly, you should have no problem making a smooth, creamy, wonderfully spreadable buttercream that firms up perfectly on your frosted cake when refrigerated. 

This recipe will make about twice the buttercream you need to frost the cake. If you like, you can refrigerate the remaining amount and use it again within a month. In order to get it back to the right consistency, bring it to room temperature and then beat it with an electric mixer until creamy. At first it may separate, but have no fear, just keep beating and it will come back together again. If you prefer, you can halve the recipe, but the quantities get a little wonky — an even better option is to just double the cake recipe and make a quadruple layer cake, if you dare…

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1 lb, 1.5 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (ounce-sized), left at room temperature

1 cup, plus 1 1/2 Tbs sugar

4 oz. water

Add the sugar and water to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until it reaches the “hard ball stage”, 250°F on a candy thermometer. Do not mix it too much as it will create sugar crystals on the sides of the pan (these should be washed down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water). If you do not have a thermometer you can test the doneness of your syrup by dropping a bit into an ICE cold glass of water, if the syrup congeals into something you can pick out and roll in your finger tips, it’s ready.

While the sugar is cooking, place the eggs and egg yolks into the mixer on high speed. Continue beating the eggs at high speed until the sugar mixture has reached the hard ball stage. When the sugar is ready reduce the mixer speed to medium and pour the sugar SLOWLY into the eggs (if you are doing this by hand or with a stand mixer, it is preferable to have a helper for this part– you need to be whisking/mixing the whole time to avoid scrambling your eggs!). Continue to mix on medium speed until the mixture has cooled ~ 15 minutes (I did this by hand, not ideal). When the mixture has cooled, begin adding the butter a little bit at a time (be patient). This will take at least 10 minutes. The longer the butter is beat, the whiter the buttercream becomes. When it is done, you can separate it out into little bowls for coloring and for doing your bottom and top coats as well as the filling.

Filling and frosting your cake:

You want to trim the cake layers so they are flat. Use a long serrated knife to cut the dome off the cakes, horizontally. If they cakes are still slightly frozen (not frozen solid), you can do this with less mess. I made a quick jam syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water and adding a few teaspoons of strawberry jam, using a pastry brush I brushed the bottom layer with the syrup, several times, allowing it to soak in. I mixed a couple more spoonfuls of jam with 3/4 cup of the buttercream and spread that over the bottom layer as well.

I stacked the cakes and placed them on the surface on which they would be served (you don’t want to have to transfer your cake once it’s all nicely frosted, so think ahead. I did what it called a “crumb coat”, which is a useful technique to know about when your cake is darker that your frosting. I frosted the whole cake then chilled it thoroughly, before putting on the final coat of frosting. That way, if any crumbs show through on your first coat, you can cover them up with a second, creating a smooth finish. Decorate the cake as you choose, with pastry bags and tips and/or with sprinkles etc. Chill for 1-3 days and serve cool to room temp (depending on hot it is– you don’t want your buttercream dissolving before you’ve cut the cake!).

6 thoughts on “Birthday Cake, straight up

  1. So… I made birthday cake for Lily’s birthday. Also chocolate, and also with buttercream. Mine was chocolate devils food with chocolate ganache filling. It was delicious, but it was incredibly UGLY! I mean, I couldn’t get the buttercream to look smooth and nice on top of the cake. Now looking at the picture of your perfect pink cake, and reading your very helpful blog, I am realizing all of my mistakes… especially not cooling long enough, etc. Anyway, after reading this I am inspired to try again!

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