You know what’s the best? BIRTHDAYS! And of course, you know the best part of birthdays is….CAKE!
So this post is all about how to make an EPIC birthday cake. And by that I mean THE birthday cake, the classic combination of a buttery, yellow cake, and a rich, chocolaty frosting. With sprinkles. Sprinkles are essential.
First, the cake. To me it’s the most important part. It’s got to have a beautiful flavour; buttery, nuanced and not too sweet, otherwise the whole endeavour is a wash. Not even the most delicious icing in the world can save a cardboard-y, sugar puck of a cake.
The icing is my own creation, I’m afraid. And it wasn’t easy. Ganache is great, but in this quantity, I thought it would be waaaay too rich. I find chocolate buttercream is pretty hit and miss, often too sweet or not chocolatey enough, and I’m just not mentally prepared to embark on a chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream.
My solution? Chocolate cream cheese icing. It’s got tang, it’s chocolatey and its depth of flavour is offset perfectly by the buttery sponge. It’s my favourite frosting of all time.
A birthday cake has to have layers, at least three in my opinion. So I opted to go for the naked option. I love a naked cake! Firstly, because (and it may already be obvious from the above) I’m more a lover of cake than frosting.
And secondly because it’s so visually striking, and so easy to achieve. No special equipment, cake boards, rotating cake stands, bench scrapers or anything. Just a palette knife. Oh, and stick your cakes in the freezer for an hour or so – makes them a lot easier to work with!
Once you’ve made your cake layers and frosting (instructions at the bottom of the post) it’s just a case of stacking and spreading. Pick out your plate or stand that you want to serve the cake on (I MacGyver’d a cake board out of cardboard and al-foil, because I was giving this sucker to a friend) and place a small blob of frosting on it.
This helps the base layer of cake stick to the board, and makes life easier down the track. Now, decide which layer you’re going to use for the base (one of mine was hopelessly cracked in the middle, so I picked that one) and press it into the frosting.
You may notice that I have trimmed the edges of my cakes to show the pale sponge inside – I just think it looks pretty. If you want to, just go carefully and slowly around the edges with a serrated knife. Then you take just under a third of the remaining frosting and pile it on, spreading it right to the edge.
Pick your next crappiest layer of cake, saving the best one for the top, and centre it on the frosting, gently pressing down to anchor it in place. The frosting should squeeze out the side, just a little. You want that overhang.
Now take just under half of the remaining frosting, and do the same thing again, spreading it right to the edge, topping it with the final cake layer, and pressing down gently but firmly. Now you have the choice to either leave the frosting swirly and rustic, which does look cool, or to smooth out the edges of the frosting.
If you want to smooth ’em out, just grab your palette knife and give it a good clean. Then run it under a little hot water, dry it off, and start carefully dragging it round the frosting, scraping off any excess and getting rid of it. Make sure you keep cleaning your palette knife as you go, otherwise you’ll get frosting smears which aren’t cute. And don’t put the scraped away frosting back in the bowl – it’ll be full of crumbs.f
Once your edges are as tidy as you like, you can take the remaining frosting and pile it onto the top. Again, the choice is your on how to style this, you can leave it swirly and freestyle, which looks great, or do what I did and just straighten up the edge a little. To do that, you need to spread the frosting so there is a little overhang on the top, and then take your clean, hot palette knife and sculpt that edge to the angle that you want.
From there, I like to give the top a bit of a swirl, have at it with some star-shaped sprinkles, and then deliver it to someone who will have a happy happy birthday. What’s your favourite cake for a celebration?
- 3 x 8inch layers of vanilla butter cake (I used Sweetapolita's recipe - the link is in the post)
- 1 stick (115g) butter, softened
- 12 oz (340g) cream cheese, at ROOM TEMPERATURE
- ⅔ cup cocoa
- 4 + ½ cups icing sugar (powdered sugar)
- To make the frosting, place the butter into a bowl and beat until completely smooth and slightly pale.
- Add the cream cheese and beat on a low speed until just incorporated into the butter. Be careful not to overbeat, as cream cheese easily separates.
- Add the cocoa and icing sugar to the bowl and mix on a low speed just until everything is incoporated.
- Turn the speed to high and whip until smooth - about 10-20 seconds. Again, be careful not to overbeat.
- Now, the frosting is ready to use!