I remember the first birthday that I celebrated with my in-laws. Their tradition of choosing one’s favourite take-out and getting a cake from the grocery store confounded me. I grew up with a mother who didn’t particularly care to bake complicated cakes, but who would at the very least make an effort to make a ridiculous meal and either prepare a complex dessert, or buy one from the upscale bakery downtown. This is not something that I begrudge my in-laws, far from it. This is merely to state that I’m beginning to understand where my efforts in the kitchen originate. For example, upon my return from Germany, I requested a Black Forest cake for my birthday, something which my mother had never made. Yet, out of love, she found a terribly detailed recipe and prepared a stunning and delicious cake.
My husband, however, introduced me to the concept of real birthday cake. That birthday cake with a sickly sweet, bright white, slightly cloying icing, that may or may not have an addictive quality to it. Shiny icing, underneath which one may find a cake, which – although it doesn’t taste like real vanilla – tastes more like vanilla than anything else you can imagine.
These cookies are awfully similar to that, with a gorgeous shiny icing, flecks of sprinkles throughout, and that uncanny vanilla flavour. Leave it to the incomparable Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar to create desserts around childhood birthday cakes. These are a composition of Tosi’s Birthday Cake Crumb and Birthday Cake Frosting, and the method that she uses for her cookies, in which the butter, sugar, glucose (or corn syrup), and eggs are beaten ferociously until they are light and fluffy, and the cookies are chilled for an hour, to ensure that they hold their shape. The wait is worthwhile in the end, for a ridiculously tender cookie, that’s good enough to appear alongside birthday cakes
Birthday Cake Cookies: Crumb, Cookie, Frosting.
Adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar
Birthday Cake Crumb
The birthday cake crumb is a variation of one of Tosi’s ‘mother’ recipes (based on the idea of the four French ‘mother’ sauces, from which all other French sauces derive.) It’s a sandy, yet not gritty, texture that adds flavour and crunch to the cookie. The recipe will keep in the fridge for about a week, so it’s a good thing to throw together one day when you’ve got a half hour.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other flavourless oil, if you happen to know of one)
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 300F.
Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until well combined.
Add the oil and vanilla and paddle again to distribute. The wet ingredients will act as glue to help the dry ingredients form small clusters; continue paddling until that happens.
Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch; they will dry and harden as they cool.
Allow to cool completely before using.
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup milk powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles
1/2 recipe Birthday Cake Crumb
Combine the butter, sugar, and glucose in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, milk powder, baking soda, salt, and rainbow sprinkles. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. (Do not walk away from the machine during this step, or you will risk overmixing the dough.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Still on low speed, add the birthday cake crumbs and mix in for 30 seconds—just until they are incorporated.
Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, portion the dough out on to a cutting board, spacing the dough close together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cooking the dough fresh from the mixer will spread the cookies and they will burn. And that would be sad.
Heat the oven to 350F.
Transfer the cookies to a parchment or Silipat-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart from one another.
Bake for 18 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the top of the cookie is a cracked.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the pan before transferring to a cooling rack.
Birthday Cake Frosting
1 stick butter at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
pinch of baking powder
pinch of citric acid
Combine the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
With the mixer on its lowest speed, stream in the corn syrup, and vanilla. Crank the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and a glossy white. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid and mix on low speed just to incorporate them into the batter. Crank the speed back up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until you have a brilliant stark white, beautifully smooth frosting. It should look just like it came out of a plastic tub at the grocery store! Use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.