Milkbar Life - Baking the Book: Birthday Cake

Sunday, April 17th

I'd never been to Milk Bar before.  I'd heard of it.  I wanted to go, obviously.  It is a bakery.  But I'd never been. There was a cake I kept seeing on Pinterest from Milk Bar.  That was 100% the reason I took a baking class here.

Yeah, I shouldn't show the finished product before showing the steps, but leave me alone.  I'm super proud of this cake!!
Rewind a year.  I was on the train going home after work and I saw a picture of a Milk Bar birthday cake.  It looked like a vanilla funfetti kind of cake, but plussed up juuuust a little bit.  I sent the recipe to my mom and told her she could make this for me for my birthday.  The recipe included glucose and acetate and my mom basically told me to get out of town.  I was so dismayed about this lack of birthday cake for my 40th, I vowed never to forgive her for not making me a cake.  I'm only slightly kidding.

So imagine my surprise when I did some late night internetting and found that Milk Bar has a Bake the Book series, where you could bake the birthday cake of your dreams.  Done and done.  I booked the class before I left for my trip.  Let's do this.

Now the thing to know is the class isn't really about the baking of the cake.  It's more about assembling.  And I was ok with that.  I knew this going in.  Some people didn't.  Don't be some people.

You assemble in front of a mostly nondescript building in Brooklyn.  I was early, because I didn't want to be late.  I'm already doing this class by myself.  I didn't want to cause a scene because I walked in after class started.  Happily, I was not the first one to arrive early.  Several students hung outside of the entry, soaking up the Springtime sunshine.  I realized I did not bring sunscreen.  And that would eventually cause my demise. But that story won't be told for a few more days. When I can move my arms without wincing.

15 minutes before the start of class, the doors opened and we were able to go inside of a loft classroom.  We began the check-in process, dropping off our bags and grabbing a hair tie (ribbon) to keep any random hair out of our cake.

The room was set up with five or six long tables, with six stations per table.  Each station had a quarter sheet pan, a cake round, apron, and bent spoon just waiting to be used.

The bent spoon was good for scooping and smoothing frosting.
While we stood in front of our cake, itching to do something, the instructor gave us the number one rule for the class.  Sample. Everything.  Eat your way through the class.  There were enough cakes and frosting and other elements to go around.  So if we went a little mad eating our way through a sheet cake, they had more we could use.  The guy beside me damn near ate most of his cake before we even started the process.  So he really listened to the instructor.

The first thing we learned was why the cake was baked in the quarter sheet pan.  Wanna know why?? Because cake cooks evenly when spread out.  Cooking cake in a round pan, there could be spots over or under baked.  In a sheet pan, you can assemble a cake however you want to.  Plus, we can have thinner layers of cake that will support all of the other goodies.  I like the other goodies.

A cake round was placed on top of a piece of cardboard, with a strip of acetate that goes on the inside of the round.  This keeps the cake in place as the layers creep up higher than the silver round.

But first, this is what we were eventually going to do.  We just had to follow the steps.  The remarkably easy steps.

To start, we had to cut the cake.
Makes sense, right??

Cutting the cake was taking the silver cake round above and pushing the round through the cake to cut a circle.  Kind of a no brainer.

Next, take the two half circles of cake and place them in the bottom of the cake round.  The bottom of the cake will never really be seen, so we don't have to worry about the cake being pretty.

Then, take a little bit of a liquid (two spoonfuls or so) and drizzle it over the cake to keep it moist and flavorful.  This cake had a vanilla milk liquid.  Milk plus a bit of clear vanilla extract.  It was awesome.

At that point, we were given the frosting.  And the first layer of frosting was applied.

The first layer of frosting won't be pretty.  There are a bit of crumbs that bleed through on this layer.  But no one will see it, so you're cool.
For this cake, we had chunks of "cookie" that were added over the frosting, followed by another layer of frosting.

This cake is not messing around.

We repeated the process for the second layer of cake.  Here's a tip.  Because of the acetate and cake round, it is difficult to place the cake layer directly on top of the first layer of cake if you try to drop the cake straight down.  If you go in at an angle, the cake fits.  You're doing it!!

And on the third layer, we didn't add the liquid for moisture.  We just had a ton of frosting and decorated the top with the cookie chunk things.  I actually don't know what these cookie chunk things were.  But they tasted good.

My cake!!
After about 45 minutes of assembly (we needed to see the steps and eat the cake.  I don't think it should take that long to assemble normally), the instructors took our cakes and placed them into a freezer, trying to get them to set before taking them home.  While we waited, we learned to make cake balls.

This is actually the part of the tour that I forgot to take pictures.  But to make cake balls, you take leftover cake and crumble it up.  Put some kind of flavorful liquid into the cake crumbles to make a paste.  Grab a scoop (like an ice cream or cookie scoop) and scoop out the little balls.

You'll need to roll the balls and dip them into white chocolate.  And hold on.  Because this was a magical moment.  If you look at the picture above, you'll see there are blue gloves that were put to use.  The main reason is because of the white chocolate.

We put gloves on and dipped our hands into the white chocolate.  That was the point when we picked up the balls and rolled the white chocolate from our hands onto the cake balls.  This keeps a light coating of white chocolate on the ball.  If you submerged the ball into the chocolate, you would have too thick of a layer on the ball.  I loved this tip.

The final step was rolling the white chocolate covered balls into cookie crumbles and letting the balls set.

What the Milk Bar instructors stressed was that you can do either the cake or cake balls at home with whatever kind of cake you have on hand.  You want a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and honey roasted peanuts as a crunchy layer??  Then you can do it!!  I mean, I don't want this cake.  But someone might.  If you have leftover lemon cake and want a strawberry flavored milk to mix into a ball, cover in white chocolate and roll in sprinkles, you can do it.  Really, the only thing you need is a cake round and the acetate.  And you can get both of those on Amazon.  There's no excuse not to make magnificent looking (and tasting) cakes at home.

I left the class with a giant cake that I would continue to consume for the remainder of my NYC trip.  I'd like to say I took the cake home with me, but the reality was that I didn't have enough left to justify carting it home.  It became my breakfast and my bedtime snack.  I regret nothing.

The class was a little on the pricey side.  It was $95.  But you walked away with a cake AND knowledge.  And I'm good with that.  Plus, I saved $20-$40 worth of breakfast, so the price was right for me.


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