taking you to school

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze #bundtbakers

You guys. Can you believe it’s already time for the July edition of #bundtbakers?
Time flies when you’re baking bundts.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

This month’s theme is stone fruit, and I immediately knew I wanted to do something with cherries. I also thought that it might be fun to try something a little different this time around. I was recently researching the history of the bundt cake and learned that Kugelhopf is basically the bundt cake’s great-grandpappy, so I thought it would be really interesting to play with a version this old world classic.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

The birth story of the bundt pan all started with some members of a Jewish women’s group called Hadassah who were looking for an alternative to expensive imported kugelhopf molds. Nowadays it’s not hard to find inexpensive metal kugelhopf pans, but they’re traditionally made in Europe from heavy, fragile terra cotta, and in the 1950s they were extremely hard to come by here in the states. Some members of the group approached a young inventor named H. David Dalquist who had recently formed a cookware company called Nordic Ware. They commissioned him to make a lighter, cheaper version of the pans they used to use in the old country. One of the ladies had a traditional mold they lent him as a prototype and he crafted a similarly shaped pan out of lightweight aluminum. Originally he called it a “Bund” pan, based on a German word that loosely translates to, “a gathering of people”. He later added the “t”, making it “bundt”, to avoid confusion with a controversial German-American social club.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Nordic Ware and their pans were moderately popular throughout the 50s with Hadassah members, but the bundt pan didn’t really take off and become the ubiquitous phenomenon we know them to be today until the late 1960s. In 1966 a woman from Texas won the Pillsbury Bake-Off with a recipe she called the “Tunnel of Fudge” that called for Nordic Ware’s patented pan. After that every housewife in America had to have a new bundt pan in their cupboard.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Being a self-proclaimed Bundt enthusiast, I found this history to be totally fascinating. It also made me really curious. I started looking into the Kugelhopf and found that depending on where you are and who you ask, it’s also known as Gugelhupf, guguluf, or kuglóf. Depending on the region, the recipe changes too. It can range from dry and bread-like, sometimes even salty or savory in some places, to fruity, dense and just barely sweet in others. Wherever you are though, this is a yeast leavened cake or loaf that’s usually studded with raisins and nuts. Since it’s not especially sweet, it’s often eaten with breakfast or as a snack, usually spread with unsalted butter.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

This kugelhopf though, strays pretty far from old-world heritage. I based it on a traditional Austrian/German recipe, but took a few liberties to make it fit my purpose.  I don’t really care for raisins in baking, and usually prefer to use dried cranberries or cherries in their place. In this case I decided to go for fresh cherries that I oven-roasted to concentrate their flavor. I was also hoping for something a bit more bundt-like than bread-like so I made a few changes to make the recipe just a bit sweeter and richer. I went ahead and added a splash or two of bourbon too, because, why not? Traditionally kugelhopfs are just dusted with powdered sugar, but to make sure it wouldn’t need to be spread with butter, I topped mine off with a very non-traditional cherry bourbon glaze.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

To ensure the kugelhopf is nice and moist, I think it benefits from a soak. For this, you could make a plain old simple syrup, or add some sort of flavoring or extract to a syrup. After roasting the cherries I was left with some of their syrupy juices and thought I’d use that for my soak along with some butter and maybe another splash of bourbon.

I also think that this recipe improves with a day’s rest.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, this was pretty damned great on the first day, but seemed to be the teeeeeniest bit dry to me. For some reason, the second day this was no longer an issue. I’m not sure if it was the cherries, the soak, or the glaze but somehow the bread-y body of this cake was borrowing moisture for some other component. The crumb seemed more moist, the flavors better developed, and the whole concept better realized on the day after baking. So, if you have the time and the foresight to make this a day ahead, do that. Just cover it tightly and hide it away somewhere at a cool room temperature.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the end all my efforts really paid off. Using oven-roasted fresh cherries in place of raisins was nothing short of genius. (That’s right, I just called myself a genius). The cherries are soft yet chewy and bursting with a bright deeply-concentrated fruity flavor, and adding bourbon while they roast adds a rich warmth and depth. Of course, if you wanted to use dried cherries instead, I think that they’d work really well too, especially if you reconstitute them in bourbon first. The roasted cherry juice and the egg yolks gives the cake a rich soft crumb, and the sliced almonds add a really nice soft bite. All these flavors in combination are so totally warm and homey with a perfect old-world feeling.

The kugelhopf itself is a bit sweeter than traditional ones, but it’s still a restrained just-barely-sweet sweetness. The texture is somehow softer than bread, but chewier and doughier than cake. It’s almost similar to the texture of a cinnamon roll, if that makes any sense.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Since this still remains relatively bread-y, this kugelhopf would be perfect served at a breakfast get together or a brunch. Of course, it still feels very much like dessert, so feel free to serve it as you would any other cake. No matter how or when you eat it, you’re going to want to go back in for seconds.

If you love summer produce and cherries and all kinds of stone fruit, please be sure to scroll down past the recipe and check out all the other mouthwatering stone fruit themed bundt cakes. They all look unbelievable and I wish I could have a slice of each and every one of them. Thank you so much to our hosts, Felice of All That’s Left Are The Crumbs and Stacy of Food Lust People Love, for choosing this months theme and organizing our efforts.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Roasted Cherry Kugelhopf with Cherry Bourbon Glaze

Adapted from David Lebovitz

Roasted Cherries
1 1/2 lb sweet cherries
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon bourbon

Preheat the oven to 400. Wash, pit and quarter your cherries. Toss the quartered cherries in the sugar, salt, and bourbon to coat. Spread evenly over a parchment lined baking sheet, and roast for 20 to 25 minutes. Toward the end, watch that the cherry juices don’t burn.
Fit a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, and scrape or pour the cherries into to the strainer. Leave the cherries in the strainer for a few minutes to allow the juices to drip and collect in the bowl. Reserve the juice and the drained cherries in separate bowls.

½ cup milk
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (not instant)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bourbon
2 teaspoons reserved cherry juice
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sliced almonds, divided
One 6- to 9-cup kugelhof pan (or you can use a bundt pan)

Make the sponge by warming the milk over low heat in a small saucepan until it’s tepid. Pour into a bowl, and mix in the yeast then the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until bubbly, about 20 minutes.

In a standing electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter with sugar and salt until soft and light, about 3 minutes. Mix in the orange zest, vanilla, 2 teaspoons cherry juice, and 1 teaspoon of bourbon. Next, add the egg yolks and beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the sponge, then beat another minute.
Add the flour and mix on low speed for 2 minutes and let rest for 10 minutes.
Beat on medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes.
Slowly beat in the cherries and 1/2 cup of the almonds. Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and turn it so the top is buttered. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 20 to 30 minutes.

Butter the kugelhof mold well, and the scatter another 1/2 cup of sliced almonds over the inside of the mold, turning to coat it evenly. Scrape the dough into the kugelhof mold and cover with a towel or buttered plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about an hour or maybe a bit longer.

About 15 minutes before the dough is fully risen, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the kugelhof until it’s a deep golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a wire rack.

Soak and Glaze:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons bourbon
remaining reserved cherry juice
2 cups powdered sugar, divided

To make the soak; combine butter, bourbon, & cherry juice in a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and whisk to combine. Measure out 1/2 cup of the mixture for the soak and set aside. Add remaining sugar to the liquid to make the glaze, and whisk to combine. Add more sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, if you want a thicker glaze. After kugelhopf is removed to a wire rack, brush the soak all over the top and sides. Let it cool at least 30 minutes before drizzling or pouring the glaze evenly over the top. While glaze is still wet, sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of almonds over the top.

If possible, allow the kugelhopf to rest for a day, tightly covered at room temperature, before slicing and serving.

roasted cherry kugelhopf with cherry bourbon glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Check out all of these delicious sounding stone fruit based bundts. What a perfect theme to celebrate all the wonderful fresh fruit the summer has to offer.




Interested in learning more about us??  #BundtBakers is a group of Bundt loving bakers who get together once a month to bake Bundts with a common ingredient or theme. We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. You can see all our of lovely Bundts by following our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated after each event on the BundtBaker home page here.

If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send an email with your blog URL to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com. If you are just a lover of Bundt baking, you can find all of our recipe links by clicking our badge above or on our group Pinterest board.



bitters for beginners, part II

Last week I talked a bit about the history of bitters; what they are, where they come from, how they’re made, and how they’re used.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Today I’d like to go into some specifics about a few of the different styles and how you can use them at home. There really is no end to what you can do with bitters, but I thought it might be helpful to give you a few basic ideas.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
The best known and most frequently used style is still the old standard “aromatic” bitters. This is what most bartenders reach for when creating many of the old school craft cocktails popular today. Everything old is new again, amiright?

The most iconic maker of aromatic bitters is, of course, Angostura. Before the bitters renaissance, if you found any bitters at all behind your local bar, odds are these were the ones. Angostura bitters were named for the Venezuelan city where they were created, but they’ve since moved production to the Caribbean. They’re actually not made from the bark of the Angostura tree, and since the recipe is a tightly guarded secret, no one knows for sure if they ever were.

Perhaps the second most popular producer of aromatic bitters is Peychaud’s, which were originally developed by pharmacist and Creole immigrant Antoine Amédée Peychaud in New Orleans. His family would dispense his curative bitters in Cognac from his pharmacy in the French Quarter, and it wasn’t long before people started asking for Peychaud’s bitters by name at bars throughout the city. Today Peychaud’s are synonymous with the Sazerac cocktail, named for a now defunct brand of cognac, Sazerac de Forge et Fils, that used to make up the Peychaud’s toddy. When phylloxera almost wiped out France’s wine and brandy production cognac was replaced by rye whiskey, which remains the main ingredient in the Sazerac cocktail today.

Each brand of aromatic bitters has their own proprietary blend of ingredients, but they all share a similar flavor profile. For the most part, true to their historic roots, aromatic bitters have a slightly medicinal flavor which, in small doses, pairs really well with a variety of libations and cocktails. Most get their flavor from an infusion of bitter roots, especially gentian root; a blend of warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves; and a proprietary mix of herbs and other botanicals such as tamarind, wormwood, or barks. Peychauds has a slightly sweeter flavor than Angostura with hints of anise and licorice, while some other brands have a stronger herbal presence.  If you’re looking to try something new, look for aromatic bitters by Hella Bitters, Scrappy’s, or Fee Brothers.

Aromatic bitters can be used in any number of applications from whiskey drinks to champagne cocktails. They’re the key ingredient in many classic cocktails like the Manhattan and old fashioned.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
The next most popular style is orange bitters, which primarily get their flavor from the dried zest of bitter-oranges. Orange bitters have been popular as far back as the 1800s. One fact that I found really interesting in my research is that they used to be very popular for flavoring dry martinis. In the 1800s a dry martini referred to the type, not the amount, of vermouth used, and the recipe was usually a half and half mix of vermouth and vodka or gin with some bitters to taste.

Depending on the brand, the flavor of orange bitters can range from dry and aromatic to sweet and fruity. Seville bitter oranges are the most commonly used, but to get a sweeter flavor Fee Brothers uses West Indian orange, the same variety used to make triple sec and curaçao. Traditionally orange bitters feature a healthy dose of spice too. Common ingredients used both in the 19th-century and today include gentian root, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, caraway, or coriander.

Generally, Fee Brothers is considered the sweetest and fruitiest, and the least complex; while Regan’s are zesty fresh and bright, with hints of pepper and honey and a mild spice background; and Angostura Orange has the strongest orangey scent and flavor, but still with a bit of spice in the background. If you want to experiment further, be sure to try Scrappy’s orange, Bittercube’s orange or whiskey barrel aged blood orange, or Fee’s gin barrel aged orange.

Personally I think citrus bitters are a great option if you’re looking for something that goes with everything. Orange are the most common, but you can mix most citrus flavors with almost any alcohol and come up with a great tasting and enjoyable cocktail.

Other Citrus Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
Beyond the traditional orange, there are tons of other citrus varieties to choose from. Hella Bitter’s citrus uses 9 varieties of citrus, and adds spice to give them a traditional “orange bitters” feeling. Lemon bitters are almost as versatile as orange and pair well with whiskey and vodka alike. Fee Brother’s has a lemon variety, and Brooklyn Hemispherical makes both lemon and meyer lemon options.
Grapefruit bitters are a great option if you’re looking to expand your collection, and they pair especially well with tequila drinks. Check out these choices from Scrappy’sBittermens, or Fee Brothers.
Bittercube’s Jamaican #2 is a warm and tangy blend of grapefuit, hibiscus, & island spice, and one of my coworker swears it’s the best way to dress up cheap beer.
Another great citrus option that would pair well with tequila, vodka or gin would be Scrappy’s lime.

Fruit Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
The fun doesn’t have to stop with citrus flavors either. There are fruity bitters out there for every taste. Cherry bitters by Fee Brothers, Cherry Bark Vanilla by Bittercube, or Spiced Cherry by Woodford Reserve would all be great with bourbon, mixed in a rum and coke, or even on their own with soda water.  In the fall try Bar Keep’s apple bitters, or Brooklyn Hemispherical’s apple cider bitters. Also look for plumpeach, or rhubarb by Fee Brothers.

Herbal or floral bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If you’re looking for something a little more delicate, a great option would be some of the single note floral or herbal flavors. Fee brother’s makes a mint flavor that would be great if you don’t feel like muddling fresh mint for your juleps or mojitos. Bar Keep and Scrappy’s both make lavender flavors that are heaven in a vodka lemonade. Bittermens makes a citrus and chamomile flavor they call their Boston Bittahs

Spicy Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If you like a drink with a bit of kick then look for some of the hot and spicy bitters out there. Brooklyn Hemispherical’s Sriracha & Bittermens hellfire habanero shrub would add considerable heat to a bloody mary, or would be great with tequila cocktails like a margarita or paloma. If you’d like to add another layer of flavor with your heat consider Memphis bbq bitters, Thai Bitters, Or Moroccan Bitters by The Bitter End.

Warm Spices and Baking Flavors:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If you like the idea of warm spice but don’t necessarily want the HEAT of a spicy bitter, try something in this category. Bittercube’s Jamaican #1 has allspice, ginger, & black pepper and is ideal with rum. Their blackstrap molasses bitters are excellent in hot cocktails and pair well with rum or whiskey. Fee Brother’s black walnut bitters or Scrappys cardamom bitters would both add a hint of autumnal warm to whiskey cocktails, and would be great in a spiked hot cider. Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters contains cacao, cinnamon, and spices and is perfect with aged tequila, rum or bourbon, and would add a hint of warm spice to a spiked hot chocolate. Fee Brother’s Aztec chocolate, and Scrappy’s chocolate bitters have a purer cocoa flavor and would be perfect in a white russian.

Celery Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If Caesars or Bloody Marys are more your style, or if you want an unexpected addition to a gin and tonic, try celery bitters by Fee Brothers or Scrappys. Bittermens also makes a celery shrub that blends the flavors of celery with apples and vinegar, almost like a pickled celery that would, again, be perfect for bloody marys.


This is just a small sampling of the huge variety of bitters available today, with just a few ideas on how to put them to use. Once you find a flavor you like go ahead and experiment trying them in new ways.  Many people even use bitters for cooking and baking, not just cocktails. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination.


*This post was written in collaboration with Whisk, a store with an extensive cocktail section and one of the largest collections of bitters in NYC.

bitters for beginners, part I

So, I’ve developed a little obsession with bitters lately and I thought I might share it with you.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re not familiar with bitters, they’re basically a bitter or bittersweet infusion of botanical ingredients, usually in a mix of water and alcohol, and sometimes, glycerine. Although many varieties were originally created for medicinal purposes, the main function of bitters today is a flavoring agent for cocktails. Much like adding spices to a meal, bitters serve to add depth, complexity, and flavor to drinks.

There are actually two kinds of bitters on the market today. First, there are digestive (or potable) bitters that can be consumed on their own, some of the more popular varieties being Campari, Aperol, or Fernet. What I’ll be discussing today though are cocktail bitters, which are what most people think of when they hear the word. These are usually used as a flavoring agent for alcoholic drinks, but can also be mixed with soda water, or any number of liquids. Some people even like to use bitters to flavor dressings, sauces, or baked goods. I myself have had great luck flavoring creme anglaise with lavender bitters.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Bitters may have been around as long ago as ancient Egypt, but they were further developed from the middle ages through the renaissance when the practices of alcohol distillation and making plant-based medicines were both widely practiced. Many brands of bitters sold today still reflect herbal remedies and tonic preparations that can be traced back to renaissance era traditions.

One of the most well-known brands, Angostura bitters, were created in Venezuela in 1824 by a physician who originally intended them as a cure-all for sea sickness and stomach ailments, and as a stimulant to keep malaria patients active and healthy. Many people still swear that a few dashes of these bitters in soda water is a great way to settle an upset stomach.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

No one knows for sure when bitters made the leap into cocktails, but it may have all started with people adding spirits and sugar to medicinal bitters to make them more palatable. It seems that they really did need just a spoonful of sugar (and booze) to help the medicine go down.

By the 19th century, the practice of adding medicinal bitters to fortified wine was so widespread in Britain that it made its way across the Atlantic to the American colonies. As early as 1806, publications were referring to bitters as one of the essential ingredients in a new alcoholic beverage called a “cocktail”. The recipe, as printed in Hudson, New York’s Balance & Columbian Repository, called for four ingredients, “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” The popularity of bitters grew steadily through the early 20th century, and certain varieties of bitters became synonymous with specific cocktail recipes.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

The popularity and availability of bitters came to a screeching halt when prohibition launched with the passing of the Volstead Act in 1919. A few bitters were able to survive this dark age in American history though, because some manufacturers were based outside the US; while some others, like Fee Brothers, used glycerine instead of alcohol to keep from being shut down. Speakeasies even started using bitters as a way to mask the off flavors of home-made bathtub gin and bootleg hooch. When prohibition was repealed many of the old bitters companies started producing again, but things took another turn for the worse as consumer tastes and drinking habits changed in the 1950s and 60s. This was too much for many companies who were still having a hard time recovering from prohibition and the depression, and most bitters varieties all but disappeared in this era. There are only a few brands left today that have lasted straight through since the 1800s under the same name.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Many people credit revered mixologist and author Gary Regan with helping move the recent bitters renaissance forward. After researching and experimenting with century-old recipes for long-gone styles of cocktail bitters, he introduced his Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 in 2005. In less than a decade, the popularity of bitters (and old school craft cocktails) has exploded, and there are now hundreds of varieties of bitters on the market. Many of the current brands got their start with bitters enthusiasts experimenting with their own speciality bitters at home, and now some companies, like Hella Bitter, are working to develop DIY bitters kits for home use. Many brands are reviving old styles and “lost” recipes, while others are using old techniques to introduce new varieties like mole, grapefruit, black walnut, and sriracha.

Traditionally bitters are made by infusing alcohol with different botanical ingredients, but some companies also add glycerine to their bitters. Glycerine is a simple sugar alcohol compound that is colorless and flavorless. Bitters made with glycerine are generally cheaper because you can use inexpensive extracts, thin them out with water and alcohol, and use the glycerine to hold the flavors together and keep them shelf stable. It’s a much quicker process but produces a flatter, less complexly flavored bitter. While glycerine based bitters do have some alcohol in them, they have significantly less than traditional “craft” bitters. Glycerine can also add a bit of a waxy mouthfeel to a cocktail if too much bitters are used. This is not to say that glycerine based bitters are not as good as traditional bitters, it’s just that there’s a significant difference in their intensity and utility. Craft bitters tend to be more expensive because they’re usually made from higher quality ingredients and have a stronger, purer, more concentrated flavor. Since they’re made from alcohol they don’t affect the mouthfeel of your drink, and their highly concentrated flavor means they’re used very sparingly and will last longer.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re new to the world of bitters, and you’re curious about them or would like to start building a collection for your home bar, the best way to find out what you like is to taste some. Aromatic and orange bitters are the most commonly used styles and, along with many of the newer citrus flavors, they’re the most versatile when it comes to their utility. There are plenty of brands and styles to choose from, so if you’re not sure what you’d like, go to your local bar and see if they’ll let you taste what they have. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have a store in your area, like Whisk, that will let you sample bitters before taking the plunge, all the better. That way you can familiarize yourself with a variety of different flavors, taste the differences between certain brands, and choose what will work best for you.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

There is no end to the different styles and  varieties on the market today, so experiment with them and have fun. Just think of what you normally like to drink, and odds are that someone out there is making a style that corresponds to your favorite tipple or mixer. Get creative! That’s what building a collection of bitters is all about. You can play with flavors, throw things together, see what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s all about personal taste and there’s no rules that dictate what you can and can’t do. It’s just like building a collection of liquor for your home bar. Just go with what you like.

There are far too many varieties of bitters on the market for me to list them all, but check back next week for part II of bitters for beginners, and I’ll outline a basic guide to a few popular styles, and give you a few simple ideas on how to use them.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

*This post was written in collaboration with whisk, a store with an extensive cocktail section and one of the largest collections of bitters in NYC.

funfetti birthday cake

So, I guess May is cake month here at Brooklyn Homemaker.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

Sunday was my birthday. We had a cookout in the yarden with a bunch of friends and copious amounts of food and booze. Russell offered to buy me a cake, but I insisted on making my own. I know that you’re, like, “not supposed to” make your own birthday cake, but I love to bake, and I’m pretty good at it. Any cake he could find locally wouldn’t be half as good as what I could make myself, and anything he ordered from a fancy specialty bakery would cost a small fortune. So I won. I made my own birthday cake, and I went all out and did a super colorful funfetti cake with rainbow sprinkles inside and out.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

The only weird part of making my own cake was that I wanted to share it with you here, so after candles and singing I rushed the cake back into the house to cut and photograph it before reemerging 20 minutes later to ask for help carrying the sliced cake back outside. It’s a funny thing to have to stop and remove yourself from a party to stage and photograph a cake, especially when it’s your party (and you’ve had a few cocktails).

I’m committed though. What can I say? You’re welcome.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few friends and fans have been asking me lately about tips on constructing layer cakes, so I’m going to share some today. I’m really not a professional baker (more like a talented amateur), so I’m sure there might be easier or better ways of doing things, but these techniques have worked well for me over the years, and I think they’ll really help you up your cake baking game. If you really want even more in-depth training from a real professional, I’d suggest checking out this great “Modern Buttercream” class from Craftsy. It’s really helpful and informative, and free!

Anyway, one of my favorite things to do when baking a layer cake is to turn off the damned TV and put on some great music. I’m partial to Dolly Parton’s All I Can Do album, just in case you were wondering.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

The first step in making a layer cake is choosing the size. If you visit the site regularly, you’ve probably already noticed that I’m very partial to three layer cakes. Two layer cakes already require more effort than bundt or sheet cakes, so I think adding that third layer makes a cake much more impressive without adding much more work. I think a three layer cake looks, I don’t know, fancier, because of its impressive height and multiple layers of cake and filling when sliced.

I also tend to lean toward 8 inch cakes rather than 9 inch because, again, I think they look fancier. The same amount of batter poured into a 9 inch pan will spread thinner, where an 8 inch layer will be thicker. If your goal is height, obviously the 8 inch pan will get you closer, but there’s also an optical illusion at work that makes a skinnier cake look taller.  Obviously the difference is slight, and a 9 inch cake will still be pretty damned impressive and just as delicious, so if that’s all you have, go for it.

This may sound like a no brainer, but when you bake your layers, make sure you’re using 3 cake pans at once, not baking each layer individually. Cake batter has leavening agents in it that will weaken if they’re left sitting around too long, so if you want a 3 layer cake, you need 3 pans. If you only have 2 pans, another option would be to bake two layers and slice them in half to give you four layers. Extra fancy! Obviously baking times will need to be adjusted if you go this route.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

To make sure my cakes release easily, I always butter my pans before baking, then add a pre-cut parchment round to the bottom of the pan. Then I butter that and dust the whole pan with flour. After baking I usually place my cake pans on wire racks to cool for 20 or 30 minutes, or until I can see that the sides of the cake are pulling away from the pan. A super hot cake will fall apart if you mess with it too early.

To get the layers out once they cool a bit, you can use an offset icing spatula to loosen them, but I have this weird little trick I use. I try to gently bounce the pan on one side, almost like the motion of tossing food in a sauté pan, to see if I can feel the layer lift off the bottom. Then I rotate the pan and do it a few times until I’m sure it’s going to release easily. To remove it I firmly but gently press one hand on the top of the cake, and flip the pan upside down with my other hand. Another way of doing this would be to press your cooling rack against the top of the pan and flip the cake directly onto the rack.

Once you have your layers out of the pan, it’s important that they’re completely cool, if not cold, before moving forward. Even barely warm cake layers will begin to melt and thin out your icing, and the filling can get slippery making the layers slide around when you’re trying to put on your crumb coat. It’s annoying and unnecessary and can make it difficult to get your icing smooth and professional looking. Don’t be impatient because you’ll just end up frustrated later.

For this cake I actually baked the layers at night the day before my party, let them cool most of the way, and then wrapped them tightly in Saran wrap and refrigerated them overnight before icing the next morning.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another important step in building a beautiful and professional looking cake is making sure that your cake layers are flat and level. If your cake layers are each domed, and you stack three of them up, you’re going to have a big weird hump on the finished cake. I use this special cake leveling wire, which is also great for cutting layers in half for filling. If you’re careful about keeping your cuts level though, a sharp bread knife will do the trick just as well.

It’s also really helpful to use a turn table or lazy Susan to help get your cakes picture perfect. They have specialized cake decorating ones like this, but you can use any small lazy Susan if you have one. I actually have a marble lazy Susan for cheese serving that I received as a gift a while back, and it sees way more action for cake decorating than it ever has for cheese.

Before you start building your cake, you might also want to put down a cake board. This is especially helpful if you want to transport the cake or if you want to be able to pick the cake up for decorating.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

When choosing what filling to use between your cake layers, your options are limitless. The easiest option would be to fill with the same icing you’re using on the outside of your cake. For an 8 or 9 inch round cake I usually use about 3/4 of a cup to 1 cup of icing between each layer. You could also fill with another flavor of icing or a ganache, just be careful to seal it in with your crumb coat so it doesn’t show through on the outside. Another great option would be a softer filling like jam, pudding or fruit curd, but for this you’ll need to pipe a thick border or dam of icing around the outside edge of each layer to hold the filling in the center. This way it won’t smoosh out the sides when you add the next layer.

When you stack each layer of cake, try to look at if from a few different angles, just to be sure everything is level and evenly lined up before moving on. Once you have all the layers stacked up and everything looks good and level, you’ll want to spread a thin even layer of icing over the cake to seal in the crumbs or any filling that squishes out from the layers. This is referred to as the crumb coat. When I first started baking I thought this step was unnecessary and silly, but I make enough cakes now to realize it actually does make a big difference in getting a smooth professional icing job. I like to start at the top, pile up some icing and push it toward the outside edge, and pull the icing down the sides with an icing spatula, rotating the cake as I go. It doesn’t need to be a thick layer, and it’s fine if the cake shows through a little. I try to just make sure everything is coated, and then go back around and smooth it out.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

Once the crumb coat is smooth and even, you’ll want to refrigerate your cake for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour, to firm up the icing and filling so the cake layers don’t slide and the crumb coat doesn’t mix with the next layer of icing. When you ice the cake, you basically just do the same thing you did with the crumb coat, just thicker. Then once your icing is smooth, you get to move on to the fun part.

I usually like to keep things simple and do a small border of sprinkles or nuts around the edge of the top of the cake. You could also do a piped border around the top edge and base of the cake, but you’ll obviously need to reserve some icing for that. The icing recipe below left me just enough for a piped border, but I decided to skip it and keep it simple. To do a swirled design like I did here, start in the center of the top of your cake, and slowly turn your turntable as you pull the spatula out trying to keep the swirl as evenly spaced as possible. If it doesn’t come out as pretty as you want, you can always smooth it out and try again.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

For this cake I completely covered the sides with rainbow nonpareils. Fair warning, this is a challenging technique for beginners. It’s best to use a cake board for this so you can pick the cake up, but the cake gets heavy in your hand after a while. Basically you pick the cake up with one hand and try your best to hold it over a plate and not make a mess (look closely, I still made a mess), while you gently press the decoration into the icing with the other hand. Just slowly work your way around the cake, rotating as you go, until you’re finished.  It can be done without picking the cake up if you can’t get (or don’t have) a cake board, but it’s even messier.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

You could also do this with cake crumbs as I did with the Brooklyn Blackout cake, which is actually a great way to use up any cut cake you have leftover from leveling the layers. That is, if you didn’t already eat it all.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

Look how pretty it came out though! It definitely was worth the extra effort, even if I am still finding those little nonpareils hiding behind my butter dish.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

Happy birthday to me!

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

I hope you learned something new and you’re feeling brave enough to try a layer cake for yourself! You should definitely give this one a shot the next time you want to do something special for someone’s birthday. The funfetti cake is super moist and delicious, with tons of bright vibrant color, and the classic american buttercream is the perfect sweet and creamy compliment to a fun and festive birthday cake.

funfetti birthday cake | cake construction tips | Brooklyn Homemaker

funfetti birthday cake

makes one 3 layer 8 inch cake
adapted from Sweetapolita

For the Cake:

3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 whole eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup peanut (or vegetable) oil
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
3/4 cups rainbow sprinkles (or jimmies)

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment round, butter the rounds and dust with flour.
Sift together flour, baking powder, & salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together at high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in eggs until incorporated, one at a time, scraping sides of bowl between each addition. Add vanilla and oil and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
Add 1/3 of flour, and beat on low speed until just combined. Scrape bowl, mix in 1/2 of buttermilk, and scrape again. Repeat until all flour and buttermilk is mixed in. Gently stir in sprinkles until just combined. Do not over mix.

Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared pan (I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure even layers). Bake for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.

Classic American Buttercream:
adapted from Savory Sweet Life

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
6-8 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3-6 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
rainbow non-pareils, or any sprinkles you like for decorating

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 5 minutes on medium speed. Butter will become very pale & creamy. Add 6 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 3 tablespoons of milk and beat for 5-7 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add more sugar 1/2 cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.

To assemble cake, make sure cake layers are cool or cold. If necessary, remove the domed tops of the layers with a cake leveler or sharp bread knife. Place one layer on a cake plate, serving plate, or cake board. Evenly spread about 3/4 cups of icing over the first layer. Top with another cake layer and another 3/4 cups of icing. Spread evenly and top with your final layer.

With an icing spatula, spread a thin layer of icing over top and sides of cake, Be sure to fill in any gaps between layers and make the sides and top smooth and flat as possible. This thin layer of icing is referred to as the “crumb coat” and is meant to seal in any crumbs so they’re not seen in your final layer of icing. Refrigerate cake for 30 minutes. Spread most (or all) of remaining icing evenly over top and sides of cake, trying to get as smooth a surface as possible. If desired, reserve some for piped decoration, otherwise, slather it all on. Decorate as desired.

This cake is at it’s best the day it’s baked, but can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. If refrigerated, it will need to come up to room temperature before serving.