birthday cake

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Forgive me.

My mother watched a lot of soaps when I was growing up.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

What I’m trying to say is, time is marching on and I’m officially older now than I was when I wrote my last post.

About two weeks ago I celebrated my birthday.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Those of you who’ve been reading along with me for a bit probably know that I look at my birthday as an excuse to make a big ass fancy layer cake.
I’ve heard it all before about how I’m not “supposed to” bake my own birthday cake, but the fact of the matter is that I enjoy baking a good cake almost as much as I enjoy eating one. A grocery store birthday cake pales in comparison to what I can bake myself, and I’d rather bake my own cake than shell out good money for something I’m not going to love.

I bake so many bundt cakes around here that I also relish the opportunity to go all out with sky high layers of cake stacked up with fillings and icings and glazes and decorations and candles, so that kind of seals the deal for me. I bake my own birthday cake, and I like it. So there.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

You’ll also know, if you’ve been reading along with me for a while, that I have a tendency to get inside my own head and overthink things. Like seriously overthink things.

To that end, I’ll be the first to confess that I’ve been planning this cake for at least 6 months. Initially I was thinking about posting this cake, or at least a version of it, around Christmas. When that didn’t work out I thought I’d make it for Russell’s birthday in January. That didn’t end up happening either, so I’ve been sitting on the idea ever since.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

My initial thought was a high contrast black and white cake with layers of deep dark chocolate cake, bright white icing, and glossy dark chocolate ganache. In some circles on the internet this contrasting black on white on black cake is called a “Tuxedo Cake”. Considering my name is Tux, I was all over that business.

Thing is, something magical happened along the way that made me rethink the white in my “tuxedo”.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few months ago some friends came to visit us, one of whom happens to be from England and also happened to be celebrating a birthday while he was here. Before his wife finished the sentence, “Tomorrow’s his birth…”, I was in the kitchen preheating the oven.

They were out of the house a lot while they were here, off doing the tourist circuit, and since I didn’t know exactly when they’d be around I opted for cupcakes rather than a big formal layer cake. Since I was baking cupcakes, and since our friend is British, I wanted to go for a kind of American kid’s birthday party theme.
I decided to reimagine my funfetti cake recipe as cupcakes, but wanted to skip the American buttercream frosting and go for something a bit more subtle and a bit less sugary. I thought I’d adapt the mascarpone icing from the gingersnap icebox cake I made last December, but add some strawberries to it to make it fit better with the funfetti cake.
(Have I mentioned that I have a tendency to overthink things sometimes?)

To concentrate the flavor of the strawberries and make them less watery I decided to cook them down a bit with some sugar before mixing them into the icing.
At first I worried that I’d cooked the strawberries too long and was disappointed that they ended up tasting kind of jammy rather than super fresh like I’d hoped, but I forged ahead anyway and once I’d mixed them into the mascarpone and whipped cream…

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Where do I begin?

This icing basically tastes like the freshest, creamiest strawberry ice cream you’ve ever had, but with the texture of fluffy whipped cream. It’s stable enough to be used as a cake icing as well, and just sweet enough to bring out the sweetness of the strawberries without being overly sugary or cloying.

After one bite, all of my big birthday cake plans changed.

My black and white tuxedo cake would be getting a chichi pink makeover.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

As much as I’d like to, you can’t have an entire birthday party and serve nothing but cake, so with the cake as the pièce de résistance we decided to have a barbecue. An amazing sustainably sourced organic butcher recently opened near us, so we got a bunch of homemade bratwurst for the grill and called the whole shindig a “sausage party”.

Still on our German kick after our recent trip to Berlin, we went all out with German potato salad, and gurkensalit (cucumber salad), sauerkraut, and whole grain german mustard. I even drank beer for the night! (I usually stick to wine or whiskey).

The food was a huge hit, and while the bratwurst put up a good fight trying to be the star of the (sausage) party, my foppish pink tuxedo cake definitely stole the show!

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The tender layers of devil’s food cake are nothing less than super rich and incredibly moist slices of dark chocolate heaven. The strawberry mascarpone icing is ethereally fluffy and impossibly creamy, and even though the strawberries are cooked down, the icing tastes bright and fresh and summery. The dark chocolate ganache is velvety and perfectly rich and bittersweet, with a lovely glossy finish thanks to a touch of honey.

To top it all off and make it feel even fancier and ever-so-slightly gaudy, I added some white candy beads in varying sizes to the top of the shiny dark ganache. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but why on earth wouldn’t you want to?

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chocolate Tuxedo Cake with Strawberry Mascarpone Icing and Glossy Ganache

  • Servings: 16 to 24-ish
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Devil’s Food Cake
adapted from Brooklyn Homemaker
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder (I used Double Dutch Process)
1 1/2 cups hot water (or hot brewed coffee for a richer flavor)
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour.
Whisk together cocoa powder and hot water (or coffee) until smooth and set aside.
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
Beat melted butter, oil, and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low.
Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.
To achieve a perfectly flat, professional looking cake, you’ll want to slice the very tops of the cakes off to make each layer completely flat and level. You can do this using a very sharp bread knife, or a cake leveler.

If you’re not assembling cakes right away, individually wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying. Layers can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two, or frozen (wrapped in plastic wrap first, then aluminum foil) for up to two weeks.

Simple Syrup: (optional)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Combine both ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Strawberry Mascarpone Icing:
1 lb ripe strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 oz mascarpone cheese
pinch of salt

Hull and finely chop strawberries and place in a medium saucepan with sugar. Stir to combine and once the strawberries begin to give off liquid, transfer pan to the stovetop over medium high heat. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy and reduced by about half.
Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cool. You can place it in the freezer if you’re in a hurry, but stir often and don’t let it actually freeze.
If preferred, you can substitute 1 1/2 cups good quality store bought strawberry jam to save yourself some time.

Whip cream with a mixer on high just until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla, salt, mascarpone, and strawberry mixture and beat until well combined and mixture stiffens back up. This should only take about 30 to 60 seconds. Don’t over mix or the mascarpone can become grainy. If you’re not using your icing right away you can store it in the refrigerator, but you may want to whip it for another 30 seconds just before icing the cake.

Glossy Ganache Drizzle:
4 oz good quality dark chocolate (60% works well)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
pinch salt

Chop chocolate into small, easily melted pieces and place in a heat proof bowl.
Heat heavy cream, honey, & salt in a small saucepan just until it comes to a light boil, and immediately pour directly over chocolate. Wait 2 to 3 minutes before stirring until completely smooth and melted and free of lumps. If the mixture seems very hot still it may melt the icing as you pour it so wait a few minutes for it to cool slightly. Do not let it get too cool or it will not drizzle nicely and may look messy.

*Do not make the ganache until the cake is completely iced and ready to decorate.

Decorations: (optional)
Various sizes of white candy beads, including:
white sixlets
white candy pearls (sometimes called dragees)
white nonpareils

Assemble cake: 
Place the first cake layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round, serving plate, or cake stand. Using a cake round will make it easier to ice and decorate, especially if you have a revolving turntable for decorating (I use a lazy suzan, but you can also just spin your plate or cake stand while you work).

Using a squeeze bottle or pastry brush, evenly distribute 2 or 3 tablespoons of simple syrup over the top of the cake layer. This step isn’t completely necessary but helps ensure the cake stays incredibly moist. It’s especially helpful if you’re using cake you stored in the fridge or freezer for a few days, or if you plan to wait a day or two before serving the cake.

Once the syrup has absorbed into the cake, place about 2 cups or so of icing on the first layer and spread it smooth and even using an icing spatula. It’s okay if it spreads out past the edge of the cake layer a bit. Add the next layer of cake, looking from directly over the top and from eye level at the cake to make sure each layer is directly one above the other, rotating the cake to be certain. Repeat with the simple syrup and icing again, then add the third and final layer and repeat again. Using the same amount of icing as before, start with the top of the cake but spread the icing thinner and work some of it down the sides of the cake to completely cover the whole cake in a thin, smooth, even coat of icing. This first layer of icing is called the crumb coat, and it seals the cake and keeps crumbs from being visible in the outer layer of icing.

Place the cake in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to help set the icing and firm up the cake.
After 30 minutes top the cake with about 3 to 4 cups more icing and spread it over the whole cake the same way you did the crumb coat. Start by smoothing the top and slowly work the icing down the sides to cover the cake completely. Try to get the icing as completely smooth as possible with straight sides and a flat, level top. You may have some icing left over, and I couldn’t blame you if you ate some of it with a spoon. Refrigerate the cake again for another 30 minutes (or up to a day).

Make your ganache just before you’re ready to remove the cake from the fridge.

I find it easier to get an even, professional looking drizzle by slowly pouring the ganache just around the outer edge of the top of the cake, while slowing rotating the cake. Once you’re happy with the amount of drizzle coming down the sides, use the remaining ganache to fill in the center of the top of the cake, smoothing it flat with a clean icing spatula before the ganache sets.

If you’d like to add decorations to the top of the cake, be sure to add them before the ganache sets. I used a mix a mix of multiple sizes of white candy beads, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of each, starting with the largest size and finishing with the smallest.

This cake will keep well in a cake saver at room temperature for a day or two if the weather is not too hot or humid. Otherwise, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If refrigerating, bring cake to room temperature at least an hour before serving.


strawberry basil layer cake

I’ve officially made it through another entire year of life.
(I recently celebrated a birthday.)

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I am a big fan of surprise parties, and I’ve thrown a couple for Russell over the course of our relationship, but Russell can’t keep a secret to save his life. If he ever decided he wanted to throw me a surprise party, he’d probably accidentally let the cat out of the bag before he invited any guests.
He’s the kind of person that wants to give me my Christmas presents the day he buys them, while I am the kind of person who staunchly refuses to even look in the general direction of my gifts until Christmas day. His eagerness and honesty are positive qualities in the grand scheme of things, but, like I said, I am a big fan of surprise parties.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

That means that I am usually responsible, to some extent at least, for the planning of my own birthday party each year. I asked Russell to take the lead in throwing the party this year, but he said he didn’t want to be in charge because I’m “too controlling” about parties. I was pretty annoyed at first, but then realized he’s probably right. I’m such a perfectionist, and love entertaining so much, that I do tend to get a bit uptight about wanting everything to be just right.

After making him feel appropriately crappy for calling me controlling, I assured him that this year I didn’t want to play any part in the planning, save for one single thing.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wanted to make my own cake.

I know.
I’m weird.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Last year I made my own cake too, a 3 layer funfetti cake with the sides completely covered in tiny rainbow nonpareils. Most people, when told that I planned to make my own cake, reacted with a mix of sorrow and horror.

How depressing? Why?!?!? You’re not supposed to make your own birthday cake. That’s just sad!

But here’s the thing. I love to bake. I just do. It’s one of my favorite hobbies, and I’m pretty good at it. Birthdays are big festive events and I think they call for big festive baked goods. Russell isn’t much of a baker, and I know that anything from the grocery store wouldn’t be half as good as what I could make myself. I also know that a cake from fancy pants specialty bakery here in Brooklyn would cost an arm and a leg.

So, the so called “rules” against making your own birthday cake went out the window and it was game on. Again.

 strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve been thinking about what I’d do for months, and while I knew that I wanted to include the flavor of fresh strawberries, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d do it. I could bake the strawberries into the layers of the cake, or mix them into the icing, but after some thought I decided to just let them sing as fresh sliced berries stuffed between layers of cake.

Next I had to decide on cake and icing flavors. Originally I thought I might go in a kind of strawberry shortcake direction with yellow cake and whipped cream icing, but then I had to go and turn on the damned TV. There was some show on the cooking channel about a bakery using “basil sugar” made by grinding white sugar and fresh basil together in a food processor. The idea is that since the sugar absorbs the basil’s oils, baked goods made using the sugar taste fresher than they would if made with basil puree.

It didn’t take long for the wheels to start turning about a strawberry layer cake paired with the subtle summery flavor of basil.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Knowing that I wanted this cake to be a real knock-out, I decided to test the idea out ahead of time. I found a recipe for basil sugar online and conducted an experiment with three different batches of cupcakes. The first batch was made with one of my favorite yellow cake recipes, the next with half of the white sugar substituted with basil sugar, and the third with an even higher basil sugar ratio.

To complicate my life even further, the pinterest gods had to go and show me a beautiful layer cake iced with a basil buttercream made from milk and cream steeped with fresh basil leaves.

I decided, just in case, that I should try the basil buttercream out for my “control group” cupcakes, while the two batches of basil sugar cupcakes would be topped with stabilized whipped cream. All three versions were cored and filled with fresh strawberries, and I took a big tray of cupcakes to work and started taking votes.

As much as everyone loved the cakes made with basil sugar (the 1/2 basil to 1/2 white ratio worked best), I was surprised to find that the silky smooth texture and amazing flavor of the basil buttercream won by a landslide. I still love the basil sugar idea, and have a tub of it in my freezer waiting to line the rims of cocktail glasses or get sprinkled on vanilla ice cream or fresh berries.

For my purposes though, the experiment gave me the results I needed and the plan for the cake was settled. Tender yellow cake layers would be stuffed with fresh sliced strawberries and everything would be coated in a satin layer of palest green basil buttercream.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

The day of the party came, and Russell did it up right proper. Good friends, good food, good music, good wine, and good weather on a good night in our backyard. A smoking grill and a big bowl of phenomenal homemade guacamole. Rosé by the bucket. It was perfect. Best husband ever. After all, he puts up with me, uptight perfectionist and all.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Then, toward the end of the evening, there was the pièce de résistance.

While it’s true that I write a food blog (you may have noticed) and getting feedback and words of encouragement comes with the territory, getting compliments in person tends to make me feel more than a little uncomfortable.

When the cake was served I was made plenty uneasy by the barrage of positivity coming my way. Maybe it was the river of wine and whiskey that was flowing in the yard that night, but people were plenty free with the praise for this cake.
You made this?!?! The crumb is so tender! Those fresh strawberries!! And OMG that basil icing!!!
People are still talking about it almost two weeks later.

Happy birthday to me!

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Strawberry Stuffed Yellow Layer Cake with Basil Buttercream

Fresh Strawberry Filling:
2 lbs fresh strawberries (plus another 1/2 lb for decorating if desired)
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash strawberries and place let them drain in a colander or dry on a towel. Working only with the 2 lbs for the filling, hull the strawberries and slice them thinly. Place in a medium bowl and toss with sugar, salt, and vanilla. Allow the strawberries to macerate in the sugar for at least an hour or two at room temperature.
Drain the juices from the bowl into a small to medium saucepan. Over medium/high heat, reduce the strawberry juice by about half or a little more, stirring frequently. This should take about 20 minutes. Cool the reduced juice completely before pouring back over the berries and tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake.

Yellow Cake:
adapted from Epicurious

4 cups cake flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8×2-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. (I use pre-cut parchment rounds) Butter the parchment and lightly coat the interior of the pans with flour. Refrigerate until ready for use.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium/high speed for 3 minutes or until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cream the butter for an additional minute.
Add the sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating for 30 seconds to a minute after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Once all sugar is added, scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time.
Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk. Reduce the mixer speed to low or stir, and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Mix just until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. If possible use a scale to ensure each pan has the same amount of batter.
Lift up each pan about an inch and let them drop onto the counter top to knock out any air bubbles and settle the batter.
Center the pans onto a rack in the lower third of the oven and let bake 45 to 50 minutes or until the cakes are lightly brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean.

Let cool on a rack for about an hour before removing from pans. Leave parchment rounds on the bottoms of the cakes until assembly, and return layers, parchment side down, to the rack until completely cool to the touch.

Basil Buttercream
adapted ever so slightly from the Vanilla Bean Blog

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh basil leaves, well packed
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces (about 70 degrees – butter should be  soft enough to mix well, but firm enough to give some structure to the buttercream)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Combine milk, heavy cream, and basil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat gently, until just simmering, and remove from the heat. Let cool for about 30 minutes and pour the mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Process for about 30 seconds or until the basil is well chopped. Scrape all basil and liquid into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or ideally overnight.
Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Use the back of a spoon to squeeze any ‘basil juice’ from the leaves into the milk/cream mixture. Whisk in the flour and sugar, and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 or 15 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Place a kitchen towel over the top of the mixer to prevent splashing. Beat on high speed until the mixture has completely cooled, about 7-9 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. At first it might not look right, but just keep going. Increase the mixer speed to medium/high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about another 2 minutes.
Add the vanilla and mix until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

1) Level the tops of the cake layers using a cake leveler or a very sharp serrated knife.

2) Place the first layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round or on a cake stand.  Place the round or cake stand on a revolving turntable or lazy suzan.

3) Fill a piping bag with about one cup of the basil buttercream icing. It isn’t necessary to fit the bag with a decorating tip.

4) Pipe a tall border around the perimeter of the first layer, using about 1/2 of the icing in the bag.

5) Top the first layer with about half of your strawberries and reduced juice, staying within the icing border. Try to even the berries out so they’re in an even level layer.

6) Center the next layer over the first, checking from several angles to be sure the layers are perfectly lined up straight and evenly.

7) Repeat steps 4, 5, & 6.

8) Using about 1/3 to 1/2 of the remaining icing , cover the entire outside of the cake with a thin crumb coat using an icing spatula. I like to pile the icing at the top of the cake and work it down the sides little by little, turning the turntable as you go, until the entire cake is coated. I find that an offset spatula is easier to use, but that’s up to you.
This step ensures that any crumbs coming off the cake will be captured in this first thin layer of icing and will not show on the finished cake. I find it also makes it easier to get a smooth profession looking final layer of icing.

9) Refrigerate the entire cake for about 30 minutes to an hour. This step sets the crumb coat so it doesn’t mix into your final top layer of icing. I also find that it helps steady the filling and makes the layers of cake less likely to slip and slide around while you’re trying to ice or decorate.

10) Using the remaining icing, coat the entire cake using an icing spatula in the same way you did the crumb coat.

11) Try to smooth the icing as much as possible using your spatula or a straight bench scraper. I find that holding the spatula straight up and down, almost stationary, while turning the cake is the easiest way to get a smooth finish to the sides.

12) If desired, top the cake with the remaining 1/2 cup strawberries and a few leaves of basil. I think it looks more attractive if the stems and leaves are still attached to the berries, but that’s your call. It will mean that your guests will have to remove the stems themselves if they plan to eat the berries along with the cake.  If you’d prefer to do a piped icing border you will need to reserve some icing, or increase the recipe slightly.

For a more in depth tutorial, see my funfetti birthday cake recipe from last year. For an AMAZING how-to video on how to get a smooth and professional icing job, check out this “modern buttercream” class, completely free, from Craftsy.

If you need to refrigerate the cake, I recommend letting it chill in the fridge for about an hour to set the icing before covering in plastic wrap (so the wrap doesn’t stick to the icing and ruin the smooth coat you worked so hard to create.) This cake is at it’s best the day it’s baked, but once covered, it can be refrigerated for a day or two. The fresh berries may lose their freshness the longer it’s held. Bring completely to room temperature before serving, at least an hour or two.

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.