Perfect Birthday Party Cake Recipe

Monkey Birthday Cake

Jasper's Monkey Cake

Sorry to post so late in the day.. it’s been a little hectic. My fever broke last night but I’ve been having terrible headaches from the antibiotics.  I also took Jasper to his ENT this morning and got some great news: He’s reflux free! Or at least mostly.

There was a little redness around his esophogus, but it was the same amount as 6 months ago when he was on the prevacid, so medication is clearly not warranted. What a relief. So now that I know it’s not caused by reflux, I’m fresh out of ideas as to why Jasper has so little interest in food, but that is a topic for another post..

Right now I want to share the recipe that Kimberly sent me in the 11th hour of my cake crisis! The cake really was delicious, so if you are thinking about making a cake from scratch for your kiddo’s upcoming party (or any ocassion for that matter) this is definitely one you might want to consider.

The length of this post might frighten you.. and maybe it should. If it doesn’t, then you probably are in the midst of your own cake crisis or else maybe as deranged as I am. Either way, here it is, enjoy!

Perfect Party Cake

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking from My Home to Yours

The cake is snow white with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen- no fussing when it come to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavored with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream, but because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the perfect cake not just perfect , but also versatile.

For the Cake

2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg wites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing

2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves, stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake:

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter, and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and will aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch- a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

To Make the Buttercream:

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate-just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake:
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Makes 12 to 14 servings

Serving: The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room-not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience, you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

Storing: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slice it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well- it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavor, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves- cherry or strawberry-look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

TIPS FOR MAKING A PERFECT PERFECT PARTY CAKE

  • Make sure the butter is VERY soft, the consistency of mayonnaise, before mixing
  • Have the egg white and buttermilk at room temperature too
  • If there is grated lemon zest in the batter, makes sure it is very finely grated as with a microplane, not a box grater – large pieces of zest can weigh down the batter and prevent full leavening from taking place
  • Use buttermilk instead of milk (the acidity promotes faster setting during baking and also weakens the gluten in the batter)
  • Buy a fresh can of baking powder
  • Use bleached, not unbleached, all-purpose flour (If you’re using cake flour, make sure it is NOT self-rising)
  • Test the layers for doneness with the point of a knife or a toothpick rather than relying on a timer to determine doneness – if the layers are over baked and a little dry, the texture could seem rubbery
  • Wrap and chill or freeze the layers as soon as they cool – leaving them uncovered at room temperature for a long time could also dry them out

Kimberly’s note:

You can also omit the lemon flavor altogether and substitute a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract for the cake, and simply omit the lemon from the buttercream, no substitutions are necessary. I’ve also used a tiny drop of coconut extract to flavor the buttercream, or any other flavoring that you’d like would be fine! Remember that a tiny bit (like 1/8 to ¼ of a tsp. of extract other than vanilla, goes a LONG way!)

Also, you can fill your cake with JUST the buttercream, omitting the fruit preserves, and it will still be absolutely delicious!

Ariana’s Note:

I used this recipe and it made two very short (maybe 1″ tall) 9″ rounds.. if you recall, I thought this was because it didn’t rise correctly so I ended up doubling this recipe and making 4 9″ rounds. When I went to put the cake together it only needed 3 rounds, probably you could get away with 2  if you used 8″ rounds instead. It would depend on how many people you wanted to serve. We had about 30 guests this recipe multiplied by 1.5 served them all fine!

Also, I omitted all lemon in both icing and cake and it came out great! I used coconut extract instead and no jam (just icing) between the layers. I actually bought the coconut flakes to use between the layers and totally forgot to use them!

And now, Kimberly’s Timeline (such a help!)

You can and absolutely should put your cake together the day/night before the party.

You CAN make the buttercream ahead of time, but I think it’s better to make it right before you use it…if you NEED to make it a day or two ahead of time, just let it come back to room temperature and beat it to fluff it up in your mixer. The fondant you can make and color anytime between now and the party and refrigerate it. Smooth a thin layer of
Crisco over the balls of fondant, wrap them really well in plastic wrap and then a baggie and refrigerate them.

So here’s a timeline: You’ve made your cakes, wrapped them well and frozen them. Fondant, made and refrigerated. The day/night before the party, I’d make the buttercream and build the cake. If you are not completely coating the cake in fondant (like I did) then I would probably refrigerated the fully buttercream-coated cake and wait until the day of the party to put the fondant decorations on. The reason for this is that the buttercream will fare better in the fridge, but you don’t want to refrigerate fondant or it will “sweat” as it comes to room temp. IF you are completely covering in fondant, then you can do the whole thing the day before and just leave it in as cool a room as you can… the fondant will sort of seal in and protect the buttercream underneath.

To prep your pre-made fondant for rolling you can put it in the microwave for a few (10) seconds or so at a time to bring it to room temp. It goes pretty quickly and then you can just knead it to make it pliable for rolling. If you’re just making the monkey face and dots from fondant and then sticking them into the buttercream to decorate, you can do all of that the night before and then I’d rub the surface with a bit of the Crisco to keep them from drying out. It also gives the fondant a nice sheen. Cover your fondant cut outs with plastic wrap until you’re ready to put them on the cake.

To build your cake… make your buttercream and while you’re doing so, let the frozen cakes thaw JUST A LITTLE, for 10-20 minutes so just the surfaces start to soften. Build your layers with a thick filling of frosting inbetween each, and then go over the whole cake with a very thin layer of frosting (called crumb coat.) Having the cakes still fairly frozen
makes this process a LOT easier. Then put the cake into the freezer for 20 minutes or so to harden up the frosting. Then remove it, and go back over the cake with a thicker final layer of the buttercream, and smooth it or texture it how you want it to look. Then put it back in the refrigerator. The morning of the party, remove the cake from the fridge and stick the already cut-out fondant decorations onto the cake after the buttercream has softened enough that they will stick. IF you are planning to cover the whole cake in rolled fondant, you can do all of this the night before.

A few more resources..

Great blogpost on how to build a 3 layer cake with images and very clear directions
Recipe and discussion thread on Wilton’s forum about how to make marshmallow fondant

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Anne says:

Thanks for birthday party cake. My daughter`s Birthday is near and this is a very good surprise for my daughter. I hope my daughter will enjoy this recipe.

ariana says:

LOL Sherean, the length of the post makes it look way scarier than it is I promise :)

Sherean says:

I am so NEVER going to attempt this! And I thought I was a decent baker but I am exhausted reading about it. Jasper is lucky to have such a dedicated momma, and your guests where lucky cuz they got to have such an amazing cake. You should be VERY proud of yourself. Well done!

Anh says:

This recipe looks wonderful. Thank you for sharing!

Just wanted to leave a quick comment about your birthday video. I just really enjoyed looking at it, and I will not lie I got choked up when you guys sang happy birthday. I look at your blog here and there because I have a boy too. He will be 5 months old next week! I can’t believe how fast the time goes by, and I think I got emotional because before I know it I’ll be wishing my guy happy 1st too.
Your cake turned out wonderful!! :D

Samm Ivri says:

Wow, your cake was fabulous! Good work, mama! Mia’s bday is next month and I am attempting to make these for our Hello Kitty theme:
http://bakerella.blogspot.com/search?q=hello+kitty

GULP!!!

Sarah says:

Thank you so much for the recipe. I am going to start practicing my cake baking skills now!

Lakshmi says:

Hey Ariana! great to hear that your fever broke….awesome! and also that Jasper in reflux free! hurray!