Birthday Cake!

January 22, 2011

Margaux says…

I loved my birthday cakes growing up.  I was so proud of the fact that my mom made them and decorated them herself, unlike most of the kids’ parents I knew, who bought their birthday cakes at Trefzger’s or Kroger.  In reality, my mom’s not a baker (she HATES to cook), and the cakes were boxed mixes.  But she is an artist, and would do a rendering of whatever struck my fancy that year (Lil’ Orphan Annie, Care Bears, My Little Ponies to name a few) on my choice of cake, which was usually the Pillsbury cherry-chip cake with vanilla frosting.  And it always looked perfect.  I always vowed to do the same for my kids.  Last year, it started with Desi’s first birthday, and he got a dog cake (note:  never present a butter cake on brown craft paper).  This year, he’s two, and he’s starting to get opinions about things.  In his opinion, choo-choo trains are the best things in the world, next to skateboarding.  And in my opinion, trains make much cuter cake decorations than skateboards do, so he got a train cake.

The difference between my mom and me is that I LOVE to bake, and I am not an artist…just the opposite of her.  So I drew up the plans for what I wanted the cake to look like, and my mom helped me construct it (and my aunt Gigi helped roll the fondant!).  There could have potentially been up to 32 people at the party, and I didn’t want to run out of cake (last year we almost did!), so I decided to create a two-tier cake, with a 9-inch chocolate layer cake on the bottom and a 6-inch banana layer cake on the top.  (You can halve any 9-inch recipe to make a 6-inch cake).

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of the interior of the cakes.  As usual, I was seriously running short on time, and totally forgot to take any progress photos of the cake until the end, and then forgot to take a photo when we sliced into it.  You’ll have to take my word for it…it was delicious!  I used Rose Levy Berenbaum‘s cake recipes, which I’ve always found to be pretty much perfect.  I used a basic ganache recipe for the filling of the chocolate cake, and my favorite vanilla frosting recipe, from Cook’s Illustrated, for the exterior frosting and piping frosting.  To fill and frost the banana cake, I used the “creamy dreamy white chocolate frosting” recipe that Rose recommends for her banana cake, from the “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes” cookbook.

I love this chocolate cake for a kids’ party because it’s not overwhelmingly chocolatey, but is still rich and moist and has great flavor. As I said before, I used a basic ganache filling for the chocolate cake, and vanilla frosting, but the recipe in Rose’s book has it filled and frosted with a caramel ganache that sounds rich and delicious. I’m sure I’ll be making this cake again with the caramel ganache, and I’ll let you know how it is! The banana cake is not only delicious, but you can put the leftovers in the fridge and it still stays moist and tender because it has oil instead of butter in it.

Chocolate Layer Cake
from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa, sifted before measuring
1/2 cup (4 oz) boiling water
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp cake flour, sifted before measuring
1 cup superfine sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tbsp canola or safflower oil, room temperature

Grease two 9″ round cake pans with shortening, line bottoms with parchment, then coat with baking spray and coat with flour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent evaporation and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. To speed cooling, place it in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before proceeding.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, the 3 tablespoons of water, and the vanilla just until lightly combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter, oil and cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray. To prevent splitting, reinvert the cake so that the top side is up. Cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache

adapted from Real Chocolate by Chantal Coady

Make several hours before using.

4 oz bittersweet chocolate (it must be good chocolate!)
4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (optional)

Chop chocolate in food processor until very fine, then place in a small bowl. Scald the cream on the stove (heat over high heat until bubbles form around the edges). Whisk the cream into the chocolate a few tablespoons at a time, until all the cream is added and the mixture is smooth. Add the butter, and whisk until completely melted and smooth. (You can skip the butter for a classic ganache, but I saw this recipe in a book about chocolate and thought it sounded really good, and it turned out as good as it sounded.)

Vanilla Frosting
from Cook’s Illustrated

I had to use two recipes of this, for frosting the chocolate cake and then decorating both tiers.

2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
pinch table salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Stir the cream, vanilla, and salt together in a small bowl until the salt dissolves. Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium high speed until smooth, 30-60 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low, slowly add sugar, and beat until smooth, 2-5 minutes. Beat in the cream mixture. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 4-8 minutes (the time depends on the strength of the mixer…with my KitchenAid it takes about 5 minutes or so).

Banana Refrigerator Cake
adapted from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

2 large very ripe bananas, peeled and lightly mashed (1 cup)
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (I used sour cream)
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp turbinado sugar
1/2 cup canola or safflower oil, room temperature
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Coat  two 6″ round cake pans (see note below) with shortening, line bottom with parchment, and spray with baking spray and coat with flour. Preheat oven to 350.

In a food processor, process the bananas and creme fraiche until smooth, stopping the processor and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla and process until combined, about 10 seconds.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk beater, beat the banana mixture and sugar on medium speed for about one minute. Gradually add the oil, beating until it is thoroughly incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift the flour mixture into the egg mixture and beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the dry ingredients are completely moistened. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan(s) and smooth the surface evenly. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center. The cake should just start to shrink away from the sides of the pan. During baking it will rise to the top of the sides of the pan and a little higher in the middle.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.

Creamy Dreamy White Chocolate Frosting
from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 oz white chocolate containing cocoa butter, chopped
4 oz cream cheese, softened but still cool
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1/2 tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream
1/8 tsp almond extract

Heat the chocolate until almost completely melted. Use a small microwaveable bowl, stirring with a silicone spatula every 15 seconds (or use the top of a double boiler set over hot, not simmering, water, stirring often–do not let the bottom of the container touch the water). Remove the white chocolate from the heat and, with the silicone spatula, stir until fully melted. Allow it to cool until it is no longer warm to the touch but is still fluid.

In a food processor, process the cream cheese, butter, and creme fraiche for a few seconds until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides. Add the cooled melted white chocolate and pulse it in a few times until it is smoothly incorporated. Add the almond extract and pulse it in.

Constructing the Cake

Place one of the chocolate cake layers on a serving plate (I just used a cardboard cake serving round) and top with all of the chocolate ganache, spreading it out to 1/2″ from the edge. Top with the other chocolate cake layer. Frost the outsides and top of the chocolate cake with the un-dyed vanilla frosting (using about 2/3 of one recipe). Place one layer of the banana cake on top of the frosted chocolate cake. Top with about 1/2 cup of the white chocolate frosting, and then top with the second layer of cake. Place a wooden dowel (found at cake decorating stores or craft stores) down the center of the cakes in order to keep them in place.  You will probably need to cut the dowel (they’re usually 12″ long, and that is too long for this cake) so that it doesn’t stick out the top.  Frost the top and sides of the banana cake with the white chocolate frosting (it will be thin, but you’ll be adding a ton of vanilla frosting on top of it!).

Next, dye the rest of the vanilla frosting the colors you want, and decorate the cake!

Note:  The recipe for the banana cake in Rose’s book calls for it being baked in a single 9″ round cake pan, and frosted with the dreamy creamy white chocolate frosting on the top of the cake, not on the sides.  I baked it in two 6″ round cake pans in order to create my two tier cake, and it converts perfectly.

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3 Responses to “Birthday Cake!”


  1. Such a beautiful cake for an amazing and adorable little man! I love Desi! The photos look incredible, too. How much are you loving that camera?
    Oh and I am so jealous of your baking skills, Margaux. I need to keep practicing gluten-free baked goodies to try and get half as good as you!! xo


  2. […] I think it turned out pretty okay…I got a lot of help from my mom.  Most importantly, it was delicious…chocolate layered with bittersweet ganache on the bottom tier, banana layered with white […]


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