Vegan Milkbar Birthday Cake

So I did a rendition on this particular Milkbar cake years ago(ironically before I even worked at Milkbar). But I wanted to do a more true version of the original cake, this time making it 100% vegan. The beauty of it is that you cannot even tell that the cake is vegan! It looks exactly like the birthday cake, tastes exactly like it, but is simply just made with different ingredients. Having started as a vegan baker, and then working at Milkbar, I feel like this cake ties together my start in cooking with a place that really helped me develop a strong sense of confidence in my own baking abilities. When I think of the Milkbar Birthday Cake, I just remember several things as once. The first was summer of 2018, when Christina Tosi was featured on Chef’s Table on Netflix, where that cake was prominently highlighted. The second is actually working at Milkbar, where I would help the production team(shoutout to Alex, Karen, Rachel, Sandy, Jenny, Nacho, Nicole, and Nat, who along with my Milkbar lab co-worker Tori are all amazing human beings who I had the pleasure of working with there!!!) make several of these at a time. It was like magic. sheet trays with the ring molds, speed racks lined with those 6-inch rounds of cake, squirt bottles of cake soak, tubs of cake crumb, and a giant mixing bowl of buttercream that was placed on wheels, and bent spoons and offset spatulas everywhere. Within seconds of us all just working together, we would get 60 cakes assembled and ready to sell within minutes. It was like clockwork. So whenever I see the Milkbar Birthday Cake, I think of family, teamwork, and fun times of making these while blasting Lizzo and other feel-good music in that West Hollywood bakery.

So now for my rendition on the cake. For the cake batter itself, I went with a vegan vanilla, using the chemical reaction between cider vinegar and baking soda to bind the cake together in place of eggs. Flavor wise, you would not even be able to tell no eggs were used. For the Sprinkles, I did use Baker’s Choice, which was what we used at Milkbar, but also because they are vegan sprinkles, which is the whole point of this post was to make the cake vegan! Another fun fact, that most people do not know, is that I started as a vegan baker. Mostly because my health nut Buddhist mother refused to let me cook with butter. That was the devil’s ingredient. Just kidding. Partially. She hated butter and did not want me wasting eggs, so therefore I had to learn to bake without them. For the soak, I simply used soy milk instead. And vanilla flavored at that, so that I would not need to add flavoring to it beyond just a little salt. With the “buttercream”, which I’m sure will have a lot of questions, I used coconut oil. It whips very similarly to butter, although it has a much lower melting point. To help counteract that, I used a tiny bit of xanthan gum, which helps bind the larger amount of soy milk with the coconut oil together easier, and give the vegan buttercream that silky finish. If you do not want to buy xanthan gum, you could omit it, but just add 1/4 cup soy milk in place of the 1/3 cup. Overall, this cake represents my start as a baker in general, which was in vegan cupcakes, but also one of my happiest baking memories from working at Milkbar as well.

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups vanilla soy milk
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3/4 cups canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 cup rainbow sprinkles, in four parts

Combine the soy milk, cider vinegar, oil, and vanilla first and allow that to sit while you are measuring out the dry ingredients. This will allow the cider vinegar to create cultures in the soy milk, which in turn, gives the cake a fluffier texture. In another bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Combine the two mixtures first, then fold in three parts of the rainbow sprinkles. Pour into a parchment-linked half sheet pan and sprinkle on top of the cake the remaining sprinkles. Bake at 350 degrees F for 22 minutes. Allow the cake to full cool before cutting out two 6-inch rounds and forming a third 6-inch round with the scraps.

For the crumb:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup canola oil

Toss the flour, sugar, salt, and sprinkles together first. Then pour in the remaining ingredients and mix into a dough. Break the dough apart into smaller pieces and press them in your palm to form these long, jagged pieces of dough. Bake these at 350 degrees F for 18 minutes. Allow the large crumb chunks to cool down before breaking apart into smaller pieces. Reserve the bigger pieces for the top of the cake.

For the “buttercream”:
12oz coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/3 cup vanilla soy milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Whip everything together until it is a smooth and creamy consistency and pale white in color. Keep at room temperature until time to assemble.

For the soak:
1 cup vanilla soy milk
a pinch of salt

Literally just combine the two. Keep the soak cold so that it will not accidentally melt the buttercream or soak into the crumb.

To assemble:
Line a 6-inch ring mold with acetate. Start by placing in the scrap layer of your cake. Then add in 1/3 of the soak. Spread about 1/3 of the buttercream onto the cake, and then sprinkle on half of your smaller crumb pieces. Technically at Milkbar, we would put the crumb on first, then spread the buttercream, but I personally prefer doing it the other way around before the buttercream is easier to spread without the crumb pieces in there already(but you can do it either way!). Repeat these steps for your second layer and third layers(I would recommend against putting the crumb on the top layer just yet). Freeze the cake for at least 3 hours, then unmold. At this point, I would recommend putting on the decorative bigger crumb pieces, right before serving.

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