This dessert, perfect for a Fourth of July table, is David Hagedorn's interpretation of cakes made in the style of Christina Tosi, the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef at Momofuku Milk Bar in New York.
Her technique, outlined in her book, “Momofuku Milk Bar” (Clarkson Potter, 2011), involves constructing the cake inside a 6-inch cake ring lined with a tall plastic collar and then freezing it to set it. There are a lot of components to the cake; none are very time-consuming, but spreading out their preparation over several days, even weeks, makes the task of assembling the cake relatively simple.
You will need a quarter sheet pan (10 by 13 inches), a metal cake ring 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high, a 7-inch cardboard cake circle and two 20-inch-long strips of acetate (one to line the cake ring, the other to use as a collar), one 2 inches wide, one 4 inches wide.
Sheets of acetate are sold at office supply stores, but you can use sheet protectors taped together to give you the required length. Freeze-dried fruits are available at some Whole Foods Markets, at Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, at Trader Joe’s, on Amazon.com and on JustTomatoes.com, which also sells them in powdered form.
Make Ahead: The cake can be baked up to 5 days in advance, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated. The blueberry syrup can be made a few days in advance. The lemon curd can be made 1 day in advance. The berry milk crumb can be made several days in advance and refrigerated, or made well in advance and frozen. The raspberry frosting can be made 1 or 2 days in advance and refrigerated, but it’s best to make it when you need it. The assembled cake must be frozen for at least 12 hours.
Yield: Makes one 6-inch layer cake
- For the cake
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1/3 cup grapeseed oil (may substitute canola oil)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons brown butter (see NOTES)
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- For the syrup
- 3 tablespoons blueberry preserves
- 1 tablespoon water
- For the lemon curd
- 2 large eggs, plus 2 large yolks, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest plus 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
- Pinch salt
- 5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- For the berry milk crumb
- 3/4 cup powdered milk (nonfat)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 3 ounces white chocolate, melted
- 5 tablespoons freeze-dried raspberry or cherry powder, from 1 cup freeze-dried raspberries or cherries (see NOTES)
- 2 tablespoons freeze-dried blueberry powder, from 1/2 cup freeze-dried blueberries (see NOTES)
- For the frosting
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 5 tablespoons freeze-dried raspberry powder (from 1 cup freeze-dried raspberries; see NOTES)
- 1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a quarter sheet pan with nonstick cooking oil spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper.
Stir together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Pour the buttermilk, grapeseed oil and vanilla extract into a small liquid-measuring cup. (The oil and milk will separate; that's okay.) Break the eggs into a separate small bowl.
Combine the butters and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for several minutes, until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the inside of the bowl. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next one. Stop to scrape down the inside of the bowl. On medium speed, beat for several minutes, until the mixture is lightened and fluffy.
Stop to scrape down the inside of the bowl. On low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture. The batter will look curdled at first. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 5 to 6 minutes, until the batter is light and, for the most part, homogenous. (It may still appear a bit separated.)
Reduce the speed to low and spoon in the flour mixture. Once all of the flour has been added, stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium-low for 30 seconds to incorporate all of the flour and eliminate any lumps. Use a flexible spatula to scrape the batter from the paddle, then run the spatula around the inside of the bowl and fold the batter once or twice to make sure it is smooth all the way through.
Spread the batter evenly in the quarter sheet pan, to the edges. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and its edges have pulled away slightly from the sides. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack to cool completely.
For the syrup: Combine the blueberry preserves and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, until the mixture just begins to boil and the preserves are completely melted. Remove from the heat.
For the lemon curd: Whisk together the whole eggs and yolks, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the butter and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 5 to 7 minutes or until the mixture thickens into a bright-yellow, loose custard.
Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, using a flexible spatula to press all of the curd through the mesh. Discard the solids from the strainer. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and refrigerate until completely cooled.
For the berry milk crumb: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine 1/2 cup of the powdered milk, the flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and stir to form a clumpy, streusel-like consistency. Spread on the baking sheet; bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crumbs are off-white and dry. Let cool.
Transfer the cooled crumbs to a large bowl, breaking up any that are larger than pea-size. Toss with the remaining 1/4 cup of powdered milk. Pour the white chocolate over the crumbs and stir until the crumbs are coated and have the texture of wet sand. Refrigerate the crumbs, stirring every few minutes, until the chocolate has completely set, 10 to 15 minutes. Toss the crumbs with the fruit powders until they are well coated and have a nice purplish hue. Cover; refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
For the frosting: Combine the butter, confectioners' sugar and raspberry powder in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium-low speed until the mixture begins to come together. Slowly add the cream. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat on medium speed, then increase to medium-high, for about 2 minutes, until the frosting is light, fluffy and smooth.
To assemble: Use the metal cake ring to cut two rounds of cake as close to the edges and to each other as possible. Make sure that you cut the cake all the way through and that the layers are loosened from the bottom of the lined pan. (Sweep the blade of a large metal spatula underneath them to make sure.)
The bottom layer of the cake will be formed using the remaining scraps. Use the cake ring as a guide to cut two crescent-shaped scraps of cake.
Wipe the circle clean and place it on the 7-inch cardboard cake circle. Line the inside of the ring with a 2-by-20-inch strip of acetate. Fit the crescent-shaped pieces of cake into the ring, then cut scraps to fill any holes. Brush the surface with the syrup. Use a small offset spatula to spread 1/2 cup of lemon curd evenly over the layer.
Sprinkle the layer evenly with 1/2 cup of the crumb. Spread a third of the raspberry frosting over the crumb. (Take your time so the crumb doesn’t mix with the frosting. The best way is to place dollops of frosting all around the inside of the cake ring about 1/2 inch apart. Then use a clean offset spatula to spread the frosting into a thin layer from the outside working in, adding a spoonful or two in the center if necessary.)
Add the collar to the ring by slipping the 4-by-20-inch piece of acetate behind the top of the strip lining the ring. Press the collar down enough to secure it.
Carefully add the second cake layer and press down lightly until it is snug. Brush with syrup and spread with 1/2 cup lemon curd, 1/2 cup crumb and a third of the frosting.
Add the top layer and press it down lightly until it is snug. Brush the cake with the remaining syrup and spread the last third of the frosting evenly over the top. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of berry milk crumb over the cake. Loosely cover the top of the cake with plastic wrap and transfer the cake to the freezer for at least 12 hours. (There will be some berry crumb left over. Freeze it for future use.)
Remove the cake from the freezer at least 3 1/2 hours before serving. Have a cake stand or serving plate at hand.
Lift the cake off the cardboard cake circle (a metal spatula helps) and hold it in the palm of your hand. Gently push the cake ring down, toward your elbow, to dislodge it from the cake, and then place the cake on the stand. Peel off and discard the acetate collar and the strip that lined the ring. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
NOTES: To brown butter, place 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter in a large microwave-safe glass bowl, cover and and cook on HIGH for 3 to 5 minutes, until the butter is dark brown and you can see specks of toasted milk solids throughout. The bowl will be quite hot; remove it carefully from the oven and allow to cool. The yield is about 2 tablespoons.
To make fruit powder, use a small food processor to pulverize freeze-dried fruit.
The cake and berry milk crumb are adapted from Tosi's “Momofuku Milk Bar." The lemon curd is adapted from a recipe by Molly O’Neill. The raspberry frosting is from The Process columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
Email questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.