I’m eons late (as usual), but it was my birthday about 2 weeks ago, on the 15th of April! Every year, without fail, I make my own birthday cake. It’s one of the highlights of the year. For times sake, most other days I skip baking something this complicated for simpler goods such as cookies and quick cakes, but I’ve always been in love with the time-consuming, yet rewarding process of creating layer cakes.
I usually do my cakes in the instantly recognizable Momofuku Milk Bar style, leaving the sides barren to reveal the sedimentary rock-like layers of filling and cake. It might seem complicated, but this method of cake assembly is actually quite fail-safe. No need for crumb coats or turntables, all you have to do is smear filling and layer cake-circles into an acetate mold. Well, acetate is what Momofuku Milk Bar says to use. I usually just take some sort of pliable cardboard or stiff paper (Priority Mail envelopes work really well for this), using tape and a little ingenuity to shape it into a 6-inch ring.
So… about the cake. This year, it came to me two days before the special day. A milk tea cake! A cake inspired by one of my favorite things ever, a cake bursting to the seams with tea flavor (and the side effect of giving you a caffeine buzz). The cake base is a milk tea and honey cake. You’ll infuse milk with what may seem an excessive amount of black tea, mixing into a lovely cake batter that bakes up moist and soft. While baking the cake, I recommend preparing the milk crumb. Despite their unassuming, pale exterior, these babies pack a ton of flavor into each tiny crumb. Once the cake is out of the oven, you’ll bake the crumbs until crunchy and delicious. Try not to eat them all before assembly time…
Now, the cakes and crumbs should be cooling, but don’t go rest yet! You still have work to do, on the tea-infused condensed milk and cream cheese lemon frosting. Making condensed milk from scratch seems like a chore, and I won’t lie. It is. However, the depth of flavor you get from homemade vs. store-bought is unbeatable. By cooking the milk, heavy cream, and sugar over a low heat for 40 minutes, the condensed milk takes on a vaguely dulce de leche-like flavor, bringing elements of caramel to the table. Don’t forget to sprinkle a few tea-bags into the mixture while cooking to also perfume the condensed milk with fragrant tea. Next, onto the cream cheese lemon frosting! I tried Brave Tart’s recipe for a lighter frosting using whipped cream, and was thoroughly impressed. The only complication was the lumps of cream cheese that remained, so I passed the frosting through a fine-mesh strainer to take care of that.
Note that the components of this cake can be made on different days to decrease the work load, but me being me, I procrastinated everything until the last day. Not recommended unless you want to bake for 5 hours straight.
The finished cake is a stunner. While not the most polished cake ever, I’d like to say that the little quirks and rough edges give it an unique character, one not easily replicated. And the most important part? It was delicious. A cake fit for a 17th birthday.
milk tea layer cake
- 414 g (2 cups) whole milk
- 24 g (6 heaping tbsp) finely ground black tea leaves
- 170 g (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
- 200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 96 g (1/3 cup + 3 tbsp) honey
- 55 g (1/4 cup) grapeseed/vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp vanille extract
- 3 large eggs
- 270 g (2 cups) cake flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 40 g g (1/2 cup) dry milk powder
- 40 g (1/2 cup) flour
- 12 g (2 tbsp) cornstarch
- 25 g (2 tbsp) granulated sugar
- 2 g (1/2 tsp) salt
- 55 g (4 tbsp) butter, melted
- 100 g (about 1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 400 g (shy 2/3 cup) heavy cream
- 1 tsp (5 g) vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp kosher salt
- 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese
- zest of two lemons
tea condensed milk
- 16 oz whole milk
- 85 g (scant 1/2 cup) heavy cream
- 95 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp (4 g) black tea
for the cake
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and black tea over medium heat until simmering. Turn off the heat and let the milk cool to room temperature before proceeding.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare a 9x13 inch cake pan with parchment on the bottom.
Cream the butter and sugar together at medium-high speed until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until combined. The mix may look curdled, but don't worry! It'll all come together later.
Add the vanilla and honey, and beat until fully combined. On low speed, stream in the oil, then increase the speed to medium-high. Beat for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture has doubled in size, is light in color, and has completely emulsified.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then mix on low speed until just integrated. Then, mix in 1/2 cup of the tea-milk. Repeat until all the flour has been used up. You'll have extra tea-milk, which will be used as the cake soak.
Spread the cake batter in the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the cake comes out clean. Let cake cool completely, then turn out onto a clean surface.
Using a 6-inch cake ring, stamp out 2 circles and 2 semi-circles from the cake.
for the milk crumb
Preheat oven to 300°F. Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the dry milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt.
Add the melted butter, and stir until mixture forms clumps. Spread out on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before using.
for the lemon cream cheese frosting
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest on low speed until sugar dissolves. Turn the mixer to medium-high and whisk for another 2 minutes, until cream is consistency of greek yogurt.
Keeping mixer on, add cream cheese 2 tbsp at a time. Once all incorporated, turn off mixer and scrape sides. Continue mixing on high until frosting is light and fluffy and only small dots of cream cheese remain.
Pass frosting through a fine-mesh sieve. Store in refrigerator until needed.
for the tea condensed milk
Heat milk, heavy cream, sugar, salt, and black tea over medium heat in a medium saucepan until simmering. Continue to cook for about 40 min, until mixture has condensed to about 1 cup. The pot will weigh 13 ounces less than the original weight.
Pass through a fine-mesh sieve to remove tea leaves. Store in refrigerator until needed.
Using an acetate sheet or piece of thin cardboard covered with wax paper, create "walls" for the cake assembly by taping the sheet into a 6-inch ring, using the cake ring as a guide. The height of the ring should be about 8 inches. If your ring is too tall, simply trim the top to the correct height. Put the finished mold inside the cake ring.
Place the two semi-circles of cake inside the mold. They won't cover the entire space, so use the cake scraps to fill in the empty space as needed. Using a pastry brush, soak the cake with the leftover tea-infused milk.
Spread about 1/3 of the cream cheese frosting over the cake. Then, sprinkle 1/3 of the milk crumbs over (try to save the largest ones for decoration). Finally, drizzle 1/3 of the condensed milk on top. Repeat process with the second layer of cake: soak, frosting, crumbs, condensed milk.
For the final layer of cake, soak with tea-milk, then cover with final third of frosting. Place in freezer overnight or for at least 8 hours to set cake.
Unmold cake by taking off cake ring, then peeling off acetate/cardboard. Put the rest of the condensed milk in a ziploc bag and cut off a tiny piece from one of the bag's corners. Using this makeshift piping bag, pipe condensed milk on top edge of the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Use leftover milk crumbs to decorate top of cake (I arranged mine in a ring). Enjoy!
Leftover cake can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.