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Leave it to the Chocolate and Cream. Again. Happy Birthday, Joe.


It’s amazing, the happiness that comes with a little cake, cream, and chocolate. Pastry cream and ganache, I’ve realized, are especially handy when you’re looking for a little happy-making.

Last week was Joe’s birthday, and the only thing he asked for was a homemade version of the Brooklyn Cream cake at our favorite bakery, Ladybird. It’s a perfectly comforting combination of yellow butter cake, cream, and chocolate, everything you’d dream of in a birthday cake if you’re not out for ice cream cake. I thought I’d have my work cut out for me, but turns out, it’s not very different from the reinvented Hostess Cupcakes I schemed up last month. Just swap out the chocolate cake for yellow, and there you go.

In my quest for a magic yellow cake recipe, I landed on the venerable Smitten Kitchen blog. Turns out, Deb was also on the hunt for the perfect birthday cake years ago, and shared this amazing recipe. I paired it with pasty cream and ganache to make my version of Ladybird’s Brooklyn Cream. It was, I should say, a big hit.

My main change from the Smitten Kitchen recipe is that I split the batter into three 8-inch pans rather than two 9-inch pans. That gives you two rows of cream and three rows of cake—just the right ratios for the Brooklyn Cream. If you don’t have three pans, you can always use two, or split the cakes into layers after they’ve baked and cooled. But that’s always a disaster for me—a guarantee that you will be eating lopsided cake. Symmetry was never my strong suit.

The recipes are below. As for assembly, once your cakes are cooled, simply layer them with pastry cream and cover with ganache. You can even them out if needed by trimming a bit off the top with a serrated knife (again, this is where I get in trouble). Use buttercream to decorate as you’d like.

Eat happily.

Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yield: Three 8-inch round, 1 1/2-inch tall cake layers

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Pastry Cream Filling
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Heat 1/8 cup of the sugar, milk, and the vanilla bean in a small sauce pan over low heat.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar and egg yolks until pale yellow. Add the flour and salt, then set aside.

Remove the milk mixture from heat when it just begins to boil. Slowly pour it into egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Transfer everything back to the saucepan and continue stirring over low heat until thick, about one minute.

Remove from heat and add the butter. Continue mixing until everything is combined.

Transfer to a small bowl and cover by putting plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream. Chill before using.

Chocolate Ganache
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
1 cup heavy cream

Put the chocolate in a large glass or other heat-safe bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Whisk together until smooth. Set aside.

Buttercream Icing
½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on low speed until ingredients begin to combine, about one minute. Add the milk and vanilla and switch to medium speed. Whisk until light and fluffy, about five minutes. You can add more milk, butter, and sugar to reach the consistency you like.

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7 Responses to “Leave it to the Chocolate and Cream. Again. Happy Birthday, Joe.”

  1. Molly says:

    That looks delicious! Your photos always make me hungry.

  2. Erich says:

    Maria, I beg of you, please make one of these for my birthday next year! To this day the greatest piece of cake I’ve ever eaten was that chocolate peanut butter cake that I know you were the mad genius behind. This cake looks delicious.

  3. Jean says:

    This looks soooo good.

  4. Dan Sheehan says:

    Great looking crumb!

  5. Patricia says:

    My husband is a die-hard chocolate fan. I’m going to give this a shot for him, even though his birthday isn’t until February! It’s never too early, right?

  6. Marie says:

    I’ve never used an actual vanilla bean in baking (or anything else for that matter) maybe i should give this a try!


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