I have many friends who tell me that their birthday is their most favorite day of the year. I always found that a funny thing to openly admit — sure we all love a day dedicated to us, but I would still laugh when that sentiment was shared. But the more I think about the essence of birthdays, the more I realize those friends have it right. Another year of being alive should be a celebration — of our accomplishments, our surroundings, our blessings, and ourselves! A day dedicated specifically to you, fully celebrated and embraced, allows us to celebrate everyone else and appreciate the world around us the other 364 days of the year.
Katie came from Kentucky to visit me in D.C. the weekend of her birthday. We did many of our favorite things. We read food magazines at the end of each day, walked barefoot down 14th street (breaking in new boots is tough), and shared many delicious meals. But, my favorite thing we did together was bake her birthday cake.
Long before I ever arrived in D.C. for my 23rd birthday trip, Morgan & I had a clear mission and underlying purpose for my visit — to make the most impressive birthday cake of either of our lives. Our Instagram direct messages were flooded with naked cakes, frosting inspiration, and fruit/ flower styling. Thankfully, working together is pretty seamless because we have the same taste and aesthetic — so we had agreed early on that chocolate cake and vanilla frosting was the best way to eat birthday cake. (And that greenery and berries would be making an appearance in the presentation somehow!)
The other details weren't as seamless, don't let our presentation fool you. Morgan accidentally left her cake pans in Kentucky when she moved, so when we bought ingredients we also had to snag some pans, and of course a beautiful cake stand from Anthropolgie. Also, did we mention we had NO CLUE how to make a cake like this? ... absolutely zero experience. We pulled up some youtube tutorials on how to frost and make a naked cake, but they were all too much to handle. We decided we would just be intuitive and trust our guts.
On Sunday, Sept. 27, we rose bright and early, and with The Office episodes playing on Netflix and mimosas in hand, we got to work. (Still in our comfy pajamas, of course.) We followed recipes from "The Kitchn" and made the cakes and frosting with ease and so much enjoyment. I remember Morgan & I smiling about the task at hand and squealing with joy over how beautiful the cake turned out after we started putting the layers together.
After much effort spent evening the tops of the cakes and thinly spreading frosting over the sides, we were finished. Now all we could do was stare at and celebrate our pride and joy. After about a hundred photos, we sat the cake aside and started cooking dinner so that we could enjoy it later. (A FULL day of cooking! We loved it.) Looking at the cake was one thing, but tasting it was incredible. It hadn't even crossed our minds that this cake would actually taste delicious too! We were so worried about making it and it not falling apart. It was the best night — full of celebrating another year of life, a blog that brings us so much joy, and what will likely be the best birthday cake of my life.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round baking pans. (Or, instead of flour, you can use cocoa powder, to match the color of the cake.)
Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixer bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat with a mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Mix in boiling water. The batter will be quite thin. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of each cake comes out clean.
Set the pans on wire racks and cool for 10 minutes. Then, lightly run a knife around the inside of the pans to help the cake edges release. Flip the cake pans over, one by one, and tap firmly with the palms of your hands. Carefully lift up the cake pan; the cake should release easily. If it doesn't drop right out, drape with a warm wet towel while continuing to tap.
Cool the cake layers completely before frosting.
Place the softened cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer (or simply use a large bowl and hand beaters). Whip the cream cheese on high speed for several minutes, until it is completely smooth and silky. Scrape the cream cheese out into a separate bowl and set aside.
Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a small saucepan. Turn the heat on to medium and slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. It will look lumpy at first but whisk vigorously to create a smooth paste. Continue whisking as the mixture comes up to a simmer. It will thicken rapidly and dramatically as it comes to a boil. Simmer for 1 full minute, then turn off the heat. Scrape the flour and milk paste into the mixer bowl. (If you want to be 100% sure there are no small lumps, pour it through a mesh sieve.)
Turn on the mixer or beaters and whip the flour-milk mixture for 10 minutes, or until it is lightened and no longer piping hot. It should be lukewarm or cooler. Slowly add the whipped, softened cream cheese, whipping constantly. Add the vanilla. Continue whipping until the the two are completely combined and smooth and silky.
It is best to let this icing firm up a bit more in the refrigerator but you can use it right away to ice a completely cooled cake. If not using immediately, store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Whip again briefly on high speed before using. It is also best to refrigerate cakes that are iced with this frosting. It is best eaten within three days or so.
For assembly, simply stack your layers while adding a medium layer of icing between each layer. Make sure your icing is thicker around the edges so that you have full layers between cakes. Once all layers are stacked press down on the top (careful not to press too firmly, though!) so that the icing in-between the peaks out just a bit. Cover the top of your cake with a thin layer of icing using a bakers spatula. Continue using a bakers spatula to slowly spread the icing on the sides of your cake. It is helpful to put more pressure toward the back of your spatula so that your icing spreads thin. Continue this until your cake is as covered as you'd like.