Cake for days doesn’t even begin to describe the current state of my apartment.
After last year’s birthday cake bonanza of one extra-large Momofuku funfetti cake and a mammoth double chocolate cake from Costco, I promised myself never again would I put myself in the presence of so much cake at one time. Instead, I thought about making Sarah B’s wholesome riff on a judiciously-sized birthday cake this year before I ended up not making myself a cake at all.
Back up, back up. It’s not like I didn’t get a cake. I got almost two pounds of cake. And then made two more cakes for Erik’s birthday. But that comes later.
So the night before my birthday, Erik and I had just gotten back from North Carolina where I had possibly the best pre-birthday gift ever of meeting a fellow blogger and reuniting with my long-lost college friend. I figured we were both pretty pooped and occupied, what with work and the first day of school on Monday–at that point, my birthday plans were vaguely half-baked at best. So I was completely off guard that night when Erik surprised me with a bunch of birthday activities!
After a phenomenal dinner, presents and a massage, he unveiled the sugar: TWO slices of cake from here. Which means those slices were more akin to bricks. Those quadruple-layer chocolate on chocolate cake slices are so massive that one slice could feed about, say, 10 reasonable people. Obviously we don’t fall into the reasonable category, but even we barely made a dent in the two slices.
And so as much as a part of me still wanted to make myself a cake because, you know, CAKE, I decided two pounds of Chocolate Bar cake was enough and turned my attentions to planning Erik’s surprise wine and cheese-themed birthday party. Happily, I decided that a party of 15+ people (and also an A+ boyfriend) warrants two Momofuku cakes, particularly since they’re only 6″ big and everyone likes variety.
Which brings us back to my apartment: LEFTOVERS. From the Chocolate Bar, the gifted brownie bites, the Sprinkles cupcakes, and the cookies from the free hotel cookie buffet bar. Cake.for.days.
I need to exercise.
Here’s the first of the two cakes: a sweet-salty layer cake with crushed pretzels mixed into buttery batter soaked with a chocolate stout (I used one that I brewed with a friend based on this recipe), smeared with chocolate stout ganache, burnt honey frosting and sandy pretzel crumbs.
Sadly, I don’t own the Momofuku Milk Bar book and the only recipe I could find for this cake online was missing the stout ganache and the “burnt honey frosting” appeared to be nothing more than honey mixed into a buttercream. So the recipe written below reflects my modifications, and I think it’s a pretty darn good cake. Aka INSANELY DELICIOUS.
I used a light hand when soaking the cake in the stout (which I happened to have brewed myself, using this recipe) which gave the cake a slight hint of beer here and there–barely detectable, but subtly present in my opinion. You can definitely go heavier or omit it altogether, though if you choose to omit the beer, I would recommending using milk for the soak to keep the cake moist. Either way, the rich bittersweet ganache is the perfect foil to the ultra-sticky caramel-y frosting, held up by the sturdy, buttery cake layers, coarse with salty pretzel crumbs. And the actual pretzel crumbs (toasted and buttered pulverized bits) add, as always, that inimitable crunch.
Note: Momofuku cakes seem like tons and tons of work but I really think they’re worth it. Almost nothing compares to the perfect blend of sweet, salty, cakey, crunchy, creamy and buttery that all Momofuku cakes seem to possess. AND (after baking all the parts the night before and not counting the time it took to make the frosting), I assembled this in under 15 minutes before I left on Friday night for this insanely fun thing. It was tricky and sweaty business, but Momofuku cakes are NOT impossible!!
Also, all Momofuku cakes call for acetate during the assembly step of the recipe. Acetate is the same thing as plastic transparencies. I bought some for the first momofuku cake I ever made, but have gotten along fine without them ever since. As long as you have some kind of sturdy but flexible material to provide structure for the cake layers (such as priority mail envelopes, as you can see in the assembly photos), the cake should be fine.
I rarely post step-by-step photos for recipes, but if anything calls for step-by-step, I think it’s a Momofuku layer cake. Scroll down for the recipe.
Step 1: Bake the cake + crumbs and chill until ready to use. Don’t make the ganache + frosting until you’re ready to assemble the cake. (I chilled my cake overnight in the fridge and made the frostings the next day.)
Step 2: Remove the cake from the pan and cut out two 6″ circles. I lightly pressed my 6″ springform cake pan into the cake for a guide, then used a knife to do the actual cutting.
Step 3: Place your pan on wax paper or a wax paper-lined plate and line the inside of the pan with acetate or a sturdy but flexible material, like these priority envelopes.
Step 4: Line the pan with wax paper if using a material that is not food-safe (i.e. priority envelopes or anything else you don’t want your cake touching).
Step 6: Soak the bottom layer with approximately 2 tablespoons of stout (half of a 1/4 cup, pictured below).
Step 7: Using a long rubber spatula, spread one third of the stout ganache over the bottom layer.
Step 8: Reserving about 1/2-2/3 cup of pretzel crumbs for the top of the cake, sprinkle half of the remaining pretzel crumbs over the ganache.
Step 9: Dollop half of the burnt honey frosting on top of the crumb layer. Spreading this is nearly impossible, so try to just drop the frosting where you want it. Seriously.
Step 10: Slide a full ring of cake onto the top of the frosting and repeat the stout soak, ganache, crumbs and frosting layers.
Step 11: Finish with the last full ring of cake, a layer of ganache and the reserved crumbs. Freeze for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Step 12: Remove from freezer at least 3 hours before serving. To unmold, I found the easiest way was to firmly grasp the wax paper on top so all the crumbs don’t spill out, invert the cake, pull off the cake pan, and set the cake right side up again. I was terrified to invert the cake, but the wax paper will actually hold everything in pretty well. Watch!
Then we just set the cake on the counter, pulled the cake pan up and flipped the cake back over. Easy peasy.
And then promptly devoured the cake.
This buttery, sweet and salty cake is perfect for chocolate, beer or snack lovers--in other words, everyone.
- Pretzel crunch:
- 1/4 of a 16-oz bag pretzels (about 90 pretzels, or 2.5 cups)
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons powdered nonfat milk
- 1/8 teaspoon table salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Pretzel cake:
- 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 3 large eggs
- 1/3 cup buttermilk (I mixed 2 tablespoons of yogurt with enough almond milk to make 1/3 cup)
- 1/3 cup canola oil
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
- 3 cups pretzels, ground down into a powder
- Stout ganache:
- 1 scant cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 3 tablespoons stout beer (preferably chocolate)
- 1 tablespoon almond milk
- Burnt Honey frosting:
- 2.5 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons water
- 4 large egg yolks
- ½ cup sugar
- 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- milk, optional
- For assembly:
- Chocolate stout beer
For the pretzel crunch:
Heat the oven to 350F degrees.
In a food processor, pulse the pretzels until they're mostly broken down into crumbs with some larger chunks. Toss the pretzel pieces in a bowl with the light brown sugar, powdered milk and salt. Add the melted butter and stir to coat.
Spread the clusters on a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan and bake for 12-15 minutes, at which point they should look toasted and smell buttery. Cool completely before layering in cake.
For the cake:
With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and molasses. Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine after each egg. Whisk together buttermilk and oil until combined and stream into the egg mixture with the electric mixer on.
Combine all dry ingredients in a separate bowl (to prevent clumps), then add to the wet ingredients in two additions with the mixer on low. Mix until just combined, and finish off the mixing by hand with a rubber spatula until there are no streaks of dry ingredients. Be careful not to overmix at this point, or you will end up with tough, rubbery cake.
Line a 9x13” pan with well-greased parchment paper. Pour cake batter into prepared pan and tap the pan firmly on the countertop to even out the layer. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan completely before using. (I stuck mine in the freezer while making the frostings).
For the ganache:
Add the chocolate chips, stout and milk to a small saucepan over medium low heat. Stir occasionally until melted (do not let the mixture get overcooked). If you prefer a thinner ganache, add more stout or milk to taste.
For the burnt honey frosting:
In a small saucepan, bring honey to a boil; reduce heat and simmer JUST until honey begins to smoke. Immediately remove from heat; slowly stir in 2 tablespoons water.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks for 3 to 4 minutes until pale and frothy-looking—they should look like they could almost hold soft peaks.
Add sugar and remaining water to honey mixture and cook over high heat until temperature reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage). I didn’t have a candy thermometer, so I just watched until it looked like this: large, frothy, caramel-colored bubbles.
Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle honey mixture down the side of the bowl (the hot sugar mixture should be slowly introduced to the egg) into the egg yolks. Continue to whisk at a medium speed for about 2 minutes or until mixture is thick and cool with no trace of warmth. Whisk in butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until incorporated.
(Note: The original recipe called for nearly a pound of butter, which would probably make this frosting easier to work with. I added 2 tablespoons, forgot about adding the rest and it turned out fine, though the frosting was difficult to work with. You can experiment with more butter if you like, or whisking in additional milk until the consistency is more drizzle-able. I would recommend adding at least half a stick of butter and a drizzle of milk. The finished cake tended to crumble when sliced, which I think could have been remedied had this frosting had been able to spread more and seal the pretzel crumbs and cake layers together.)
Remove the cake from pan by inverting the pan over a cutting board lined with wax paper. Cut the cake into two 6" rounds using a 6" cake ring or pan, reserving the leftover cake scraps for the bottom layer.
Clean off the cake ring and place it on a plate or cutting board lined with wax paper. Line the inside of the ring your choice of sturdy structural material (acetate, priority mail envelopes, sturdy paper, etc). Line the structural material with parchment paper or wax paper if you are not using a food-friendly material.
Line the bottom of the cake ring with the cake scraps to form the bottommost layer. Mash down the scraps with your fingers until the layer is flat. Spoon or brush 2 tablespoons of stout beer evenly across the top of the layer. Spread 1/3 of the stout ganache evenly across the cake. Reserve ½ cup of pretzel crumbs for the top of the cake, and sprinkle half of the remaining crumbs evenly across the ganache. Dollop half of the burnt honey frosting across the top.
(Note: Mine was EXTREMELY sticky and uncooperative; I found it was easiest to just drop dollops of frosting wherever I wanted them because it’s not easily spreadable. It’s okay if this frosting layer is spotty—this cake is not about perfection.)
Place another round of cake on top of the frosting. Repeat the soak, ganache, crumb and frosting process. Place the last round of cake down, but do not soak this layer. Spread the last 1/3 of ganache on top and end with reserved pretzel crumbs.
Freeze cake for at least three hours, or up to overnight.
Remove from cake ring, pull of plastic wrap or acetate and allow to come to room temperature—approximately 2-3 hours—before serving!