Cake. This simple yet magical combination of butter, sugar, eggs and liquid in it’s most simplified form goes back centuries, has transcended cultures and is synonymous with celebration all around the world. Cakes can be big or small and as simple or as complex as your own imagination. I mean, you can’t have a birthday, or a wedding without cake, or as Julia Child says… “a party without cake is really just a meeting.”
In times where the ingredients such as sugar, nuts and spices were expensive, having a cake made for you was an immense honour. These days we experience birthday celebrations involving cake from age one and all throughout our lives, but the fundamental message has remained. I love making homemade birthday cakes for the special people in my life. It is a culinary offering of love, a way of showing someone that they are important and that you care about them. But the real joy is in the sharing and celebrating with your friends and family – it really is a lovely tradition.
It was my sister Beth’s 21st birthday last week, and I wanted to make her a very special cake. After years of childhood bickering, I’m so happy that she is now one of my closest friends and business partner in a new venture that I’ll tell you all about very soon. She is so funny, creative and a beautiful person inside and out. To say this cake was made with love would be the understatement of the century.
I put my own spin on a famous Momofuku Milk Bar recipe by Christina Tosi, keeping the chocolate chip cake and crumb elements but experimenting with the passionfruit curd and adding a vanilla bean cream cheese icing instead of the coffee buttercream. Is this sacrilegious? Perhaps…
I’ve long been a fan of the chocolate and passionfruit flavour combination (see here and here) so I knew that it would be good. But when my Dad, who has tasted many of the cakes I’ve ever made, says this is the best cake I’ve ever made, I think I made the right call. He has also requested this exact same cake for his own birthday next month. Hey, if it’s good enough for David Chang…
The cake has a lot of liquid and fat in it, and the book was fairly specific about how the batter must be homogeneous at each stage to end up with a lovely moist cake. I split the cake mixture into four equal parts and baked my cake layers separately as I knew I wanted the ‘naked’ cake look of visible fillings and un-frosted sides, again another small deviation from the ‘Milk Bar’ way, but I think it’s one of the best looking cakes I’ve ever made and I couldn’t stop taking photos of it.
I was thrilled with how each component came out separately, and together the result was phenomenal. The passionfruit curd was sweet but tangy, which balanced out the rich cream cheese frosting. The chocolate crumbs added some texture and weren’t too sweet. I actually wish I had doubled the amount of crumbs between the layers as I had a lot left over. The recipe after the jump looks quite long, but each part is pretty straightforward and you can make the elements over several days to lighten the load.
Happy 21st Birthday again to my gorgeous sister Beth. I hope this year is the best one yet, and I wish you adventures and happiness and french toast and success in everything you put your mind to xxx
Chocolate Chip & Passionfruit ‘Naked’ Cake
Adapted from ‘Milk Bar’ by Christina Tosi
Chocolate Chip Cake
- 113g unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cup caster sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour (I used this method to make my own)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup mini chocolate chips
- 2⁄3 cup plain flour
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 2⁄3 cup cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 85g unsalted butter, melted
- 2⁄3 cups (160ml) passionfruit pulp, seeds strained
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 165g butter, chopped
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
- 500g cream cheese, softened
- 1 1/2 cup icing sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
To make the chocolate chip cake, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F.) Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high again for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.
On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for 4-6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. Don’t rush the process. You’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for the liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45-60 seconds, just until your batter comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If you see any lumps of cake flour in there while you’re scraping, mix for another 45 seconds.
Spray a 20cm round cake tin with cooking spray and line it with parchment (or use as many of the same size cake tins as you have to speed up the process.) Divide the batter evenly into four parts and spread the cake batter in an even layer into each pan. Give the bottom of your sheet pan a tap on the countertop to even out the layer. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of chocolate chips evenly over the cake batter. Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery, dense and golden brown. Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack and repeat for remaining cake layers. The cooled cakes can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
To make the chocolate crumbs, set your oven temperature to 160°C (300°F). Combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle on low speed until mixed. Add the butter and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters. Spread the clusters on a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch at that point; they will dry and harden as they cool. Let the crumbs cool completely before using in the recipe. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
To make the passionfruit curd, place the passionfruit pulp, lemon juice, butter and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir until butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Place eggs and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until combined. Gradually add the passionfruit mixture, whisking continuously. Return curd mixture to pan and cook, stirring, over low heat, for 6–7 minutes or until thickened and mixture coats the back of a spoon. Allow to cool and store in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap. Makes 2½ cups. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
To make the cream cheese icing, combine ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.
To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on top of a serving plate or cake board. Top with about 1/4 of the cream cheese mixture and spread over the cake. Add about 4 tablespoons of curd and swirl together into the icing with an offset spatula. Top with a layer of chocolate crumbs. Repeat with remaining cake layers. You may have some curd and crumbs leftover. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.