You know it, I know it, we all know it: we have discussed these stack-happy little Momofuku cakes before. I love making them, you love telling me how much work it would be to even attempt one of these. Is it work? Yes. But have I said that it’s not as hard as you may believe it is? Also, yes. Do you think I’m lying? Perhaps. So I decided for this cake, I would take you behind the scenes a little and show you exactly what goes in to making one of these things. Shall we?
Before we begin, I’m going to reference back to the other Momofuku cakes we’ve already discussed. Lest you think I’m short-changing you on verbal instruction here, I promise you I’m not. If you want in-depth guidance and tips on stacking cakes like this, see my post on the carrot layer cake + pumpkin ganache. For more tips, or if a sprinkle-filled birthday cake is more up your alley, head over to the confetti birthday layer cake. If you’d like a sneak peek at the Momofuku cake I’ve neglected to post but will be coming soon? Head over to my Wee One’s state fair birthday party post, which featured the chocolate malt layer cake.
So let’s get to it: I made this cake back in October for my own birthday. It was a dreary week and I would have loved the photos to be better, but alas; my birthday waits for no one. It was raining; my apologies. With these cakes (and really any cake) it’s extremely important that you get all your ingredients incorporated together. Not just wet, people; they need to become one with each other. Have you ever had a cake bake into sort of a mottled, slightly hilly thing? It’s because you didn’t follow the directions. Layering cakes requires a smooth surface; please take the time to beat your cake batter into submission as the instructions indicate. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with this:
Look at that; perfectly smooth, evenly golden cake. You couldn’t ask for a better starting point, and it will bolster your confidence while you make your layers.
When it is time for stacking, make sure all your ingredients are prepped, at the correct temperature, and in easy-to-manage dishes. The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around with things when you’re trying to make one of these cakes, so don’t begin until you know you have everything out and ready to go.
After you’ve lifted your cake from the pan, you’ll cut your first two layers, just like this, using your 6-inch cake ring:
Done. Now, use the biggest pancake spatula you have and slide it gently under each cake circle, and using your hand for support and guidance, lift it out onto a separate sheet of parchment to sit.
Next, you’ll cut the remaining circle using the leftover cake, like so:
I know many of you have asked me how I do this; well, this is how. Not as hard as you imagined, right? I’m not cobbling together lots of crumbs, I’m just maximizing my cake surface here. If you do it correctly, you’ll have at least a half-piece of spare cake to eat.
When it’s time to layer, it’s best to work carefully and consciously; if you’re not paying attention and miss a step, you basically ruined your cake. Sure, there are ways to cover it up so no one knows it, but guess what? You know it, so it’s still a ruined cake. Don’t forget little things like:
- setting your cake ring onto your cardboard cake circle
- lining your cake ring with the first acetate strip
- paying attention to what “half” or “a third” of any given ingredient is, which may cause you to run out before you finish
- letting all your components sit out to get to room temperature, if you’ve stored them in the fridge
Here, the layering begins with the cake, cake soak, and liquid cheesecake:
As a rule, I start from the middle and work out to the edges. I find that it’s easiest to get the most out of each layer with minimal damage to the layer below it. Even when piling on, blob first in the center, then spoon ingredients around that center, then spread from center to edge.
The next layers to this cake are the trickiest: the crumb, apple pie filling, adding the second acetate strip, and layering the next cake layer:
Gentle and purposeful movements are key here. Once the crumb is on the cheesecake, it’s not moving, so use wisely. Over-working the apple pie filling on the crumb layer below can cause the crumbs to work themselves up through the filling, and you don’t want to do that. Once you slide that second acetate strip in, you have to deal with the fear that is dropping that cake layer in. Best way to do it? Trust fall. Really, I mean it. Hover your cake circle above the cake ring, line it up with the acetate strip so it doesn’t catch on the way down, and let go.
Breathe; you did it! Time for round two, which is the same as round one:
You did it! Now it’s just time for the frosting, and off it goes into the freezer. your work is done here.
Quite a few of you have asked if this whole process is messy. Answer: yes.
Although I would say it’s more crumbly than messy, because the crumbs are really the only thing which gets all over the place. As always, for projects like this, I recommend an empty dishwasher at the ready; it makes cleanup so much easier to just shove things in there and hit “go.”
Once you’ve made the cake, feel free to make it yours. Obviously I’ve done that with some of the past ones. I think the birthday cake would look fun with a bunch of the cookies sticking out of it, but I enjoyed the crumb pile as well. I loved the plastic animals and pennant garland on the chocolate malt cake. Since this was made in October, apples were in season and I was big into the idea of hayrides and bonfires. I went with it. Behold:
Apple bonfire. You know what that’s made out of? The flames are homemade apple chips, and the woodpile are their discarded skins, baked with cinnamon and sugar until they crisp up and roll into twigs. Although I wasn’t in love with the twiggy part of this in terms of flavor, I liked the concept, and I’ll perfect both the flames and sticks in the future. I used this recipe for the twigs and just sort of winged it with my apple chips: coated some slices in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and threw them in alongside the twigs to bake.
And then, well…it was time for cake.
I don’t know if this is my favorite cake, because honestly, all four that I’ve made have been wonderful, each one very different from the next. I adored this cake, but they are all so vastly different that it makes them very difficult to compare. I loved the individual components of this one quite a bit: the liquid cheesecake is divine on a spoon, the crumb is spectacular, the apple pie filling is actually apple pie filling, so no complaints there. The brown butter cake is otherworldly; it’s a beautifully textured, flavorful stand-alone cake, and I’ll be adding it to my list of “anytime/any frosting” cakes.
My only complaint, if it truly is one, is the very top; the pie crumb frosting. It’s the second time I’ve made it (I played around with it in an earlier recipe that never hit the blog) and both versions I’ve done just haven’t hit the mark for my own palate. It’s very sweet; I’m probably overly critical of frosting, and if you love a sweet hit of something on your cake, you may die over this. For those of you who lean towards less sugary sweet, here’s what I would do: make a double batch of the liquid cheesecake and pile some on top in place of the pie crumb frosting. It’s thick enough to work very well as a stand-in.
I hope that was helpful, especially if you’ve thought about attempting a cake like this. I know I love it when cookbook authors take the time to photograph steps of recipes which could be hard to visualize, like the turns in a croissant dough (even with photos, I have a difficult time understanding that particular process), so maybe this makes it easier should you attempt it. It really isn’t so difficult; you just have to find your own rhythm with it.
I always say it with these cakes, but don’t let the large amount of words below fool you: you just have a few simple things to make, and it just happens to all be listed in one place. None of the recipes which go into this cake are difficult at all, I promise you. I do recommend you spread this project out over two days. Here’s how I do it:
- Make brown butter cake and place in oven
- While cooking, make your pie crumb and get it ready for the oven, also prep what you can for liquid cheesecake
- Pull cake out, slide pie crumb in
- While pie crumb bakes, finish cheesecake and get it ready for the oven
- Pie crumb out, reduce temperature, slide cheesecake in
How simple is that? And then all you need to do the next day is whip up your cake soak and make your pie crumb frosting if you’re using it. If you’re doing the apple chip/stick thing I did for decoration, decide where you want to fit that in. Strategy works as well in the kitchen as does anywhere else; smart planning makes things go faster (and better), period.
Adapted from the always-incredible must-have, the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook by Christina Tosi.
Apple Pie Layer Cake
for the cake:
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- pinch allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons brown butter*
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
for the crumb:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
for the cheesecake:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 large egg
for the apple pie filling:
- 1 medium-sized lemon
- 3 Granny Smith apples
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup tightly packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
for the cider soak:
- 1/4 cup apple cider (original, not cinnamon, if you see that in your store)
- 1 teaspoon tightly packed brown sugar
- small pinch cinnamon
for the pie crumb frosting**:
- 1/2 recipe pie crumb
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
*I make brown butter by throwing 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter into a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. It will get foamy on the surface. Pour it into a small glass bowl and let it sit for a minute or two until it has separated into three layers: foam on top, clear yellow in the middle, milk solids on the bottom. Skim off the top carefully, and pour the liquid into a small frying pan, leaving the milk solids behind. Heat the now-clarified butter in that frying pan over low heat until brown and fragrant, but not burned. Remove from heat and let cool. You’ll have more than needed for this recipe, so save the remaining and use it in your next batch of cookies.
**you can skip the pie crumb frosting if you’re choosing to use a double batch of liquid cheesecake to frost your cake top. You truly do need to make a double batch, however; you won’t be able to stretch a single batch out enough to cover it.
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spray a lipped quarter sheet pan (I use a 10 x 13 “brownie pan” that’s easily found at Target or anywhere else) with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper, overhanging the sides by an inch or so. Spray the parchment lightly with the cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together your cake flour, baking powder, salt, allspice, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Combine the butters and the sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat together on high speed for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add your eggs and mix on medium-high for another 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat for 6-7 minutes, until the mixture is white, twice the size of your original butter and sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. That last part? So important…this is what separates mottled, bumpy cakes from smooth, even ones. After about 6 minutes, stop your mixer, and scrape down the sides and into the bottom. Take a look at the batter and be honest with yourself: do you see streaks? If you have any doubts, keep going until there are no streaks or uneven patches and it looks like those ingredients have been together their entire lives. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again.
With the mixer on low speed, add your dry ingredients and mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your mixture comes together. I like to scrape down the bowl once during this process just to get the loose dry stuff that clings to the sides. When you’re done, scrape down the sides of the bowl again and mix for about 30 seconds more to get all the lumps out.
Pour your lovely, completely homogenous batter into the center of your prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly out towards the sides. Bake for 25-30 minutes, checking at the 22 minute mark for doneness. You know how I feel about dry cake, so don’t overdo it. You have some wiggle room because you’re doing a cake soak and the whole bit, but an overdone cake makes even more of a mess than a perfectly done one, and your sides may not be as smooth when you cut your rings. Your cake will rise and puff but remain dense, and it will be done when the center is no longer jiggly. It should bounce back when you touch it gently in the center; if you’re still unsure, check it with a wooden skewer in the center.
Remove your cake from the oven and place the entire pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Bake the crumb:
If you’re making this right after your cake, wonderful: keep your oven at 350˚F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until evenly distributed.
Add the melted butter and water and stir using a small wooden spoon to incorporate the wet with the dry. This will take a few minutes, because you want to make sure everything is even. I use a folding motion and scrape the bowl with each stir; it helps to get the leftover dry ingredients hanging out on the bottom. Use a spatula towards the end if you feel like it would help.
Spread the clusters into the middle of your prepared sheet pan and use your spoon or spatula to spread them out evenly into small clusters, breaking them up as you go. Bake for 22-24 minutes, checking at the 20 minute mark for doneness. They should be golden and slightly moist when you take them out; they will harden as they cool. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.
Bake the liquid cheesecake:
note: if you’re going to do the double batch, get excited: you’ll have plenty of leftovers. Remember when you’re putting the cake together that when I say “half” it means half of a single batch, so don’t go crazy. When you bake this, use a 9 x 13 Pyrex glass baking dish versus the 8 x 8 size.
If you’re doing this directly following your crumb, then turn your oven down to 300˚F. Starting with a cold oven? Preheat to 300˚F (obviously.) Spray an 8×8 glass baking dish (or 9×13 for a double batch) lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric mixer), beat your cream cheese for two minutes until creamy and soft. Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula, add the sugar, and mix for 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved into the cream cheese. Scrape down the sides of your bowl again.
Whisk together the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Stream in the milk, whisking as you pour, making sure your cornstarch doesn’t lump. Add your egg and whisk again until your slurry is homogenous.
With your mixer on low speed, stream in the egg slurry and beat for 3-4 minutes until your mixture is smooth and loose. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, checking for any unincorporated ingredients.
Pour the cheesecake batter into your prepared pan, place in the oven, and bake for about 15 minutes. Check it: when it’s done, your cheesecake filling should be firmer and more set towards the outside and still a big jiggly in the center. If it seems too jiggly, give it another 5 minutes. Still seems too liquidy? That’s ok; give it a few more minutes and then just trust it. Don’t go over about 25 minutes total. Don’t let it begin to brown or poof up, because that’s when you’re bordering on overdone.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely; like any cheesecake or curd tart, it will continue to bake itself and set while cooling. When cooled, it will be very much like a no-bake cheesecake in texture.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
oh my gosh, I know, right? so much to do. Time to make your apple pie filling:
Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water big enough to hold and cover your apple slices. Discard peel and seeds.
Peel your apples, then halve and quarter them. Put each apple quarter on its side and cut a small slice down the length of the apple to remove the core and seeds. Now cut each apple quarter lengthwise into thirds and then crosswise into fourths, giving you 12 pieces from each apple quarter. Drop your pieces in the lemon water as you slice.
Once you’re ready to cook, drain the water from the apples and discard the lemon water. In a medium saucepan, combine the apples with the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring gently to coat and cook evenly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3-6 minutes, so the apples release their liquid and soften, but not so much that they get mushy. There’s a trick to this depending on your apples: if your apples are soft but you feel like your sauce is too thin, that’s ok. Simply remove your apple pieces to a dish and set aside, leaving the sauce behind. Let the liquid keep simmering for a few more minutes until thickened. Remove to the bowl your apples reside and let cool completely.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Make your pie crumb frosting (optional, if you’re using it):
combine the pie crumbs, milk and salt in a food processor or blender, puréeing until smooth and homogenous, about 2-3 minutes.
In a large bowl, add your butter and confectioners’ sugar and cream together on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes until fluffy and pale yellow. Scrape down the sides with a spatula, add your pie crumb mixture, and start your mixer on medium speed. Once things start to combine, raise your speed to high and continue to beat until smooth and everything is incorporated, about 3 minutes.
I think it’s easiest to use this immediately, because frosting which has been chilled is always more difficult to work with. You can store it in an airtight container for up to 1 week if needed.
Make your cider soak:
Whisk together the cider, sugar and cinnamon. Blammo; cider soak. I usually do this just before assembly time.
To assemble your cake:
The whole point of this post was the picture tutorial, right? So scroll back up to the photos of the step by step assembly; it’s every step of the process. I’ll outline it below. For more detailed instructions, check out my post for either the carrot layer cake with pumpkin ganache or the confetti birthday layer cake. Before you begin, look at my bullet-pointed tips at the beginning on how to prep your workstation. Most importantly, make sure everything is at room temperature prior to starting. Here we go.
- Set your cake ring on a 6-inch cardboard cake circle
- Line the bottom of the ring with an acetate strip.
- Set your first cake circle (this one will be the scraps from the third circle, so you’ll form them in the bottom and tamp them together using your hand)
- Soak the cake with 1/2 the cider soak using a pastry brush
- Spread 1/2 (a single batch) of the liquid cheesecake evenly over top
- Sprinkle 1/3 pie crumbs evenly over top
- Spoon 1/2 apple pie filling over top, spreading gently and being careful not to unearth crumb layer
- Add the second acetate strip between the first strip and the cake ring, so it stays tight to the cake ring and gives you space to complete your cake
- Drop the second cake circle down into the cake ring, using the Trust Fall method described above
- Now, same as the first: soak, spread cheesecake, sprinkle crumbs, spoon pie filling, all in the same amounts as the first layer
- Add a third strip of acetate here if needed, to keep your cake lined all the way to the top, tucking it in as you did with the second one. I find I need a third strip because the apples add volume to this cake.
- Layer your final (prettiest) cake circle on top
- Cover with either the pie crumb frosting or with some of the extra (second batch) of liquid cheesecake
- Slide into the freezer to chill for at least 12 hours (or up to 2 weeks, but who is going to wait that long, really, to eat this.)
Remove from the freezer and pop it out of the cake ring base. Think of how you would unearth a tart from the base: just use pressure from your fingers to push the cake up through the cake ring to release it. Unfurl from its acetate strip nest and place in the fridge to thaw, at least three hours before serving. Don’t forget to remove the wrapping from your cake immediately following freezer removal: if you try to unwrap it at serving time, you’re going to mess up the sides a bit and you’ll need to smooth them back down with a spatula.
Slice your cake into wedges and serve.