monday bites: holiday cake truffles (the momofuku birthday cake in a ball)

That’s right, people. This is your holiday gift from me to you. Much in the way that Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Perry Como gifted the world with timeless christmas albums.

Many of you have told me that you love looking at all the Momofuku Milk Bar cakes I’ve made on the blog this past year, but many of you seem to echo the same sentiment. You don’t want to buy cake rings or acetate strips. You don’t want to spend tons of time cutting and stacking cake layers. You sure as heck don’t want to waste freezer space for a half a day while it gets all melded together. And I understand that. Normal people with things to do may not feel the urge to spend hours on a cake. The whole idea of a layer cake is to make it for something special, too. So what if it’s just Tuesday and you want cake? It seems impractical to go to this much effort just for yourself, right? Even if it’s enormously delicious. Even if you really, really want to taste one of these cakes.

Behold, a holiday miracle; for you, I have taken the work out of the Momofuku birthday layer cake. You remember when we baked this glorious, sprinkle-laden cake for my sister’s birthday back in May, right? It made me a believer in the lightness of cream cheese and shortening-based frosting, and that was big. Now you two can experience cake heaven, without all the work, and scraps, and mess.

Lie: there will be some mess. But very little, if you pay attention.

I have crafted for you a Christmas edition cake truffle made entirely of the ingredients from the birthday layer cake. You have the funfetti-flavored cake. The crazy-delicious frosting. White chocolate holds it all together, and their little outsides are rolled in birthday cake crumbs. Can you think of anything better to snuggle up to this holiday season? I can’t. These are amazing. They will blow your holiday jinglesocks off.

The Milk Bar Cookbook talks a little bit about how to make the scraps from their carrot layer cake a truffle, but they’re vague on exactly how to go about it, except to give some basic guidelines and tips on how to achieve this with their other cakes. As it turns out, when you have a love for their birthday layer cake that burns brighter than the winter sun, anything is possible. These came out perfectly the very first time I made them, and I promise you they taste nearly identical to the original birthday layer cake.

No one needs a billion cake truffles (at one time). The book talks about using the leftover cake scraps from a 10 x 13-inch cake, so I reworked the cake recipe down to a more manageable 8 x 8-inch pan size so you’re not cake-truffling for days. The frosting remained the same, as it is perfection.

The crumbs needed some revising as well; you grind them down to tiny crumbs in the food processor to provide an evenly-sized, delicate outer shell for your cake balls. The original crumb recipe has sprinkles added prior to baking; this couldn’t work if they were being pulverized; the color and shape of the sprinkles would be gone. By leaving the sprinkles out and baking the crumbs to a slightly crunchier texture, whizzing them up, and then adding sprinkles, you get a lovely crumb with bright little bursts of color mixed throughout.

Best part: I’ve taken the work out of these for you. I’ve measured, and scribbled notes, and created a way for you to do this with the least amount of mess or effort. It’s not difficult, I promise. As usual, I’d suggest baking the cake and the crumb the day before you’d like to construct these. The frosting can be made a day ahead as well, but only if you remember to take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you need it. Then all you’ll need to do is melt your chocolate, set a few things up, and off you go to Cake Ball Wonderland.

These are phenomenal. You will fall all over yourself and probably wrestle family members for the last one. And then you will make more. And don’t even think about cheating this recipe: you and I both know that although they make a box Funfetti cake, that box cakes DO NOT POSSESS THE SAME TEXTURAL ATTRIBUTES AS A SCRATCH-MADE BUTTERMILK VANILLA CAKE, and therefore will fall to pieces when you try to blend it with the frosting. Do not even be tempted to do this. If you don’t heed my warning, I take no responsibility for your tears. And there will be tears.

And yes; I adore the color of these on the inside. It reminds me of my vintage cookbooks from the 60’s with the Technicolor cakes and confections.

We’ve got a lot to get through this week. I slacked last week because of a small matter concerning a broken fridge. Before it completely died, I managed to make you two gorgeous holiday recipes, including something with yeast (get excited!). Also, this is the week we all reveal the cookies we made for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012. So it’s a big week we’re going to have here. You’re going to want to kick back with some cake balls and start partying a little early.

Adapted from the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook by Christina Tosi. Arguably my biggest source of food inspiration and fun in 2012. Seems like 2013 will be no different. This was on tons of “Best of” lists last year, and the recognition was well-deserved. In all your holiday gift research, don’t forget that this is still one of the best books out there for crazy-amazing flavor combinations and a new perspective on desserts.

Holiday Cake Balls (using the components from the Momofuku Milk Bar Birthday Layer Cake)

for the cake:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (and boy, do i ever mean that)
  •  3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1 whole large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (and i did make myself use clear vanilla this time, because i wanted a snowy-white cake)
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons Christmas (or Chanukah) sprinkles + 2 tablespoons for sprinkling over top your batter*

for the birthday cake crumb:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract

for the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I’m serious about this one, too)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening (don’t freak out; it’ll make you a believer in shortening)
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon glucose OR 2 teaspoons light corn syrup (I have found both work fine here)
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract (important, especially with the frosting, for the stark white color)
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pinch baking powder
for assembly:
  • 8 ounces white chocolate (use baking bars, NOT chips; white chocolate chips just do not melt, and will not give you the correct consistency or workability here. I like Ghirardelli white chocolate bars.)
  • 1/2 cup holiday sprinkles (Christmas or Chanukah)*
*holiday sprinkles are abundant this time of year, and in large packages. I see them everywhere; Target always has a good selection, as should your local market, or anywhere which carries cake-making supplies. Pick your favorite color combination (and yes; I’m planning on doing some Festival of Lights balls, for sure) and go for it, but be mindful of what you’re doing with them. For instance; i saw some cute ones with regular cylindrical shaped green ones but larger ball red ones all mixed together. So cute for a cookie, but i didn’t want to risk those little red balls staying crunchy inside my cake ball, you know? So proceed with thoughtfulness.
If you get tangled about how to do something, just use my visual aids above; all the critical steps are there.

first things first: cake.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease an 8×8-inch glass or metal cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together your cake flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles. Set aside.

Combine the butter, shortening, and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the whole egg and the yolk, beating for about 15 seconds to incorporate. Scrape down the bowl again and mix on medium high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again (trust me.)

On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat for 4-6 minutes on medium-high until the mixture is white, has grown to about twice its original size, and is completely homogenous with no streaks running through it. It’s beautiful when it’s all incorporated, but up until that point, it looks liquid-y, like somehow you made a mistake. You didn’t; keep at it, don’t get frustrated, and keep beating until it is completely combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Scrape down the sides after you’re finished with this part.

On low speed, add the cake flour/sprinkles mixture. Mix for about 45 or so seconds, just until your batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, being careful to get very bottom of the bowl as well – you don’t want any loose mixture hiding out down there. I find that cake flour means you have to work that much harder to scrape down the sides and get into the bottom to find the dry stuff.  If you find some, mix again for a few seconds until incorporated.

Pour your batter into the center of your prepared sheet pan, spreading it with a spatula to flatten the top and push it out gently to the sides. Once it’s all even, sprinkle your remaining sprinkles over the top. cute!

Bake for 22-25 minutes, checking at 20-minute mark for doneness. Here’s why I say that: I’ve noticed in cake-making, the same cake cooks very differently depending on what pan I use. Not just size and shape, but also color and non-stick versus uncoated. SO! As I don’t know what pan you’re using, don’t follow my times blindly; please check for yourself, because you want a nice, not-overdone cake.

To check for doneness, you should be able have a cake tester inserted in the middle come out cleanly, or the cake should bounce back slightly when you touch it and the center should not be jiggly at all. This particular cake develops a little bit of a ‘crust,’ if you will, on the top, so watch for that as well. I’m not saying it has to, but that began once it was just done. Watch it carefully in those last few minutes to make sure you don’t overbake your cake.

Remove and cool on a wire rack (completely, please) until ready to ball. The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

next: the crumb.

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until well combined. DO NOT ADD THE SPRINKLES.

Add the oil and vanilla and paddle again to distribute. The wet ingredients will act as glue to help the dry ingredients form small clusters; continue paddling until that happens.

Spread the clusters on to your prepared sheet pan and bake for around 25 minutes, breaking the crumbs up and flipping them around occasionally, and watching carefully for doneness at the 20-minute mark. Since there’s one less dry ingredient for the wet ones to cling to, your crumbs will most likely look like the surface of a foreign planet while you bake them. That’s fine. I take mine out around the halfway point and break them up, then put them back in for the rest of the time.

I normally tell you to underbake this crumb. This time, you want them on the drier, toastier end of things because you’re pulverizing them to be used as an outer shell; wet crumbs would soak in the chocolate too much. I don’t want you to burn them, but when they’re done, they should be a nice golden brown and feel “baked” through. they will dry and harden a little more as they cool. Let the crumbs cool completely before proceeding, and don’t pulverize or throw the sprinkles in until you’re ready to use. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

finally: frosting.

combine the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or, you could do this in a large bowl using an electric mixer) and cream together on high speed for 2-3 minutes. The mixture should end up smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl

With the mixer on low speed, stream in the glucose, corn syrup, and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and glossy white, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and baking powder and mix on low speed just to incorporate. Once mixed in, beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, until your frosting is whiter than white and totally smooth. It should look like shmancy bakery frosting, people, because it is.

Use the frosting immediately or chill in the fridge in an airtight container for up to one week. I like my frosting as fresh as can be, but the “spread factor” isn’t as critical here as with the layer cake. If you make your frosting ahead of time, just remember to allow it about an hour or so on your countertop to warm up to room temperature.

Cake Ball Prep:

  • Frosting: make sure if your frosting is in the fridge to get it out and let it warm up for about an hour. Doesn’t have to be exact; just nice and soft.
  • Crumbs: in a food processor, whiz those crumbs up until they resemble slightly damp sand. No big clumps. Remove from the processor and place in a bowl. Add your 1/2 cup sprinkles and stir to incorporate.
  • Chocolate: take your 8 ounces of white chocolate and place them in a heatproof bowl over just simmering water, being careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside to let cool for a few minutes until you can safely handle it, maybe 15 minutes. If in all this process your chocolate gets too cool, just place it back over simmering water and stir until warm again.
  • Cake: so you have this pretty cake in a pan. Say goodbye to it, and throw it into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. At the lowest speed, paddle your cake until it’s broken up a bit into small pieces. Provided your frosting is at room temperature, add 1/4 cup to the bowl and mix on low for a few seconds until it starts to blend into the cake. It’s not going to want to spread out much, so stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and the paddle, and stir again for a few seconds. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of frosting to the bowl and repeat the paddle/scrape, a few seconds at a time, just until the cake looks evenly moist. What you’re wanting here is an end product similar to that of molding clay or Play-Doh; it should be pliable, shapeable, able to hold itself easily in a ball, and not too soft. Grab a chunk from your mixer and press it together if you’re not sure, and add more frosting, in small amounts, if you need to.

All of your components are finished: time to put this all together.


Most important things here: your setup, your patience, and your ability to follow instructions. You don’t want to cry; I don’t want you to cry. You should have, from left to right on your counter:

  • The slightly cooled, melted chocolate + a spoon
  • The bowl of cake/frosting mixture (spoon optional, I scoop best using my fingers)
  • A large, lipped plate with the crumb/sprinkle mixture in the middle (the lip helps keep it centered) + a spoon
  • A 9 x 13-inch Pyrex pan or lipped baking sheet lined with parchment paper

To make your cake balls, scoop out as much of the mixture as needed to make around a 1 to 1 1/4-inch ball. Press it together firmly using the upper part of your fingers, until you have a solid, round ball.

Lift your fingers in such a way, palm up, to allow your cake ball to roll down to the middle of your palm. Spoon some of the melted chocolate over top of your ball, and using your palms only, roll the ball around until there’s a thin layer of chocolate on its surface.

With the ball still in your palms, tip it on to the plate of sprinkle/crumb mixture. Using the dedicated spoon, pour some of the mixture over top of your chocolate-covered ball, repeating a few times to loosely coat the ball. Using the top 1/3 of your fingers, lightly roll the ball around in the crumb mixture to press the crumbs into the ball and to evenly coat it – no bare chocolate spots should remain. Once your ball is evenly coated, lift it gently from the plate to your prepared pan to set. Repeat and try to leave a tiny bit of space between each ball for breathing room, and to keep their shape.

Once you’ve completed all your balls, carefully take your pan of balls and transfer the entire thing to a safe place in your fridge for about an hour. This will solidify the chocolate outside and seal the flavor inside. After an hour, feel free to eat them. If you’re not, then transfer them gently to an airtight container and place back inside the fridge for up to 5 days.

This method should yield you about 20 cake truffles. If you want more, make them smaller, but remember that you’ll need just as much crumb, because you’ll have the same, if not more, surface area to cover. I liked the size i made because i liked the ratio of chocolate to crumb to cake – it was the closest thing to the original layer cake’s flavor.

You will have leftover frosting; that recipe is difficult to halve and it turns out better as a whole recipe, in my opinion. I give you full permission to buy a Funfetti cake mix at the store, bake it, frost it, and eat it of the pan. Or just use it for your inevitable second batch of cake balls.

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  • Reply sara December 10, 2012 at 10:43 am

    A great idea! These look super delicious and so festive!

    • Reply shannon December 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      thanks, sara! 🙂

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats December 10, 2012 at 10:53 am

    You’ve once again proven that you have way more patience in the kitchen than I do. Well, if you don’t count my 20 hours of xmas cookie baking split over last saturday evening and sunday. I’ve never had the Momofuku birthday layer cake, but I’ve been to Milk Bar and had their cookies which are seriously amazing…so I’m assuming this recipe would probably be something I’d love. Maybe one day I’ll attempt them…until then I’ll just drool over your pics 🙂

    • Reply shannon December 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      but see, here’s what: this was the most relaxing baking thing i did ALL WEEK. Maybe i’m weird for that, but it just seems like once you get to know the book, 20 hours of christmas cookie baking seems like something which may involve MUCH more patience than I have (and that is required for these). I can’t believe you did that for so long. although, yes i can: i’m gearing up for one of those like, huge cookie sessions myself, and i am a little apprehensive.
      I forget sometimes that you live in such close proximity to Milk Bar locations. JEALOUS. If you’ve ever had/loved the confetti cookie, preferably underbaked, you would love this cake ball.

  • Reply Ashley December 10, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Lady, you know how to woo me! A miniaturized and all-the-worries version of the Momofuku birthday cake…for me?…in snack size (at least 5 per snack serving, of course)? Do I have to share? Maybe I can just double the batch… Seriously, these are amazing and you are so very thoughtful and patient to have tailored the recipe to us. Thank you (and the future eaters of these cake balls thank you too)!
    I also have a sudden urge to buy and wear Christmas socks with jingle bells on them… It’s inexplicable.

    • Reply shannon December 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      I’m all about the woo, Ashley; i thought these would get you. 🙂 i say 6 per snack serving, but space those servings at least 1 hour apart. no sharing required, double batch IS required if anyone else is to have any, and be sure if you’re making them that you get the required “test servings” in before anyone knows they’re done.

      oh! and eat these in your jingle socks. obviously. 🙂 enjoy!

  • Reply Brianne December 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Cake Truffles for the WIIIIIN! Oh, girl. You made me realize that even if I decided to buy cake rings and acetate strips, freezing a Milk Bar cake would be IMPOSSIBLE because our freezer is currently a) half-filled with blueberries and b) half filled with Hatch green chile. So, unless I was making a blueberry-green chile cake (which I most definitely will not, although now I’m intrigued), a layer cake would not happen. But these. THESE are so going to happen! I think this is a must do for my baby brother (he’s 10) and I for Christmas. Thank you for showing the world how cake truffles are done, and also for making Milk Bar birthday cake a distinct possibility for my palate.

    • Reply shannon December 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      see, i don’t know…you said blueberry chile cake and now i am also intrigued! i wonder if you threw those ingredients into a sweet corn cake…yeah? maybe. iiiinteresting.

      I was thrilled when these turned out so much like the original cake, because i can’t even count by now how many people have said there’s just no way they want to do all the stocking and purchasing, etc. and i get that! After making 5 cakes now (i still need to post 2, whoops) it’s gotten easier, but i have all that stuff on hand now. I’d like to try the model on some other flavors, and i have some in mind.

      oh yay! i am so excited these may make an appearance at the Brianne family Christmas celebration! I don’t know why that always makes me giddy, but it does. I’ll say this, though; you better ration those truffles, because you could easily over-sugar a 10-year old with these. 🙂 You may have to peel him off the ceiling if you’re not careful.

      • Reply Brianne December 11, 2012 at 4:41 pm

        Merry Christmas! Let there be sugar rushes for all! Even hyperactive 10 year olds! And a sweet corn cake, dang. With green chile and blueberries. That’s gotta happen. You’re a genius!

        • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm

          You too! I better see some sort of spring recipe for a green chile and blueberry sweet corn cake. although i may beat you to it…

  • Reply Kim Bee December 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Cripes when I made cakepops by hand they looked demented. You do them and they look perfect. Love these way too much. I don’t have that cookbook but obviously I now NEED it. I’ll just tell hubs you said I had to have it. He’ll totally go for it.

    • Reply shannon December 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      that was the best statement about cake pops I HAVE EVER HEARD. I feel like i would LOVE demented-looking cake pops! I feel like if they do seem pretty, it’s due to lots of advanced thinking about how best to do this without making my kitchen look like a war zone…it’s all in the planning. 🙂
      Christmas list = top of. If he asks, i’ll confirm your need.

  • Reply natalie December 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    you evil, evil genius…..
    we’re all screwed.

    • Reply shannon December 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      I’m signing up for a personal trainer as. we. speak. People will start to mistake ME for a cake truffle.

  • Reply Emma December 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Aw Shannon, these are beautiful! And boy oh boy, do I want to make them! I’ve sadly run out of butter again, and I didn’t make it to the store today because we had a bit of a snowstorm. But butter will re-enter the house soon, and I dearly hope I can find the time to make these later in the week.

    Quick question: is grapeseed oil a less…. oily oil, if that makes sense? I’ve never used it before.

    • Reply shannon December 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      my emma loves them! YAAAAYYYYYY! 🙂 Really, i need to leave these out in the yard or something and let someone take them, because i’m learning that cake in ball form is SO MUCH EASIER to eat randomly than when it’s all serious in a cake. I’m proud of this one, for sure. I hope the snow lets up and you get butter, because i want you to have these.
      You had a snowstorm; i had an attack of envy. Although it’s very cold here today, and our weather has been what can only be described as “dreary” this past week, which i love.

      Grapeseed oil seems, yes, actually less oily. it has absolutely zero flavor, and no oil-ish “aftertaste,” if that explains it a bit? I love it; i used it on one batch of roasted grapes and i thought i could really taste a difference from vegetable oil. Very light, i think. Good also for vinaigrettes with delicate flavors. Worth having in your pantry (and not expensive, either).

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina December 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Dear Shannon/AKA: Foodie Norman Rockwell,

    You rock my world. Not like “Jingle Bell Rock”…but like ACDC kinda rock. Okay, it’s Christmas. So, maybe in a sort of jingley way.

    I’m going to tell everyone you’re my friend when you get all famous and stuff. I’ll be like, “Oh yeah…well, I knew Shannon BEFORE she took Martha’s place on the totem pole. So booyah.”

    Booyah is just for emphasis.

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      Certainly feel free to pace yourself about telling everyone you’re my friend before i get famous, since that will be…..let me see….never. 🙂

      Can you make these for the boys and your lovely wife, maybe? Because then it’s like i’m there also with you guys. In red and green ball format.

  • Reply movita beaucoup December 11, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Oh, man. I need these. I need the cookbook, I need to make these truffles, I need to… arg! There is a lot of need here. I’m so overwhelmed that I am going to put on my pyjamas and turn on the Food Network (to watch other people cook).

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      In a baking school way, you need this cookbook. Just for a twisted perspective on things. Like how fruity pebbles are a perfectly acceptable cookie ingredient. or why layering apple pies with cake and cheesecake is a good idea. It’s important stuff.
      I love watching other people cook while i do not cook. it’s brilliant.

  • Reply Lindsey February 14, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks for the detailed recipe post. I made these from the recipe on Momofuku Milk Bar’s site and the cookbook that has more precise measurements in grams. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear to me from reading that the “cake scraps” are after cutting (2) 6″ rounds from the 1/4 sheet pan of cake so I made a double recipe of the cake which made 40 large cake truffles. May try your smaller 8″ x 8″ cake recipe next time.

    Also, the rolling in white chocolate was the toughest part for me. They didn’t turn out as pretty as yours but still delicious!

    • Reply shannon March 22, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Hi Lindsey, thanks for writing! I’m happy your truffles turned out delicious (as they should!). I agree – the white chocolate roll is the most difficult part, but it’s all practice, i think.

      The smaller cake recipe for these is a good one: cake truffles are so rich and decadent, that having a ton on hand is daunting unless you’re taking them to a party.

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