We started by loosening a quarter-sheet of plain vanilla cake from its pan using a plastic pastry scraper. (Pro tip: cake is easier to cut and nestle into a cake ring if it’s been refrigerated overnight, ideally immediately after baking to lock in moisture). One quarter-sheet will make enough layers for a six-inch cake.
How to Cut 6-inch Rounds
How do you cut three circles out of one small rectangular cake? By following this nifty chart! Tosi assured us that you really only need the top layer to look particularly nice—the bottom layer will actually consist of two half-circles smushed together, with errant cake scraps from the space in between the circles filling in any holes.
Cutting Circles Out of Cake
This is how it looks on a cake.
Building the Bottom Layer
The bottom layer is made from the two half-circle cutouts. Don’t worry about the space in the middle—just take some of those cake scraps and cram ‘em in between the two big pieces. Remember—no one sees the bottom layer! At this point, we also wrapped a strip of clear acetate around the inside of the cake mold to help keep the cake in place when the mold comes off.
Now that the bottom layer is in place, it’s time for the first round of the “soak”, i.e. any strongly flavored liquid that’s sprinkled on top of the cake to keep it moist and amp up the flavor. In this case, it’s lemon juice, which will play off of the lemon cheesecake filling (more on that later), though other soaks can include anything from liquor to coffee to fruit juice to flavored milk.
The first filling is liquid lemon cheesecake, which is basically lemon curd mixed with underbaked cheesecake. Tosi recommends plopping 2-3 heaping spoonfuls on and smoothing them over the cake in a figure-8 motion with the back of a spoon. Try to keep the spoon on the cake at all times—the more you pick it up, the more the surface of the cake lifts up and tears, too.
A slightly more advanced filling-smoothing technique is “the Zamboni,” which involves angling the tip of your spoon slightly down at the edge of the mold and smoothing the filling in a circular motion.
Now it’s time for a layer of crunch—in this case, Milk Bar’s signature “milk crumbs,” which are basically little pebbles of butter, flour, sugar, melted white chocolate, and milk powder. Other crunch/crumb fillings might include pretzel crumbs, hazelnut crunch, or candied pumpkin seeds. Press them down gently into the filling layer so they stick and keep a mostly even height.
Now the cakes have been crumbed and are ready for the final top layer of filling.
The finishing touch (to the first layer, that is) is a coating of bright-red pickled Tristar strawberry jam, whose acidity helps cut some of the strong sweet flavors below it. The second filling should complement the first (in this case, the lemon cheesecake), but have a distinct taste of its own.
Tosi checks our progress.
After the first full layer has been constructed, we stacked a second sheet of acetate on top of the first because the finished cake will be higher than the ring mold.
How to Stack Your Cake: A Visual
Okay, now your first full layer is stacked! Here’s a refresher in case you forgot what comes next. Repeat the soak, filling 1, crumb, and filling 2 steps for the second layer.
This is what the almost-finished product looks like. Save the prettiest of your cake rounds for the top layer. It’s totally okay if one of the filling layers oozes out a bit—it gives your cake character.
Momofuku’s signature move for layer cakes is to frost the top layer, but not the sides (remember when the strawberry filling trickled upwards? That’s the character I’m talking about—show it off!). This frosting is a pickled strawberry buttercream, which is much lighter and sweeter tasting than the pickled strawberry jam layer. Also: it’s pretty in pink.
The final touch is a top layer of milk crumbs. Some opt to coat the entire surface of the cake with the nubs…
...while others take a more light-handed approach.