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Christina Tosi's Valentine's Day Layer Cake
Christina Tosi's Valentine's Day Layer Cake
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
print recipe
Rating:
4.352941 (17 rated)
Prep time:
Servings:
8-12

"There's nothing sweeter than making someone you care about a Valentine's Day cake perfectly suited to his or her taste," says Christina Tosi of Milk Bar.

Technique tip: You can make all of the components ahead of assembling and then layer your cake up the day before you want to serve it (so it has time to set up!)

Swap option: You can substitute any of your favorite fillings as a cake layer.

Special equipment: Stand mixer with the paddle attachment, 6" cake ring, 2 strips acetate, each 3" wide and 20" long (you can order this online).

Ingredients

  • Vanilla Cake (Makes 1 quarter sheet pan)

    • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
    • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/2 cup buttermilk
    • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 1½ cups cake flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Chocolate Cake (Makes 1 quarter sheet pan)

    • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
    • 1½ cups sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/2 cup buttermilk
    • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3 tablespoons fudge sauce
    • 1¼ cups cake flour
    • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona
    • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
    • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
    • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Birthday Cake Crumb (Makes about 2¼ cups)

    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1½ tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
    • 3/4 cup cake flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
    • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
    • 1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
  • Chocolate Crumb (Makes about 2½ cups)

    • 2/3 cup flour
    • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2/3 cup cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Milk Crumb (Makes about 2¼ cups)

    • 1/2 cup milk powder
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
    • 1/4 cup milk powder
    • 3 ounces white chocolate, melted
  • Pickled Strawberry Jam (Makes about 1½ cups)

    • 1/2 cup strawberry puree
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon pectin
    • 12 tablespoons kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar
    • 1/4 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • Milk Liquid Cheesecake (Makes 1½ cups)

    • 8 ounces cream cheese
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • 1 egg
  • Birthday Cake Frosting (Makes about 2 cups)

    • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
    • 2 ounces cream cheese
    • 1 tablespoon glucose
    • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
    • 1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
    • 1¼ cups confectioners' sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 pinch baking powder
    • 1 pinch citric acid
  • Pickled Strawberry Frosting (Makes about 1 cup)

    • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 pinch citric acid
    • 1/4 recipe Pickled Strawberry Jam (above)
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

CAKES

For the vanilla cake: 

1. Heat the oven to 350°F.

2. 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 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high again for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.

3. On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for 4 to 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.

4. On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45 to 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.

5. Coat a quarter sheet pan with nonstick spray and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a silicone nonstick mat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Give the bottom of your sheet pan a tap on the countertop to even out the layer.

6. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn't pass these tests.

7. Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don't worry, it's not cheating). The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

For the chocolate cake: 

1. Heat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.

3. On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. There should be no streaks of fat or liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

4. Add the fudge sauce and mix on low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

5. With a spatula, stir the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. On very low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix on low speed for another 45 seconds to ensure that any little lumps of cocoa powder and cake flour are incorporated.

6. Pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a nonstick silicone mat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn't pass these tests.

7. Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don't worry, it's not cheating). The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

CRUMBS

For the birthday cake crumb: 

1. Heat the oven to 300°F.

2. Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until well combined.

3. 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.

4. Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or scarfing by the handful. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

For the chocolate crumb: 

1. Heat the oven to 300°F.

2. 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.

3. Add the butter and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.

4. Spread the clusters on a parchment or nonstick silicone baking mat 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.

5. Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or eating. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

For the milk crumb: 

1. Heat the oven to 250°F.

2. Combine the 1/2 cup milk powder, the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Toss with your hands to mix. Add the melted butter and toss, using a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

3. Spread the clusters on a parchment or nonstick baking mat-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes. The crumbs should be sandy at that point, and your kitchen should smell like buttery heaven. Cool the crumbs completely.

4. Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than 1/2-inch in diameter, and put the crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the 1/4 cup milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

5. Pour the white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed. Then continue tossing them every 5 minutes until the white chocolate hardens and the clusters are no longer sticky. The crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.

FILLINGS

For the pickled strawberry jam: 

1. Whisk together the sugar, pectin, and salt in a medium pot or saucepan. Slowly whisk in the strawberry puree, sherry wine vinegar, and white wine vinegar and bring to a full, rolling boil. Reduce the heat and cook at a low boil for 2 minutes to activate the pectin and turn the puree into a beautiful jam.

2. Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove the jam from the heat. The jam can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

For the milk liquid cheesecake: 

1. Heat the oven to 300°F.

2. Put the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. add the sugar and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar has been completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Whisk together the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, then whisk in the egg until the slurry is homogenous.

4. With the mixer on medium-low speed, stream in the egg slurry. paddle for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and loose. scrape down the sides of the bowl.

5. Line the bottom and sides of a 6 x 6-inch baking pan with plastic wrap. pour the cheesecake batter into the pan, put the pan in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Gently shake the pan. The cheesecake should be firmer and more set toward the outer boundaries of the baking pan but still be jiggly and loose in the dead center. if the cheesecake is jiggly all over, give it 5 minutes more. If the cheesecake rises more than a 1/4-inch or begins to brown, take it out of the oven immediately.

6. Cool the cheesecake completely, to finish the baking process and allow the cheesecake to set. The final product will resemble a cheesecake, but it will be pipeable and pliable enough to easily spread or smear, while still having body and volume. Once cool, the cheesecake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

FROSTINGS

For the birthday cake frosting: 

1. Combine the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

2. With the mixer on its lowest speed, stream in the glucose, corn syrup, and vanilla. Crank the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and a glossy white. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add the confectioners' sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid and mix on low speed just to incorporate them into the batter. Crank the speed back up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until you have a brilliant stark white, beautifully smooth frosting. It should look just like it came out of a plastic tub at the grocery store! Use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

For the pickled strawberry frosting: 

1. Combine the butter and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale yellow.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together the citric acid, pickled strawberry jam, and kosher salt.

3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. On low speed, gradually stream in the strawberry mixture. Use Immediately.

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Make Valentine's Day layer cake to set a romantic mood

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