At 26-going-on-27, I’ve grown to love birthdays that feel like deep crow-footed, cheek-hurting smiles, that sound like clanging dishes and brassy laughter.
On birthdays, I need my family. We need a table to sit around to hold our leaning elbows. We need food, we need each other, but that’s all.
For children, though, birthdays have to involve some sort of event. Kids want to scarf down plasticky pizza, be mildly terrorized by an oversized animatronic mouse playing a banjo, and wallow in a germy ball pit. Or they want to light tiki torches, drink pineapple punch, and marco polo around a swimming pool until their fingers are wrinkly.
When I was little, my mom convinced me that I wanted to throw a cross-stitching birthday party.
Naturally, the most direct avenue to popularity among your elementary school friends is to invite them to something called a “party” and proceed to introduce them to the pastime of 70-year-old ladies everywhere.
When my birthday rolled around, my unsuspecting friends gathered around the coffee table and listened intently to the plan. Our goal was to pick a pattern and each cross-stitch a bookmark before cake and gifts. We dutifully chose the our favorite design, fussed with threading our needles, and got to work.
Well, turns out cross-stitching requires quite a bit of time. And, like, patience and stuff. Things that are in short supply for kids at birthday parties.
My friends faded fast. Soon we were stuffing our faces with cake, our half-finished bookmarks languishing in the needle-and-thread strewn living room.
Oh well. As long as there’s cake, right?
In that spirit, boy do I have a cake for you. This particular cake is an explosion of birthdayness. A “Funfetti” cheesecake on a vanilla wafer crust is topped with a layer of Funfetti cake, a layer of cake batter cookie dough, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry. Every layer contributes a little bit of birthday joy. The final product is scrumptious and outrageously festive.
I have more ridiculous birthday stories from when I was a child, because apparently it was impossible for me to have a normal, uneventful birthday party. But I’ll spread the love and save those for later. In the meantime, have some cake.
Describe one of your favorite (or least favorite) childhood birthday memories.
Birthday Cake Cheesecake
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, with chocolate sauce adapted from Bakers Royale
Yield: 24 mini cheesecakes or 1 full-sized cheesecake
45 vanilla wafers, finely processed into crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Small pinch of salt
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cake mix
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon sprinkles
1 Funfetti cake mix (or homemade yellow cake with sprinkles mixed in), prepared and baked in thin layers
melted chocolate (for topping)
whipped cream (for topping)
maraschino cherries (for topping)
Cake Batter Cookie Dough Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cake mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sprinkles
4-8 tablespoons water
Chocolate Pouring Sauce:
2/3 cups dark chocolate
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
4-5 tablespoons water, warm
Note on Scheduling: This is a great recipe to make over the course of a few days. You can make the Funfetti cake one day and freeze it, make the cookie dough disc another day and freeze it, make the cheesecake one day and refrigerate it, and then make your chocolate pouring sauce and assemble on the day you’ll serve the dessert.
Prepare your Funfetti cake: Mix and bake in 9-inch round cake pans according to box instructions and set aside to cool. Make one of these a pretty thin layer of cake — this will be the one you use on your cheesecake (be careful; a thinner layer will bake for less time). The other layer is extra; I tore mine up and froze it for future cake balls. After cooling, freeze your cake layer — it’s easier to work with when frozen.
Prepare your cheesecake: To make the cheesecake crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two mini or one full-sized cheesecake pan. Combine the cookie crumbs, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Press into a thin layer covering the bottom of your cheesecake pan(s).
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour and cake mix. Add in the vanilla and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Pour the filling into your cheesecake pan(s), leaving room for a cake and cookie dough layer on top of your cheesecake.
Bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, and the center moves only very slightly when the pan is lightly shaken (about 40 minutes for a full-sized cheesecake or 12-15 minutes for mini cheesecakes). Transfer to a wire cooling rack. Cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator and let cool at least 1 hour, until completely chilled and set.
Make the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Mix in salt, flour, cake mix, sprinkles, and vanilla. Add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each, until you reach cookie dough consistency. If making a full-sized cheesecake, line a 9-inch cake pan with plastic wrap and spread cookie dough in a disc in the pan. Freeze it until firm, about 15 minutes. If making mini cheesecakes, just chill the cookie dough until you’re ready to assemble your cakes.
Make the chocolate pouring sauce: Heat chocolate and cream together in a bowl set over simmering water. Let them sit for a few minutes before whisking them together to combine. Whisk in powdered sugar and then add 1 tablespoon of water at a time, mixing after each until you reach pouring consistency. Set the sauce aside and let it cool to warm.
Assemble the cheesecakes: If you’re making mini cheesecakes, use a round cookie cutter or a serrated knife to cut circles of Funfetti cake to fit on each mini cheesecake. Spread a little chocolate sauce on the top of each mini cheesecake before placing a cake round on each and gently pressing them down snugly. If you’re making a full-sized cheesecake, spread chocolate sauce over your cheesecake and just place full frozen cake layer on top and gently press down.
If making mini cheesecakes, spread cookie dough into the top of each well with the back of a spoon. If making a full-sized cheesecake, spread another thin layer of chocolate sauce on top of the cake layer to act as glue, and then take your frozen cookie dough disc and place it on top. Chill cheesecake(s) for about 30 minutes before gently unmolding them. Drizzle with melted chocolate and top with a dollop of whipped cream, sprinkles, and a maraschino cherry.