This funfetti cake with cream cheese frosting is a less sweet version of the childhood favorite. Popularized by Betty Crocker cake mixes and revitalized by Milkbar New York in the early 2000’s, funfetti cake is a delicious vanilla sponge studded with colorful sprinkles. It’s a celebration in pastry form!
I first fell in love with New York City by reputation. Growing up on the west coast, everything about New York life seemed foreign and fascinating to me. I used to watch “Hey Arnold” and marvel at the depiction of elementary school children taking the public bus by themselves. New Yorkers seemed to possess so much grit and confidence.
Everyone would tell me that I was romanticizing the city. New York is dirty and crowded, they’d say, and I’d be disappointed when I actually experience it. I finally met New York (for the first time in 2009) with one of my oldest friends in the world. We stayed with a friend on Staten Island (20 year olds trying to save money) and I vividly remember my first introduction to the city. Standing on the edge of the Staten Island ferry as we glided toward the Financial District, all lit up against the night sky, I was enchanted. The naysayers were wrong and New York did not disappoint.
I’ve made dozens of pilgrimages to the homeland since and several of those trips have been alongside my best friends; my sister and my mom. The girls’ first sojourn to The Big Apple was also their first time in the city, period. I had my list of places to show them but my mom and sister each came with their own docket of things to do, see, and eat. My sister [Jasmine], who is 9 years my junior, was obsessed with Milkbar at the time. Thanks to Jasmine, our trip was punctuated by dozens of funfetti cake truffles.
To this day, I can’t be near funfetti cake without remembering that amazing trip with my best friends. My love for New York and the company of my soul mates combined into one week. It was Heaven on Earth!
As much as I cherish that memory of funfetti cake in NYC, I generally stay away from that particular dessert. I find funfetti cake to be unnecessarily sweet and the frosting to be gritty and cloying; which I’m told is the proper consistency for American frosting. Unfortunately my palette disagrees with funfetti aficionado. After years of Jasmine begging me to bake funfetti cake from scratch, I finally gave in.
I adjusted the traditional cake and frosting recipe to my palette so that it’s less sweet and more well rounded. I use brown sugar and real vanilla in the cake base to balance the flavors without having to use imitation vanilla extract. The cream cheese frosting adds a balanced tang to the sweet buttermilk based cake. I love to be reminded of my funfetti experience in NYC and with this recipe I get to relive the moment without excess sweetness.
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a rimmed baking sheet (13X9) with parchment paper. Spray the paper with canola oil spray (or other cooking spray you have on hand).
Place the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment in place.
Whisk on medium speed, stopping a couple times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Whisk until the mixture looks like frosting, 3-4 minutes.
Stop the mixer, add the eggs, and whisk again on medium speed until the eggs and butter are combined and increased in volume, 4-5 minutes. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled, it will smooth out when you add the flour.
In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, canola oil, and vanilla extract.
With the mixer running on low, slowly stream the buttermilk mixture into the butter from the side of the bowl.
Whisk until fully combined, 2-3 minutes, stopping once to scrape down the bowl.
Stop the mixer and sprinkle the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt over the batter.
Mix the batter again on medium speed, until the flour is just mixed. Don’t overwork the batter at this point.
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, scatter the ⅓ cup sprinkles over the batter and fold in using a rubber spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet, use the rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly into the corners of the dish. Scatter the remaining 2 tablespoons of sprinkles over the top of the batter.
Bake the cake in the oven, on the center rack, until the cake is lightly browned, springs back to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with just a couple moist crumbs, 20-25 minutes. Note: check the cake after 15 minutes since oven temperatures vary.
Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a cooling rack while you prepare the frosting.
To make the frosting, cut the cream cheese and butter into cubes.
Place the cubes of cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment in place.
Whip on high speed until the butter and cream cheese are fully combined, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between mixing to combine all of the ingredients.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift the powdered sugar over the cream cheese and butter.
Put the bowl back on the mixer and mix on low speed until the sugar and butter/cream cheese are combined.
Add the vanilla to the frosting and whip to combine.
With the mixer running on low speed, slowly stream the heavy whipping cream into the bowl.
Continue to whip, on medium speed, until the ingredients are fully combined and the whisk leaves a trail in the frosting. Refrigerate until you’re ready to frost the cake.
When the cake has cooled, use an 8-inch round cake pan (or an 8 inch circle of cardboard) to cut 2 circles and 2 half circles from the 13X9 rectangle. You’ll use the half circle plus cake strips to build the middle layer.
Place one whole circle of cake on your serving tray or cake stand. Cover the top of the cake layer with ⅓ of the frosting. This will be a naked cake so you don’t need to frost the sides.
Place the two cake half circles (flat sides of the circle facing but not touching each other) on top of the frosted layer. Line up the edges of the half circle with the circle of cake below. You’ll have a gap in between your two half circles.
Cut appropriate sized strips of cake out of the remaining scraps and patchwork the cake strips in the center of the two half circles, filling the cake gap.
Top this layer with ½ of the remaining frosting.
Lay your last full circle on top of the frosted layer and frost with the remainder of the cream cheese frosting.
Scrape a palette knife against the outside of the cake to clean up any frosting that has squeezed out from the layers. This will create your naked cake look.
Top the cake with more sprinkles if you like and refrigerate for an hour before serving.