May 22, 2021
New Series: Baking for the Soul
This is the first installment of my “Baking for the Soul” series. Each recipe in this series has a theme related to an occasion or sentiment in life. Baking is more than just a sweet treat, although delighting my tastebuds is DEFINITELY part of the motivation! But the process of baking – measuring out ingredients, mixing, and tasting – expresses something beyond words. It brings us into the deliciousness of the present moment. And furthermore, it connects us to each other because baked goods are meant to be shared.
Celebrating my YouTube Launch
The theme for this episode of Baking for the Soul is CELEBRATE! It’s not my birthday yet…but it’s my YouTube channel’s birthday! I’ve been wanting to create a channel as a creative outlet for my two favorite forms of creativity – filming & cooking. It’s taken me years to learn how to film & edit to a standard that I feel comfortable putting out into the world. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word though because this is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve EVER done in my life. The thing is though, I could keep perfecting my craft FOREVER. So I’m celebrating this baby step of having the courage to start. Be sure to watch the behind the scenes of my video for some more thoughts about not letting perfectionism take over my life anymore. Following your dreams is truly the greatest forms of self-development that there is.
I wanted to bake something that represented celebration, and the first thing that popped into my mind was a Funfetti cake. The funny thing is though, I don’t think I’ve ever had Funfetti cake before! It typically comes in a box and I haven’t made a boxed cake since I was about 10.
Funfetti is actually trademarked by Pillsbury, so I’m going to call my version a confetti celebration/birthday cake. Funfetti was first introduced in 1989 as a white boxed cake with sprinkles in the batter, and it has become a popular celebration cake ever since, especially with children. The name comes from a combination of the words fun + confetti. The ingredients of Pillsbury’s Funfetti cake are absolutely dreadful, so this homemade version is a sweet treat but with natural ingredients.
I also try to avoid any artificial dyes in my food, so I tried naturally colored sprinkles (a few notes on those below). I just couldn’t resist making a Funfetti inspired cake though because sprinkles are like little edible confetti!
Confetti’s Italian Origins
I am very into Italian cuisine because I am fascinated by all of the traditional regional cuisine. I often find that American food lacks the same meaning behind a dish, but I was happy to find that confetti itself has Italian origins.
Leave it to me to find an Italian connection anywhere, even with something as American as Funfetti! While this recipe is 100% American, the sprinkles remind me of confetti, which just happen to be an Italian invention (something I didn’t know before)!
It turns out that the concept of confetti has been around since the Middle Ages in Northern Italy. The earliest forms of confetti were objects like oranges, eggs, or coins thrown into the crowds during carnival festivities. One of these festivals, The Battle of the Oranges, is still practiced today in Ivrea, Italy (a town north of Turin).
Eventually, confetti evolved into little candies. Large objects were potentially harmful, and candies were expensive, so an ingenious businessman from Milan, Enrico Mangili, started selling the paper byproducts from his silk manufacturing plant as confetti in 1875. And that is how the modern-day paper confetti that we associate with all sorts of celebrations came into being.
Language note: in Italian confetti are candy-coated almonds for weddings or baptisms. Coriandoli is the Italian word for confetti.
This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook (affiliate link): Yellow Butter Cake (page 149) and Swiss Meringue Buttercream (page 386).
Martha Stewart’s Yellow Butter Cake calls for cake flour, but I didn’t have any on hand. I read that the best substitute for cake flour is to replace 15% with potato starch (you could also use corn starch).
For the cake batter, you could use the following:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup potato starch (or corn starch)
Many sprinkles are made with very unhealthy ingredients, such as palm oil and artificial dyes. I tried using sprinkles naturally colored with fruit and vegetables, but unfortunately, the color did not hold up after baking. So if you want to have the confetti look in the batter
Birthday cake flavor
Birthday cake flavor is SO popular in the US – almost everything from ice cream to Oreos seems to have a birthday cake version. It’s hard to describe exactly what “birthday cake flavor” is, but mostly it is described as vanilla-flavored. But to me, there’s a little more to birthday cake flavor than just vanilla, and I found that 1/2 tsp of almond extract does the trick.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
I personally find American buttercream cloyingly sweet because it’s made with heaps of powdered sugar to give it volume. Swiss Meringue Buttercream on the other hand is decadent, yet not too sugary. is easy to make and uses granulated sugar and tempered egg whites to make a meringue base to which lots of butter is added.
Homemade Funfetti Birthday Cake (or Cupcakes) with Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Mixer with whisk and paddle attachments
- Mixing bowls
- 9" cake pans (x2) or cupcake pan
- Measuring cups & spoons
- Saucepan (for DIY double boiler)
- Candy thermometer
- Pastry bag and piping tip (optional)
Cake or Cupcake batter
- 1 cup butter room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup potato starch or cornstarch
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1/2 cup sprinkles
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Take out the eggs and butter to soften to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit / 160° Celsius (fan) or 180° Celsius (electric).
- Butter cake pans and sprinkle with some flour (shake off excess) or line pans with parchment paper. If making cupcakes, prepare the pan with cupcake liners.
For the cake batter
- Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, potato starch, baking powder, salt) and set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.
- Add the vanilla and almond extracts.
- Alternate adding the flour and then milk in three parts with the mixer on low speed.
- Mix in the sprinkles (can omit if desired).
- Add the batter to the cake or cupcake pan.
- Bake the cake or cupcakes until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
- Mini cupcakes: 10 minutes
- Regular cupcakes: 20 minutes
- Cake: 30 to 35 minutes
- Allow the cake and cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Place a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water to make a DIY double boiler. The water should be shallow and not touching the bottom of the bowl.
- Heat the egg whites and sugar, whisking constantly until the sugar melts and the temperature reaches 160° Fahrenheit (71° Celsius).
- Whip the sugar and egg whites in a mixer with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form (10-15 minutes). If stiff peaks still aren't forming (see video), put the bowl in the fridge to cool for a bit.
- Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter 1 – 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Add the vanilla and mix well for 2 minutes until smooth.
- Troubleshooting: if the frosting starts to separate, just keep mixing for 3-5 minutes until smooth.
- Frost the cake or cupcake as desired.
- Keep up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature.
- If desired, the frosted cake or cupcakes can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Let defrost for around 30 minutes before eating.