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Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

My hubs has a brithday coming up, and I traditionally make a cake. In the past I've made a yellow cake with praline topping and whipped cream, yellow cake layered with berries and stabilized whipped cream, and a raspberry-lemon take on the Boston Cream pie. He's not that big on chocolate cake or things like flourless chocolate cake or basic layer cake. He likes "homey" tasting things with fresh produce, if that makes any sense. I do a lot of upside down cakes, which he enjoys, but would like to branch out.

I asked for tips this year on what he might like, and he said "something fruity, with berries maybe, and maybe custard or cheesecake." Could you folks help me come up with something good (preferred tried and true recipes)?

My baking skills are OK; I can competently follow a recipe. I don't have any fancy piping bags or specialty equipment.

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  1. My go to summer birthday cake recipe is a strawberry custard cake. I use Rose Levy Berenbaum's amazing white velvet cake recipe, then split the layers and fill with chopped strawberries and custard/pastry cream. When I'm using local, in season strawberries, I don't even bother macerating the strawberries. Make the day before to let the custard soak into the cake a bit. It's super simple, but always a huge hit. And it's fun and easy to decorate! Here are a few versions I've done over the last couple of years. For the one that's actually frosted, I used the cooked flour frosting recipe that's been discussed on Home Cooking many a time.

    8 Replies
    1. re: TorontoJo

      That looks great. Could you give me an idea of how much custard and frosting to make sufficient for the four split layers?

      1. re: ChristinaMason

        Sure. If you are just doing custard in the middle layers, then one recipe of this custard (uncut with whipped cream) is sufficient:


        If you want to put custard on the top, you'll need to double the recipe or fold in whipped cream to make pastry cream.

        For the frosted version, a single recipe of the cooked flour frosting is more than enough, since the frosting is just going on the outside.

        Also a tip that I learned the hard way: for the layers, start with the strawberries first, then spread the custard over and in between the strawberries. If you go the other way around (which admittedly is easier), the next layer of cake won't adhere because it's sitting on top of the fruit rather than the custard.

          1. re: TorontoJo

            I was somewhat confused by your saying, "If you want to put custard on the top, you'll need to double the recipe or fold in whipped cream to make pastry cream," TorontoJo, because pastry cream has no cream, whipped or otherwise. I see that KAF has created this confusion with the recipe you linked, which looks entirely solid, but shame on them for screwing up the terminology. That recipe, minus the whipped cream, produces pastry cream. Folding whipped cream into pastry cream to lighten it turns it into diplomat cream; see http://www.joepastry.com/2013/making-...

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              Ah, interesting. I've always thought of pastry cream as custard with whipped cream folded into it. Thanks for the education!

              1. re: TorontoJo

                I think I'll add bourbon to the custard and use some brown sugar in it in place of the white. I think the mascarpone frosting sounds good, and I won't change it. What do you think?

                Just to clarify: (Assuming you do not use it on top), you do not add the whipped cream to the custard for sandwiching between the layers, right?

                1. re: ChristinaMason

                  That sounds delicious to me!

                  And I have made the filling both ways: plain custard and custard lightened with whipped cream. In general, I prefer the plain custard, especially if I'm frosting with a whipped cream frosting, but it's totally a personal preference. I just happen to LOVE custard in it's basic form.

                  Looking forward to hearing how your hubby's birthday cake turns out!

        1. p.s. flavors he enjoys include strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, bourbon, butter, cinnamon, cherries, oats, caramel, yogurt, honey

          1. I would recommend a cheesecake with fresh fruit or fruit sauce when served. A great NY style recipe:


            You can bake and chill the cheese cake, and garnish it with something different every night for a week (fresh berries, raspberry sauce, lemon curd. . .) and wrapped tightly, I've frozen the "other half" of this recipe for several months. Also great to have in the freezer in reserve when you just need an emergency desert!

            8 Replies
            1. re: autumm

              Hmm. I think a basic cheesecake with a topping would be a little too simple (and too much of the same flavor/texture going on). However, maybe I could incorporate some cream cheese into a pastry cream in a cake like TorontoJo suggested?

              1. re: ChristinaMason

                For the cake with the dots of frosting on top, I actually made a mascarpone whipped cream, which was really tasty:


                I still just used straight up custard for the inside layers, but the mascarpone frosting would have been awesome as the frosting.

                And given that he likes bourbon, I might consider modifying the recipe to use brown sugar instead of white, and add a couple of tablespoons of bourbon. Brown sugar bourbon mascarpone frosting sounds pretty damn good. :)

                1. re: TorontoJo

                  Rookie question, but do you think the mascarpone frosting would hold up if used to cover the entire cake (with custard between the layers)? Will it travel OK, or do I need to do anything to stabilize it (like add a little dissolved gelatin)? If so, when is the appropriate point to fold in the gelatin?

                  ETA: is there any reason the frosting recipe uses regular granulated sugar and not powdered? I like the brown sugar idea, but I have made brown sugar frosting before, and it was a bit gritty, despite beating the heck out of it.

                  1. re: ChristinaMason

                    Yes, mascarpone stabilizes the whipped cream. I make a lemon curd cake that uses mascarpone whipped cream mixed w/ lemon curd and it holds up fine w/ decorations, time, etc. It's delicious. Keep the cake refrigerated as much as possible but it'll be fine for the transport.

                    FWIW, I put the extra frosting in a zip lock bag so I can touch up anything on the cake that goes wrong in transport.

                      1. re: ChristinaMason

                        Yep, what chowser said. The mascarpone stabilizes the cream.

                        As for the granulated sugar, it's creamed with the cheese before adding the whipping cream, so it dissolves sufficiently. I would guess that brown sugar would do the same? If you want to try the brown sugar route, you could dissolve the sugar in a little bit of warmed cream and beat that with the cheese before adding in the rest of the chilled cream. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with using powdered sugar if you want to!

                        1. re: TorontoJo

                          Would it work to use powdered and just add some molasses? When I'm out of brown sugar, I sub granulated + molasses... but I don't know if the extra liquid in the frosting would throw things out of whack.

                          1. re: miss louella

                            I had that idea as well. Will report back on what I end up doing. Maybe a little bourbon in the regular mascarpone frosting would work.

            2. I love Tartine's strawberry Bavarian cAke. I have made it lots of time.i usually make a lemon and strawberry one but you can vary the fruits to what you have or are in season.
              I have also made berry tiramisu which is delicious and you could make it into cake form as well.
              I usually make the same cake as Torontojo and the cream part is mascarpone, sabayon and whipped cream. I soak cake with berry syrup, but cream on top and a few berries and continue layering. You can glaze the top with white chocolate ganache. This recipe was my inspiration.

              1 Reply
              1. re: DowntownJosie

                That sounds really good, too. Thanks---I'm saving.

              2. Since he likes cinnamon, perhaps a Cardamom cake with fresh fruit on the side - similar to this from the baking threads?

                1. Have you ever done tres leches cake? It's easy to make and the milks makes it so moist and light. Slightly different from custardy but perfect for summer. I serve it w/ a side of macerated berries but you can put them on top to make it pretty.


                  1. Spiral cake - Maybe using one of your tested recipes and assemble it differently, per the instructions here -- makes a large cake.


                    1. My latest obsession is this Basque cake, which would be delicious served with a fresh fruit salad. Described on this blog as "it was one of the best plates of food I have ever eaten." Maybe too homey for a birthday cake, but this is something that seems to be a fairly challenging recipe with a great payoff taste-wise. For piping the batter and pastry cream, you can use zip lock bags with the corner cut off.


                      9 Replies
                      1. re: roxlet

                        Aagh, that looks so good, thanks for sharing it! I'm going to make it this weekend for a party and serve it with strawberries and cream.

                        1. re: TorontoJo

                          If you do, please report! It's #1 on my baking list and I'd love a first-hand report.

                          1. re: roxlet

                            I was thinking the same thing--it looks really good. I love the idea of pastry cream baked into cake. For a birthday cake, I'm thinking you could probably make some diplomat cream w/ the leftover pastry cream and frost the cake, decorate with berries.

                            1. re: chowser

                              That sounds awesome! Great idea.

                            2. re: roxlet

                              Oh, I'm definitely making it this weekend and will report back! Have you made it before, roxlet? I'm trying to decide whether I can make it on Friday to serve Saturday or whether I'm better off making it Saturday morning. We're doing a Wimbledon picnic, hence the strawberries and cream. :)

                              1. re: TorontoJo

                                No, I haven't, but it's definitely on my must make list.

                              2. re: roxlet

                                I made this yesterday! Reported on it over on the baking thread so as not to hijack ChristinaMason's thread. :)


                            3. What about a pavlova? Or a meringue layer cake with whipped cream and berries?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Savour

                                If you take this route, this recent blog post about Passion Fruit Pavlova by Amy Thielen along with the recipes she used, may be helpful / inspiring.


                                1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                  This is one of my favorite desserts I've ever made. I made another version with mixed berries and lemon curd but it was a little less structurally sound. Still tasty though!


                              2. If you have good peaches where you are, this Peach Custard Cake/Pie is delicious. Even better when served with fresh raspberries or a light, tart raspberry sauce, or berries can be subbed for peaches.


                                1 Reply
                                  1. Made this recently and it was really tasty. You can assemble completely the night before you serve it.


                                    1. My go-to fruity festive cake is the Mango Trifle from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. I bake the batter in a jelly roll pan and then cut it into three rectangles which I stack with the mangoes. Much easier and fewer pans to clean up. I also skip the step where you are supposed to cook the mango and it tastes just as good, maybe even better. I cover the whole cake with whipped cream and then sprinkle toasted sliced almonds on top. It is light, refreshing, and delicious.

                                      My aunt made it for her friend's 50th birthday party and it was such a hit that someone immediately offered her $200 to make three for her daughter's baby shower. Since then, she has reported back that adding a layer of lemon curd with the mangoes helps keep the mangoes in place and adds a custardy element that is well received.


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: metaphora

                                        That sounds good. I had a wonderful trifle at a party that was made from angel cake, lemon custard, berries, and crème de cassis. I only had few bites but it was pure heaven.

                                      2. Thanks again everyone for sharing such great ideas! In the end I made a cake similar to what TorontoJo suggested: RLB's white velvet cake, King Arthur's custard, mascarpone whipped cream frosting, and fruit in the layers.

                                        I hollowed out the layers a bit so that the filling wouldn't ooze out the sides. Bottom layer was a homemade rhubarb peach compote topped with fresh chopped strawberries. Second layer was chopped strawberries topped with a 50/50 blend of the custard and frosting (I was nervous about the consistency of the plain custard), and the top layer was the compote topped again with the custard-frosting mix. I frosted the whole cake in the mascarpone icing, to which I had added a little bourbon. I also made the custard with brown sugar instead of white and added a couple Tbsp. of bourbon. The flavor was subtle but delicious.

                                        And most importantly, the birthday boy liked it.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: ChristinaMason

                                          Oh, that sounds and looks wonderful! Love the addition of the rhubarb peach compote. And I'm going to try making custard with brown sugar next time. Glad the birthday boy was happy!

                                          1. re: ChristinaMason

                                            Lovely job! How did the birthday boy like it?

                                            1. re: roxlet

                                              He liked it a lot--even finished my slice. :) Thanks.

                                            2. re: ChristinaMason

                                              That is beautiful and looks perfect for a summer birthday.