Full disclosure: My birthday is March 20, and you’re welcome to bake me a cake if you like. I accept vanilla with seven-minute frosting, raspberry mousse layer cake, and anything with passionfruit.
As it is months away from the blessed event, you might say: “Po, really no need to be making birthday cake anything. Just stick with the calendar and lean into fall and bake pumpkin…everything.”
And I would reply: “Pumpkin, check. See yesterday’s double chocolate pumpkin loaf. And I’m planning to make a tahini cardamom pumpkin pie this weekend (oh yes, that does sound swoon-worthy, doesn’t it?), so I am on board with the season. I’m even wearing a flannel shirt as I type this. I’ve been burning a pumpkin-scented candle every night this week (go on, judge me, but my apartment smells like an Anthropologie store and I love it).”
But then I’d go on to tell you the funny story of yoga class on Tuesday morning, when I was balancing in one leg in tree pose, holding my hands in front of my chest, trying to be a “strong tall proud tree” and trying not to snort with laughter at that directive and trying to find my inner calm and trying not to make a grocery list in my head and trying to avoid wanting to adjust my leggings and trying to exemplify a graceful yoga goddess. You know how it goes.
So there I am sweating mildly (okay, profusely) and gamely acting like it’s normal to channel a tree at 7 AM when my instructor tells us to “bend forward and place our shoulders on either sides of our feet”. I give her a quizzical look (what the eff? I may not be the most flexible human but that just doesn’t sound possible). She (bubbly, blond, hilarious as she is) erupts into laughter and clarifies that she meant put our hands on either side of our feet. “I’m sorry!” she laughs. “I swear, I’m blaming my brain this morning on the bag of birthday cake Oreos I ate last night before bed.”
Well. All I could think about for the rest of yoga class was birthday cake Oreos. And inner calm, too, obviously.
I was not given Oreos on the regular as a kid, and I’m grateful now for that. At the time it felt like the height of deprivation, a cruel punishment visited upon me by my mother. Sometimes I wander the grocery store aisles and remember that I’m an adult now and I could actually buy Oreos any time I want! But my inner obedient 5-year-old persists, and I rarely do. And if I were to buy some, how could I ever choose? The array of Oreo options nowadays is insane: golden Oreos, chocolate cream Oreos, jelly doughnut Oreos, peanut butter Oreos, and so on.
I digress. The point is that birthday cake Oreos actually sounded intriguing to me — but I wasn’t going to buy them. So I made my own.
The challenge is in creating a homemade Oreo that replicates the original closely, tasting like cake batter without being cloyingly sweet or tasting too fake. I also wanted the filling to be thick and firm enough to hold up to crispy chocolate wafer cookies. My first attempt—using a cream cheese buttercream-type frosting for the filling—tasted good but was too soft, causing the filling to squish out the sides, which was messy. Points were docked by my taste testers.
Round 2: I added some marshmallow Fluff, thinking that would give a thicker, whipped consistency to the filling. Win! But Fluff is awfully sweet, so I kept the cream cheese, which offsets the sweetness with some tang.
To replicate the distinctive “birthday cake” flavor, you need to use imitation vanilla extract. This is the only time I will advocate using the imitation version over the real thing — but if you want to achieve that distinctive funfetti-esque flavor, you need it.
(Another option is to flavor your filling with this weird but wonderful Princess Cake emulsion, which I buy from King Arthur Flour. It’s what bakeries use in their sheet cakes to get that really distinctive bakery cake taste.)
If you are a purist and just want a delicious filling with nothing artificial, just use real vanilla and sprinkles and it’ll be just as fun! It’s a choose-your-own-adventure cookie. You can also use some bourbon in a pinch, which would turn these cookies into a different (booze-soaked) adventure altogether.
Homemade Birthday Cake Oreos
For the chocolate cookies
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (120g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup black cocoa powder (I use this double Dutch version here)
2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
For the filling
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces marshmallow fluff
3 cups (567g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon imitation vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles or nonpareils
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt and mix well.
Add the egg and beat, scraping down the sides as needed, until fluffy.
Add the cocoa powder and flour and mix until the dough pulls away cleanly from the side of the bowl. Add a bit more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky.
The dough will be quite soft — you can chill it slightly if you want to make it a little easier to roll with.
Roll the dough out (I use a silicone rolling mat as the dough can be sticky) to about 1/4” thickness. Liberally dusting the dough with cocoa powder will help keep it from sticking — using cocoa instead of flour will keep the cookies chocolate-y.
Use a round cookie cutter or scalloped round cutter to cut out the cookies. Place them on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 9 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely while you make the filling.
For the filling: Beat together all the ingredients except for the sprinkles in a stand mixer. Once the filling is fluffy and well-mixed, fold in the sprinkles.
Spread a generous tablespoon of filling onto a cookie then sandwich it with another cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used.