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Monday, April 1, 2013

Hot Milk Cake

I remember my mother baking only three or four varieties of cake.  She took this cake to picnics, potlucks and ward dinners. She baked dozens in the months before my wedding, keeping them in the freezer, so she could serve strawberry shortcake at the reception. Except for altitude fussiness, it has been a reliable recipe, first for my mother, and later for Betsy and me. However, I find it to be highly sensitive to altitude changes. During all the years I lived at sea level, I couldn't successfully bake this cake; it fell flatter than a pancake. I ate it only when I returned home to Utah but didn't get to enjoy it in the last years of my mom's illness and after her death. At the time, I wasn't educated about altitudes and baking so I went for a decades without baking this cake. In those years the internet either didn't exist or was in its infancy so I couldn't do a google search, which today turns up hundreds of versions. Early in this century I found in the library a book (I believe this is the title: Mennonite Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley) in which I came upon a recipe for Hot Milk Cake. I reasoned the elevation of the Shenandoah Valley would be closer to sea level and baked the cake. The cake was evocative of my mother's and it became a kind of "comfort cake" for me. I'm including both versions of the cake here.




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Hot Milk Cake, high elevations


1 1/4 c milk (this has been baked with skim, 2 %, and whole milk as well as reconstituted powdered milk, but I use whole milk nowadays)
1 cube butter (1/2 c)
4 eggs
1 3/4 c sugar
2 c flour
2 1/4 teas baking powder (at Betsy’s elevation, see note below for altitude recommendations)
1 teas vanilla extract   
1/2 teas almond extract

Place the milk and butter in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan and the butter melts. You’ll also see steam rising off the milk.

Beat the 4 eggs and sugar together. Add the flour and beat for one minute. Add the hot milk mixture and mix well. Sprinkle the baking powder over the top of the batter and mix in well. Stir in vanilla and almond.

Pour batter into a 9 X 13 cake pan. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick poked in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Notes from Colette: This recipe is so old that several instructions need discussion.

1--Butter--The recipe doesn’t specify unsalted butter which is the current butter of choice. My mom and I baked this for years using salted butter. If you choose to use unsalted butter, I’d advise you to add 1/4 teas salt, although I haven’t tested it. I'm told by professionals that unsalted butter is usually of higher quality.
2--Baking powder--We are instructed to sprinkle this over the top of the batter which is a pretty odd practice. However, I still do it and it works. If you prefer, stir the baking powder into the flour before adding it to the batter. 
3--Altitude effect-- Betsy lives 500 feet lower than I do therefore I use 1/8 teas less baking powder than she does. Look your elevation up on the internet and if it is higher than 5500 feet you may want to decrease by another 1/8 teas, making it 2 teas of baking powder. I haven't tested this recipe at levels higher than 5500 feet (I know my mom baked it at that elevation). If you have any question about figuring out your elevation or exactly how much baking powder to put in, post it in comments, or call me. Most of you will have my number.

See topping recipe below.

Hot Milk Cake, low elevations


1 c milk
1/3 c butter
4 eggs
2 c sugar
2 1/2 c flour
3 teas baking powder
1/2 teas vanilla extract
1/2 teas almond extract

Place the milk and butter in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan and the butter melts. You’ll also see steam rising off the milk. Beat the 4 eggs and sugar together. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla and almond extract. 

Add the hot milk mixture and mix well.

Pour batter into a 9 X 13 cake pan. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick poked in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let cool.

Hot Milk Cake is compatible with a variety of toppings. Use it as a sweet shortcake. Top with any sliced fruit, plain or in simple syrup, or a berry coulis. You can frost it with chocolate or caramel frosting. Most summers, I omit the almond flavoring and use the cake in a lemon curd/blackberry trifle (which will be posted at some point). This is my favorite, bringing back memories of my mother's irritation when I picked sweetened nuts off the top of the cake and plopped them in my mouth.

Broiled Coconut Frosting


6 T butter
2/3 c brown sugar
1/4 c whipping cream or canned (evaporated whole) milk
1 1/4 c shredded sweetened coconut
1/2-1 c nuts, chopped
1/2 teas vanilla

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add all additional ingredients and mix together. Cook for about 5 minutes at medium-low heat or until the sugar is dissolved. Spread on cake and place under broiler until slightly browned, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn. You will have better luck if the cake has cooled somewhat before you place this topping on it. If the cake is hot, the topping melts and slides down the sides.


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