Q: My mother has been looking for a recipe that her mom used to make. It's called Hot Milk Cake. She said that her mom probably started making it around the 1940s when she lived in Virginia. None of my grandmother's siblings know what cookbook this recipe may have originated from and can't locate a copy within the family itself. If you have heard of any recipes for this cake, could you please let me know? My mother would be delighted and so would I as I have heard it is delicious and would love to try it!
—Mary O'Heron, Oswego
A: I found hot milk cake recipes in the Chicago Tribune archive from Ruth Ellen Church, the longtime food editor who sometimes wrote under the pen name of Mary Meade. She saw it as an easier, surer alternative to the standard sponge cake.
"The old fashioned hot milk cake isn't a true sponge cake in that it has baking powder to supplement the leavening power of its eggs, but baking powder or not, it is a sponge textured beauty, and many cooks have better success with it than with the true all-egg sponge cake,'' Church wrote in a 1955 Mary Meade column that called for making the cake with hot chocolate milk. (You could, of course, use regular milk to make a plain cake.)
Eleven years later, in 1967, Church was back with a cake recipe featuring evaporated milk, a recipe developed by the Evaporated Milk Association, an industry group that later merged with the American Dairy Products Institute.
"Older cooks will remember the popular hot milk sponge cake of the years before cake mixes,'' the Mary Meade column began. "Might it not be fun to make one again, from a recipe updated and improved? A high-rise cake with the moist, spongy texture expected of a sponge cake?"
I'll give you both of those recipes below. I haven't had time to test either in the kitchen, so proceed carefully. You might want to try out the recipe first before presenting the cake to your mother.
The earliest reference I could find to "hot milk cake" in the Tribune's archives dated from Jan. 15, 1911, and the "Page for Practical Housekeepers." Favorite recipes from readers was one of the page's features. This super-short recipe for hot milk cake offers a template of sorts to the basic cake. Credited with the recipe is a person listed only as "L.L.M."; not sure if a 1911 "cupful" equals today's 8-ounce cup measure but give it a try.
"Hot Milk Cake. One cupful of sugar, two eggs, one cupful of flour, pinch of salt, one teaspoonful of baking powder and one-half cupful of hot milk. Beat well and bake. A little grated chocolate may be added for a dark cake or a few nuts or cocoanut."
Hot chocolate milk cake
A Mary Meade recipe from the Chicago Tribune of Dec. 28, 1955, complete with the idiosyncratic spelling ("thoroly,") used by the newspaper then.
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 cup hot chocolate milk
1.Sift flour, baking powder and salt three times. Beat eggs until thick and lemon colored. Gradually add sugar, beating constantly; add lemon juice. Fold in sifted ingredients, a small amount at a time. Add hot milk and stir quickly until thoroly blended. Turn into ungreased 10-inch tube pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until cake tests done. Invert and cool 1 hour. Remove from pan and sprinkle with sifted confectioners' sugar. Garnish with pecan halves if you wish. Serve with a sauce made of the chocolate milk.