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If you’re looking for the fluffy, perfect vanilla-scented cake your grandma (and mine) used to make, this recipe for Hot Milk Cake is definitely the one. Made with scalded milk, this lovely, old-fashioned cake is soft, sweet, and absolutely foolproof.
Hot Milk Cake makes an ideal birthday cake, too. Dressed up in a million different ways or eaten as-is, one bite will take you back to your childhood. For that reason, this time-tested family recipe is the nearest and dearest to my heart.
Maurice Sendak said it best in his book “In the Night Kitchen:” milk in the batter, milk in the batter, we bake cake and nothing’s the matter! He’s right. When there’s Hot Milk Cake, very little can go wrong.
What is the history of Hot Milk Cake?
One of the first sightings of Hot Milk Cake was in 1911, but it continued to grow in popularity due to it’s simplicity. It really became a well-known recipe during the Great Depression, where modest food had to stretch to feed hungry families, and every last drop of food was used and saved.
Grandmothers and mothers had to make do with what they had, and often the last of the day’s milk was used to make this simple cake for special occasions.
Can you make Hot Milk Cake less sweet?
Readers have successfully made this cake with as little as half the amount of sugar, in case you’re looking to cut back on your sugar intake, or you’re planning to serve it with my caramel coconut topping, which I share below.
How do you make Hot Milk Cake light and fluffy?
For me, the secret to this recipe, which makes cake lighter, is to make sure you beat the egg mixture for almost 10 minutes. Also, when I have it, I use cake flour and it makes a huge difference in the flavor and the texture!
Can you make Hot Milk Cake with buttermilk?
Some cooks have reported that their cakes fall when substituting buttermilk for the regular milk, even when adjusting the leavening ingredients. Until I have a chance to test out more versions of this cake, I wouldn’t recommend a substitution with buttermilk.
What are some variations of Hot Milk Cake?
More often than not, I make this original recipe, but there are so many other beautiful ways to make this versatile cake I have to give you my favorites:
- Hot Milk Cake for breakfast: Try substituting out half of the flour for whole wheat flour, then add dates, dried figs, or walnuts. Bake in a loaf pan for easy to serve, toast-able slices. The texture will be heavier.
- Apricot Almond Hot Milk Cake: Substitute out half the flour with almond flour and mix in chopped dried apricots, then top with slivered almonds.
- Hot Milk Cake with cinnamon: A dash of cinnamon in the batter is a great touch!
- Hot Milk Cake with lemon curd: Add some lemon zest to the batter, then slice the cake horizontally and fill the layers with lemon curd.
- Hot Milk Cake with pineapple: This cake makes an excellent pineapple, peach, or plum upside down cake. Arrange fruit on the bottom of the cake pan, pour batter over, then bake as directed. Invert before serving.
- Chocolate Hot Milk Cake: Add ¼ cup of your best cocoa powder, and use scalded chocolate milk to the batter for an ethereal chocolate cake that’s just as easy to make.
- Almond Hot Milk Cake: Add almond extract in place of the vanilla and top with slivered almonds.
How do you serve Hot Milk Cake?
This is the kind of cake that I could easily chip away at all afternoon until there was nothing left, but if you have patience and intend to serve this for dessert, how about a dollop of whipped cream, some summer berries, or a scoop of ice cream?
Or, better yet, here’s a traditional recipe for a caramel coconut topping that is easy to whip up and pour over the cake before you serve it. I recommend making this early in. The day so that flavors have a chance to really meld!
Caramel Coconut Topping for Hot Milk Cake
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed
- 1 ½ cups butter
- ½ cup evaporated milk (or half and half)
- 2 cups shredded coconut
- ¾ cup chopped nuts
- Bring butter, evaporated milk, and sugar to a boil, stirring to melt the sugar.
- Remove from heat and stir in coconut and chopped nuts.
- Spread mixture on the warm cake and place under the broiler until golden, watching the topping closely.
Hot Milk Cake
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Grease and flour a 12-cup tube pan or Bundt cake pan.
- In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in milk and vanilla and continue to heat until small bubbles form around the outside of the pan and the mixture is very hot but not boiling. Reduce heat to low.
- Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Once the egg and sugar mixture has tripled in volume, slowly add the hot milk mixture, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing after each addition until just incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, checking 5 minutes prior to baking end time. A toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean, with a few crumbs attached, but do not over-bake.
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack or serving plate to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.
Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.