Article and photos by Lisa Crockett
Sometime this month, it’s likely that my oven will go on hiatus for six or eight weeks. I can usually be found at the backyard grill on a warm June day, making an effort to leave the heat and the mess outdoors where they belong this time of year. There is one thing, though, that brings me back to the kitchen even as the temperatures climb. My birthday. If there was ever an occasion which calls specifically for cake, a birthday is it, right? A birthday cake is often the last thing I bake until cooler temperatures arrive in the fall. I don’t always bake my own cake – I have been known to outsource that particular task to the Bundt Shoppe on many occasions – but this year, the thought of a full day to putter in the kitchen sounds almost as decadent as a luscious slice of cake, so I’m going the DIY route.
I’m a huge fan of chocolate, and most years on my birthday I’ll opt for something dark and dense and rich, but this year I’m craving something lighter. It has been suggested by someone close to me that this change in taste might be attributed to the aging that is especially apparent during this, the month of my birth. Please note, this suggestion has been firmly rejected. Sometimes a person just wants something different. Age has nothing to do with it, okay? My taste buds are calling for something delicate and elegant, but as anyone who has ever tried to bake a cake in Castle Pines (or anywhere else at high altitude) can tell you, achieving this effect in a cake is nothing short of a miracle.
Our grandmothers knew a thing or two about how to make things work in the kitchen, even at high altitude, so I looked to the past to find a recipe that might fit the bill, and found several variations on something called hot milk cake. Composed of the simple ingredients most kitchens have had on hand for at least the last century, this unassuming cake is surprisingly delicious. Due to a fairly specific method for mixing the cake’s batter, the texture is simultaneously light and substantial, and the flavor is subtle enough to serve as a backdrop for frosting or toppings but robust enough to stand on its own. Because the sugar and fat content of the cake are reasonable, the cake doesn’t “crater” at the top when baked at altitude quite as much as some other recipes do, but if it does happen to sink a bit in the middle, don’t despair. My favorite way to eat this cake is piled with whipped cream and topped with lightly sweetened berries, a presentation that will mask a less than perfect cake. If all else fails, the cake can be cubed and layered with whipped cream and fruit for a perfect summer trifle.
On my birthday, I’ll be digging into this beauty while I reflect on the year that has passed and the year to come. I’m even willing to turn on the oven to make this particular dessert happen, but don’t look for any candles on this dessert – that really would make the kitchen too hot.
The ingredients for this cake are very simple, but it’s critical to follow the mixing instructions in order to achieve a light, uniform texture
4 eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/4 cups milk (low-fat or whole)
10 tablespoons salted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan and set aside. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs for five minutes, then gradually add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add to the egg/sugar mixture on low speed and until just smooth. Do not over mix. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter just until the butter is melted. Stir milk and butter into the batter just until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick in the center of the cake comes out clean.