Confession time: I had some serious reservations about taking the blog in this direction, focusing on heritage recipes. As excited as I was to try something new, my personal tendency is to leave the recipe-testing and tweaking to others (I am in awe of Smitten Kitchen’s ability, for example, to make the same recipe half-a-dozen time until it’s just right for her audience) and gravitate, like most people, toward recipes that I know are going to work the first time, dammit.
Almost immediately, it became apparent to myself and Nicole that a lot of the old recipes we wanted to try are in need of updating and tweaking (understandable since I think a lot of them are passed down orally or by hand and some things can get lost in the translation to paper and then to the online world. Not to mention new technology and equipment and the availability of ingredients.) As I said… I am definitely not used to cooking or baking this way. It was scary and a little daunting (it still is) to think that I’d have to start approaching the kitchen differently; not as familiar, homey territory, but with an added reliance on my own instincts and skill.
As I get older and more settled into my adult life, I feel a new sense of determination to seek out the scary, daunting things; I’m curious about the version of myself I’ll meet on the other side. If you’ve been a little bored and uninspired in the kitchen lately and you’re a regularly practicing, passionate cook or baker, used to strictly following recipes and have not yet branched out into experimentation or adaption, I’m going to put your mind at ease right now- you have the skills and instinct to change the recipe. And you should do it.
Maybe it’ll hit you the first time you try it, or the second. Maybe it’ll hit you the seventh or twenty-ninth time but eventually it’ll sink in- oh, I know this place… You’ll be so happy you did, trust me.
We’re only two recipes in our heritage recipe adventure and, as scared as I still am, I’ve already fallen in love with the process- and by that, I mean researching the recipes and where they came from and then getting to tweak them in the kitchen. (I mean, look at this; the end of the post got me all choked up. Is it dusty in here or something?)
We decided to make Hot Milk Cake with Jam before Valentine’s Day. It’s pretty close to a classic crumb cake with the exception of the liquid being hot milk and melted butter, mixed alternately with flour. I had some glossy expectations for it- for one thing, I expected the fruit filling to stay where we put it, right under the crumb topping. Alas, this was not to be (thankfully Hot Milk Cake with a Jammy Bottom is a hilarious name option and also sounds weirdly British). I did not expect my version to turn out a dense, ultra-rich cousin of coffee cake and pound cake (resulting in us halving the original recipe completely). What you will find here is a Depression-era classic (NYT found a recipe from 1955 but there are reports of it popping up in the late 30s, early 40s) that is more aligned with the Mid-Atlantic version. Move farther South and a very similar cake with the same name is usually served with fruit on top and icing. It became popular because basically everyone (from your great-grandmother down) agreed it tasted way better than sponge cake. The crumb is good and though the edges of the cake risk getting overbaked, I’ve been told by my taste-testing coworkers that the crunchy exterior is worth it. When I make it again, I’m going to attempt it in its classic style- 2 9″ cake tiers with a fruity cream cheese frosting between the layers; I have a feeling it’ll be insanely delicious and I can’t wait.
We hope you’ll share it with someone you love tomorrow. And as always, please share if you have a heritage recipe that makes you proud! We’re logging your comments and want to make your family recipes to, with full credit to you.
Hot Milk Cake with Jam
Makes: One 9 x 13″ Cake | Serves: 12 | Print Recipe
1/2 Stick of cold butter
1/2 Cup of flour
1/4 Cup of packed brown sugar
1/4 Cup of granulated sugar
1 and 1/4 Teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4 Cup of ground pecans **optional
3/4 Cup of whole milk
1 and 1/2 Sticks of butter
1 and 1/2 Cups of sugar
2 Teaspoons of vanilla
2 and 1/4 Cups of all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 heaping teaspoons of baking powder
1 Teaspoon of fine salt
1 Cup of fruit jam