Hot milk cake and strawberry caramel sauce

This simple Southern cake is a great go-to summer recipe, and wonderful vehicle for almost any fruit topping. Try it with strawberry caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The Runaway Spoon
This strawberry caramel sauce is a winner. It's great served warm or cold, and especially good over ice cream.

Leaf through the pages of any old Southern community cookbook, and you are likely to come across a version of this cake. And it might not draw your eye, being so plain and simple. I am sure I flipped past many times before I actually stopped to read one. But once I get intrigued, I search these recipes out and combine, refine and test them until I have an updated version with more accurate instructions. 

And I am glad I didn’t let this one languish, because it is now a go-to summer cake. It is immensely simple to make – no heavy equipment needed. Its simplicity makes it the perfect vehicle for all manner of summer toppings. Add any sliced fresh fruit or berry, maybe sugared to produce a little syrup, and a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream and you’ve got a fresh, homemade beauty of a dessert.

I planned this post to highlight the cake, and how useful it is. But I wanted to try something a little more interesting than just fruit so I stumbled around in the kitchen until I came up with the sauce. I know it is tooting my own horn, but it is a stunner. Rich, sticky caramel sauce with this amazing background note of strawberry and the added bonus of chunks of fresh berries. It is magnificent with the cake, but try it over ice cream, or, as I admit to doing, simply with a spoon.

Hot milk cake and strawberry caramel sauce

I use a plain tube pan, often called a coffee cake pan, but a fluted or fancy one works just fine. You could also make it in a 9 by 13-inch pan. The sauce will keep covered in the fridge for up to three days. Delicious warm or cold.

Serves 10 

For the cake:

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

4 eggs

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 10-cup tube pan (or alternative pan) thoroughly.

2. Combine the milk and butter in a medium saucepan and heat over medium just until the butter is melted and the milk is hot. While the milk is heating, beat the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour in the hot milk and stir until completely combined.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden and firm and tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely. The cake will keep, well wrapped, for several days.

For the strawberry caramel sauce:

Makes about 1-1/2 cups 

1 cup of diced strawberries

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons

3/4 cup heavy cream

1. Place the diced strawberries in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons sugar. Leave to sit for several hours until the strawberries have released quite a bit of juice.

2. Pour the juice off the berries into a measuring jug and add enough water to make 1/3 cup of liquid.

3. Stir the liquid and 1-1/2 cups sugar together in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Up the heat to high and boil the mixture until it turns a lovely caramel brown, the color of sweet tea, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Watch it like a hawk because it goes from caramel to burnt quickly at the end. Stand back a bit and pour in the cream. It will roil and bubble furiously and seize up a little. Just stir it until it all smooths out and combines, then turn the burner off and stir until it settles down.

4. Let it cool for about 3 minutes, then stir in the diced strawberries. Cool to room temperature.

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