Sunday, August 31, 2014

Clara Diesslin's Hot Milk Sponge Cake

Clara Diesslin -- my father's sweet, hardworking mother, farm wife, and much loved grandmother -- was known as Grandma, or Grandma Gus, to many.  She was, as were many of her generation, a skilled baker (along with many other talents). Whenever we went to the farm to visit the first thing I did was run to the kitchen to check out the cookie jar; it was always filled with soft, buttery, thick, large, crumbly sugar cookies.  She also made hot cross buns for Easter that I adored, and baked her own bread, served with her own churned butter.

Grandma and me, circa 1959?

I have several of her recipes but this one, her hot milk sponge cake, is the one I use the most.  It's quick, easy, and so good served so many ways. It's also unlike any cake recipe I've ever seen, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't unique to her.  It's probably been lost as people stopped baking cakes from scratch in favor of cake mixes.  This is nearly as easy as a cake mix and one of only a very few cakes that I really like.

My favorite reason for baking it is as the support for garden-fresh strawberries instead of the more traditional biscuit-type shortcake, but I've topped it with many kinds of fruits and sometimes ice cream.  Until this weekend, however, I never thought to top it with blueberries. I have blueberries in my freezer given to me by a friend and was trying to think of a good dessert for some of them. I was watching a recent episode of "Chopped" on Food Network.   Voila!  Instant inspiration! and super-easy dessert. I would love to take credit for the blueberry topping recipe idea but I owe it to a contestant on television.


  • 4 eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 c. unbleached flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 t. vanilla


Beat eggs until light-colored.  Add sugar and vanilla and beat well.  Add milk which has been heated with the butter (do not boil).  Beat.  Add dry ingredients and beat. Pour into greased 9x13 pan.  Bake 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan.

Serve plain, with fruit, with ice cream, or use your imagination!


My favorite variation is to make it with almond extract.  That's what I did this time, to tie in with the blueberry topping.  Also, it can be easily cut in half and baked in an 8x8 or 9x9 pan (adjust baking time slightly).  I've also used whole wheat pastry flour and really like the flavor that adds.  


  • blueberries (about 2 c.)
  • maple syrup (maybe 1/4 c.)
  • almond extract (1 t or less)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt, if desired

Sometimes I'm not good about measuring ingredients. This is one of those times.  So do it to taste, using my measurements as a starting point.  Throw it all in a saucepan, heat it lightly, remove from heat and let it cool or serve it warm.  When serving, drizzle on plenty of the juice so it can soak into the cake a bit.  Add whipped cream for a bit of decadence.  

The salt and pepper were my additions, to balance the sweetness a bit.  The almond extract is excellent with blueberries (thanks, Chopped!).  

In this photo you can see how sponge cake gets its name.  Lots of airy pockets to help that topping soak in!

Any cake that makes it through over 40 years in my recipe box definitely makes me want to cook, eat, dance, love!

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