The best strawberry shortcake starts in the field with perfectly sun ripened strawberries that you picked with your own hands. Strawberry season is well underway in Maryland. In fact, it typically goes from late-May through mid-June, so hurry and get them while you can.
We filled our buckets at Glade Link Farms on a beautiful morning. There really is no comparison to a strawberry that is still warm from the sun, and you are pretty much guaranteed to be surrounded by cute kids stained with berry juice from head to toe. Before you go, be sure to call or check websites to confirm the picking schedule for the day.
Options for pick-your-own strawberries near Frederick:
Glade Link Farms in New Midway, MD
Maynes Tree Farm in Buckeystown, MD
Larriland Farm in Woodbine, MD
With strawberries in season, the first thing on my mind was strawberry shortcake. While not technically a shortcake, in my family the traditional cake to have with strawberries is my Mom’s Hot Milk Cake. The origins of the recipe are long forgotten. She hand wrote it on a recipe card decades ago and it is frequently requested at family gatherings.
Hot Milk Cake is an old fashioned cake that became popular in the 1930’s for its simplicity and versatility. It is quick and easy to put together with very few ingredients that you probably already have on hand. We never put any frosting on this cake. It is so rich and flavorful on its own that it doesn’t need it. It has two entire sticks of butter, so it has to be good, right?
It is the perfect cake with fresh macerated strawberries. Maceration is just a fancy way to say slice up some strawberries, stir in some sugar, and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. The amount of sugar to use depends on the sweetness of the strawberries. Here I just stirred in about one tablespoon of sugar because the berries were already very sweet. You could also add some flavored liqueur or balsamic vinegar to the maceration.
Now, this is a quirky cake recipe, with some unusual steps that I don’t see listed in the many other hot milk cake recipes online, but this version is a family favorite so I’m sticking by it.
Start by preparing a tube cake pan by coating it with butter and flour. Sift the 2 cups of flour into a bowl and set aside.
Heat the milk and the butter together in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter is melted and the milk is steaming hot, but don’t allow it to boil!
In the meantime, using a standing mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs until they thicken. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy, for about 5 minutes.
Add the sifted flour in batches and mix on low until the batter is smooth.
Pour the hot milk and butter mixture into the batter all at once. Add the vanilla extract.
This is where the recipe gets quirky. Sprinkle the baking powder over the liquid and gently stir to completely mix the batter until smooth.
I know what you’re thinking: shouldn’t we have added the baking powder to the flour and sifted them together? Yeh, probably; but it’s written this way on the old recipe card and I want to stay true to our tradition. My understanding was always that when you saw the baking powder fizzing, you knew the cake would rise. When I was a kid, it was fun to make this cake and watch the baking powder erupt into bubbles of carbon dioxide. This might have been one of my first science experiments, oblivious to the fact that those bubbles were escaping into the air instead of leavening my cake.
What if you don’t see it fizz? Well, we bake the cake anyway and keep our fingers crossed. However, if you feel more comfortable adding the baking powder to the flour in the beginning, then please do. I’ve baked this cake both ways and it doesn’t seem to make a big difference, but I feel like I’ve cheated.
Pour the batter into the prepared tube pan.
Bang the pan on the counter three times. This is probably optional but why risk it? Maybe it dislodges any air pockets present in the batter. Maybe it distributes the batter evenly in the pan. Maybe it announces to the baking fairies that the cake is ready for the oven. Either way, it’s an easy enough ritual and it feels good.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Cool for about 10 minutes, then remove cake from the pan by inverting it onto a wire rack to cool completely.
The cake can be served on its own, warm or cold, garnished with powdered sugar, or smothered in macerated strawberries and whipped cream. I highly recommend the strawberries and whipped cream version. A sprinkling of fresh mint is also a nice touch.
Hot Milk Cake
1 cup whole milk
2 sticks butter (8 oz)
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a tube cake pan by coating with butter and flour.
- Heat the milk and butter together in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter is melted and the milk is steaming. Don’t allow to boil!
- Beat the eggs with a standing or hand mixer on medium-high speed until thickened.
- Gradually add sugar to eggs and beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Add sifted flour into egg mixture in batches and mix on slow speed until the batter is smooth.
- Pour the hot milk and butter directly into the batter all at once. Add the vanilla extract and sprinkle the baking powder into the milk puddle. Stir gently with a spoon until the batter is smooth.
- Pour batter into a prepared tube pan. Bang the pan on the counter 3 times.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.