Lazy daisy cake has a catchy name, but I think whoever came up with it was smart and industrious. That’s my kind of person, and lazy daisy cake is my kind of cake.
It’s a simple affair that you can pull off using one bowl and precious little active time. About an hour later you can cut off a piece to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee. Best of all, it has a caramelized broiled topping that makes it very special, despite its ease of prep. This charming midcentury snacking cake is ripe for a comeback.
What Is Lazy Daisy Cake?
Lazy daisy cake appears in a 1949 community cookbook I love, The Good Shepherd Cook Book. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd of Bay Ridge put it out, though I came across it in my friend’s attic in California. It had somehow traveled from midcentury Brooklyn to millennial Sonoma County. This cookbook is pure gold, offering up such delights as stewed horseradish and crab Marnay. Like most community cookbooks, desserts rightfully take up over half of its pages.
I made the book’s lazy daisy cake recipe (contributed by Mrs. H. Johnson) just to find out what it was like. It’s what I’d call a busy day cake. You bake an easy, one-bowl hot milk sponge cake in an 8×8-inch pan, then top it straight from the oven with a brown sugar and coconut frosting mixture and broil until bubbly. The cake itself is plain; the topping is intensely sweet. On your plate, the two come together to create perfect harmony.
This Hot Milk Sponge Cake Is Hard To Screw Up
Sponge cakes used to be a lot more prevalent in American baking. They’re springy cakes without much fat; their structure comes mostly from eggs. For lazy daisy cake, you don’t need to beat the eggs and sugar much–a good 60-second whisking by hand will do it. Then you fold in flour and baking powder, followed by warmed milk plus a teensy cube of melted butter.
I love cakes like this because their spongy texture holds up to fillings and toppings. Plus they’re hard to screw up. I imagine a long-ago harried housewife baking lazy daisy cake in the middle of a day of laundry folding, diaper changing, vacuuming, lawn mowing, and checkbook balancing.
Heck, I’ve been that wife, only I’d be doing those things in the precious hours between shifts at work. No matter your gender, marital status, or level of laziness, we’ve all had days when we want a sweet reward. And sometimes you have to bake it yourself. But baking is a privilege worth making a little time for (nowadays we call it self-care).
Easy Broiled Topping Makes the Cake
If you like the sticky-sweet, coconut-webbed frosting on a German chocolate cake, then lazy daisy cake is totally up your alley. While the cake bakes, you mix up brown sugar, cream, coconut, and melted butter. Then you spread it on the hot cake and slip it under the broiler to melt the sugar and get the coconut a little toasty. When the cake cools, you have a brittle layer on top that’s almost like candy.
The following day, the topping softens and partially disintegrates into the cake, imbuing it with that caramel flavor. The cake by that point isn’t as fresh-looking, but day two is my favorite day to eat a piece.
Lazy Daisy Cake Variations
The various lazy daisy cake recipes I’ve seen around are mostly the same. Why mess with perfection? You can personalize it a bit if you like.
- Increase the vanilla in the hot milk sponge cake to 2 teaspoons.
- Toast the coconut before mixing up the topping. Yes, a few shreds of coconut will get toasty in the broiling step, but not enough that they are toasted-toasted.
- Add finely chopped nuts (such as pecans) to the topping.
- Create another layer of flavor by browning the butter when you melt it for the topping.
- Whatever you do, do not omit the coconut. You need it to give the topping its structure–the lattice of coconut shreds supports the gooey caramel.
More Vintage Baking Recipes
- Million Dollar Pie
- Sad Cake
- Chess Pie
- Gooey Butter Cake
- Egg Custard Pie
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease an 8×8-inch square baking pan.
Heat the milk and butter:
Start by making the cake. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the milk and butter together until the butter is melted and the milk is steaming. Set aside.
Make the batter:
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk together vigorously for about 60 seconds, until the color lightens and the mixture seems a bit thicker when it falls from the whisk. Beat out your aggressions, it’s fun!
Add the flour to the bowl. Measure the baking powder into your palm and sprinkle it over the flour. If there are any lumps in the baking powder, crush them against your palm with your fingers.
Switch from a whisk to a spatula and fold the dry ingredients in until combined. Pour the warm milk and butter mixture over top and fold it in to make a slightly liquidy batter.
Scrape the batter into the greased pan and set aside the dirty bowl; you’ll use it again in a bit.
Bake until the cake is puffed, golden at the edges, and its center springs back when you press it gently with your fingertip, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the topping:
Over medium-low heat, melt the butter in the same saucepan you used to warm the milk.
In the same bowl you used for the batter (no need to wash it), mix the coconut, brown sugar, cream, salt, and melted butter. The topping will be a bit thick, but it’ll thin out once it hits the cake.
Broil the topping:
Right after the cake comes out of the oven, move the broiler rack up so it’s about 5 inches away from the heating element.
Scrape the topping over the hot cake and spread it around evenly with a spatula. Slide the pan onto the rack and broil until the topping bubbles rapidly, about 3 minutes. Check on the cake every minute or so, for even broiling. You may need to rotate the pan after every minute.
Cool, then serve:
Set the cake on a wire rack to cool completely, then slice and enjoy!
For leftovers, cover the cake with plastic wrap or foil. After a day or so, the topping will soften and melt into the cake a little, but it will still be delicious. It’s best to polish this cake off within 3 days.
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