One of the recipes given to me at my wedding shower was for something called sugar cake. This was evidently one of my great aunt's specialties, though I cannot remember ever trying it. Like a lot of recipes passed down, parts of the recipe were a bit vague. But since it was a family recipe, I figured it was worth the effort to decode it. I spent a lot of time looking at the ingredients and trying to fully understand them before starting. Some of the ingredients, like brown sugar, butter and canned milk had no measurements associated with them. I really had no idea what this cake should look like or taste like.
So I just dive right in, trying to figure it out as I went. The recipe calls for yeast and since it is dissolved in warm water before use, I assumed it was active dry yeast and not instant yeast. According to my understanding, instant yeast can be added directly to the ingredients without needing to be dissolved first, like in a bread machine recipe.
As for the canned milk, since I add brown sugar to the recipe, I guessed that it meant evaporated milk and not sweetened condensed milk. Though the amount was still a mystery since all it said was that I would need less than a can. Well, what size can is that talking about?!? I went with a larger can and used less than half for each of the two cakes the recipe makes.
My first attempt at baking this cake did not go as planned...well at least that is what I am assuming. It did not seem to look done, so I ended up baking it for a lot longer than the recipe suggested. The result was a crunchy mess on bottom and a soggy top. The second cake from that batch went much better. I added less milk and cooked it less.
It tastes like a cinnamon roll! Since it seemed to have a soft, moist consistency with a sweet cinnamon flavor, I am guessing that I am much closer to the intended recipe than on the first try.
I made the recipe again, with the two cakes that it makes. This time I added some chopped dried apples with the cinnamon and I used both maple syrup and brown sugar as the sweeteners. For the second cake, I sprinkled chopped walnuts on top in addition to using both maple syrup and brown sugar. Both of these resulted in soft cakes that I am guessing resemble the intended recipe.
So I think have this recipe somewhat figured out. I still need to measure the exact amount of canned milk I use so that I can be consistent, but that doesn't seem to be a difficult task. The next step will be to make the sugar cake (or one of its variations) for some of my family in North Carolina who remember the original creation. Then I will know for sure if my interpretation is anywhere near where it should be. In the meantime, I think this is another recipe to add to my books as one to keep for a long time.