As a child, I used to cherish trips to my paternal Grandma’s house. Racing from the car to beat five other siblings to get the first hug from her. I’d run up those wooden steps to her front porch as fast as my little legs would carry me and collapse into her open arms. Her arms were filled with the kind of joy, pride and an unconditional love that could only come from your grandmother.
My grandma was a short, round and happy lady with black hair and lots of silver highlights. Her eyes were a warm chocolate brown and her skin tanned easily in the summer months. I remember very vividly the big floral, sleeveless dresses she would wear. Some had dropped waistlines others had no waistline but large pockets on the sides. Her favorite pair of shoes were her soft terrycloth opened toed house shoes with rubber soles. She was one of the most generous souls I’ve ever known. Grandma never had much monetary wealth but she gave what she had to those that needed it.
She had a unique way of expressing her love for you in many countless gestures. I believe the thing she enjoyed the most, as most grandmothers do, was cooking your favorite food for you. Food is a HUGE reason behind my strong memories of her and I am thankful for its help in preserving her so perfectly in my mind. So much of what she taught me about love, family and friendship started in her kitchen. I relive those memories every time I smell cornbread dressing cooking or chicken frying, or taste caramel icing so rich and sweet it could only be homemade.
My favorite cake as a child was my grandma’s caramel cake. She called it Sweet Milk Filling Cake. I imagine she called it that because she used to make it with sweet milk. Sweet milk is just what we called regular whole milk back then. You could always count on her baking it for every family get together.
This is a hit or miss recipe. When you get it right it’s so worth all the work you put into it. Another way to use this icing is to use it as a filling for cupcakes. Cut a hole in the cupcake and fill with the caramel icing and top with the caramel cream cheese icing. Or just dip some Granny Smith apples in it. Drizzle over some vanilla ice cream too. It’s sure to put a smile on your face no matter how you use it.
Sweet Milk Filling Cake
1 boxed cake mix yellow or vanilla
2 cans evaporated milk
3 cups white sugar
Bake cake according to directions on the box. Once the cake has been baked and is cooling, bring evaporated milk and sugar to a soft boil over medium heat. Stir frequently until mixture begins to boil then stir constantly. Boil until mixture reaches soft ball stage on a candy thermometer, 235-239°F. This icing has a tendency to boil over and you will have a mess on your hands if that happens so be careful. For this very reason I’ve started using an 8 quart pot to cook the icing in. I like to test the icing to double check its consistency by dropping a small drop into a glass of cold water. If the icing forms a soft ball and doesn’t dissolve but sinks to the bottom, I stop cooking the icing. Set aside and cool until icing thickens. You can continue to stir the mixture to help speed this process up. If you overcook the icing it will crystalize too much and become crunchy. If you undercook the icing it will be runny, sticky and your layers will shift on you. For the record, I don’t know this from experience...cough, cough! I find the perfect icing is one that is soft but forms a thin sugary crust after cooling completely.
I normally make a three layer cake. But sometimes I like to slice each layer in two. If you choose to do that you will need two-three times the icing. Pour the icing between the layers then top the cake with the remaining icing. Icing should slowly run down sides making it easy to cover. It’s normal for the icing to puddle around the bottom of the cake. This just makes a perfect excuse to get an extra taste or two of this yummy, creamy goodness. Just take your offset spatula and redistribute it on the cake.
If you find caramel icing too sweet adding just a pinch of salt will help with the sweetness.
I know there are far easier caramel icing recipes out there. But you will have to agree with me when I say there’s never anything better than what you grew up with. It may take you a time or two to get it right but boy when you do get it right!
If you would like to add some decorations to your Sweet Milk Filling Cake you can add the caramel cream cheese icing as I did this time.
Caramel Cream Cheese Icing
8 oz cream cheese
1 stick butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup of caramel icing
Cream butter and cream cheese together then add the caramel icing and beat until combined. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar.
Recipes allow us to pass on the love and legacy of our loved ones as well as ourselves so we can be remembered, revered, and celebrated for generations to come. The moments that truly matter are the occasions when we are together and laughing, the times when our cheeks ache from smiling so much as we enjoy food prepared by the hands of those who love us the most. By now, I bet you’ve thought of a dish or two from your childhood that you would just love to have right now. So what are you waiting for?
When Tracy is not cooking for Southern Holiday Life or Lake Wedowee Life, she enjoys drawing, baking and photography.