The Danes call it “Dream Cake” (drømmekage). Leave it to Americans to define it not by its deliciousness but by how easy it is to make. Yet Busy Day Cake looks and tastes elegant, and would never let on that you threw it together between Zoom meetings. This velvety vanilla cake is so fluffy it would float away if it weren’t for the caramel coconut icing to keep it earthbound.
America’s Busy Day Cake (also called things like “Lazy Daisy Cake”) has been passed down for generations, and this version comes from our college friend and baking inspiration Judith Schwartz Stalk. She remembers her mother Florence baking it in the early 1960’s when Judith was around 11. Judith took over baking it herself when her mother cleared her to use the broiler to melt and caramelize the luscious topping.
“I believe it was popular because it called for basic ingredients folks usually kept in their homes, except maybe for the coconut. And the crumb was very tender. It made a great piece-of-cake-with-glass-of-milk treat,” she says. For all these reasons, it should still be popular.
For Judith, this cake may have been the gateway drug to her lifelong passion for baking. She did what many of us compulsive bakers only dream of—she ran her own one-woman commercial baking business. She bought the fabulous “Big Bertha” KitchenAid mixer, restaurant-quality baking pans, sacks and tubs of bulk ingredients, and the professional cake decorating tips and toys we drool over. She supplied her clients with gorgeous triple chocolate bundt cakes, streusel coffee cakes, carrot cakes, cupcakes (decorated for holidays and sports events), and Marc’s Munchie Madness granola bars (named after her son).
The demands of high-volume baking on top of a challenging day job led her to hang up her professional apron after several years. (When she wasn’t baking, she worked as an insurance risk manager at a huge company that managed trillions of dollars in investments.)
Now fully retired, “Grandma Cookie” does her favorite baking with and for her grandchildren. No doubt they’ll be making Busy Day Cake when they get to use the broiler.
As for the name, we’re with the Danes. It may be Busy Day Cake when we’re making it. But when we serve it, it’s Dream Cake.
Judith’s Busy Day Cake
- 1 2/3 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla (As always, we doubled the vanilla.)
- Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8” x 2” or 9” x 1½” broiler-safe cake pan, or grease and line it with parchment paper.
- Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add butter, milk, egg and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes.
- Pour into pan and bake until it tests done, about 25-35 minutes depending upon your pan and oven.
- Top with icing while warm.
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 5 tablespoons light brown sugar (or 5 tablespoons white sugar with a splash of molasses)
- 2 tablespoons cream or milk
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut (Trader Joe’s Organic Unsweetened Coconut Chips)*
- Combine ingredients and spread onto the warm cake. Broil until delightfully golden brown. This should take only a couple of minutes, so watch closely and turn the cake as necessary to keep the topping from burning.
*Variation: Judith suggests substituting chopped pecans for the coconut, which “turns the cake into a fabulous praline experience.”