Whip up a busy-day cake or cobbler

Busy Day Cakes are made from scratch but are quick and simple that makes cooks wondery why you ever...
(Johnny Andrews/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)
Story by Judith Evans
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT))
Fri, Mar 30, 2012
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Donald Harmon’s search for a cake recipe his mother used to make opened the floodgates, resulting in a deluge of recipes — and of reminiscences.

“My father, who is 78 years old and who grew up in Granite City, Ill., remembers quite fondly a cake called ‘busy day,’ ” wrote his daughter, Debbie Harmon, of Milton, Ga.

“We were reminiscing about the great bakeries in St. Louis and in Illinois....” He would love for me to find this cake recipe and bake it for him. (It’s just the simple things in life that are the best.)”

The recipes began to pour in as soon as Harmon’s request was published in January in the Post-Dispatch’s Recipe Exchange column, with 26 readers ultimately contributing. Most of the recipes were for one-bowl yellow cakes topped with coconut, nuts or both. A few were for chocolate cakes, and a few were for cobblers.

The sources included Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. One reader unearthed a 1940 advertisement for Gold Medal Flour that promoted its version of Busy Day Cake, showing just enough of the recipe to whet a baker’s appetite. To see the remainder, she had to buy a bag of flour.


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 14 1/2-ounce can pitted sour cherries, drained

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a 2-quart casserole. Put casserole dish in the oven until butter melts. Remove from the oven.

In a bowl, beat together 1 cup sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and milk to make a smooth batter. Pour over butter; do not stir. Pour cherries over batter; sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Per serving (based on 8): 325 calories, 12 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrates, 39 grams sugar, 1 grams fiber, 190 milligrams sodium, 55 milligrams calcium.

Note: This recipe also works well outdoors in a Dutch oven.


  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (see note)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening (see note)
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk, at room temperature (see note)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Two 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • Whipped cream or frosting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour an 8-by-8-inch, 9-by-9-inch or 11-by-7-inch baking pan.

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl. Add shortening, buttermilk, egg, vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat 3 minutes by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Batter will be thick.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Bake until done, 35 to 45 minutes. Do not overbake. Serve warm with whipped cream, or let cool and frost as desired. Yield: 9 servings.

Per serving (without frosting or whipped cream): 265 calories, 10 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams sugar, 0.5 gram fiber, 305 milligrams sodium, 40 milligrams calcium.

Note: Sift or whisk flour before measuring. To substitute self-rising flour, decrease the amount of baking soda to 1/2 teaspoon and omit the salt. For better flavor and texture, substitute softened butter for the shortening. To make sour milk, pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup; add milk to the 1-cup mark. Let sit for a few minutes before using.

— Adapted from Pillsbury’s “Best of the Bake-Off Collection” (1959)


For cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup solid vegetable shortening (see note)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For topping:

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan.

Combine flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, 3/4 cup milk, shortening, egg, vanilla and salt in a small mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.

Scrape batter into pan; bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.

Make the topping. Combine brown sugar and butter in a mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in 2 tablespoons milk, then stir in coconut. Spread over warm cake in pan.

Turn on the broiler. Broil cake 4 inches from the heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden, watching carefully. Serve warm. Yield: 9 servings.

Per serving: 365 calories, 16 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 36 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrates; 33 grams sugar, 2 grams fiber, 330 milligrams sodium; 75 milligrams calcium.

Note: For better flavor, substitute softened butter for the shortening.

— Adapted from “Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book” (1981)

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