Custard cake from my childhood (photography by Tasha Seccombe)

I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in our neighbourhood in Uniepark, Stellenbosch. There were many other children around, and we would play in the park across our house until night time. I had many friends, and a few of us shared a classroom from primary school to matric. I still remain friends with a couple of these amazing childhood friends, as it seems that we were interwoven in each others lives forever – almost like family.

One of these special women is Martinette Basson (previously De Jongh).  Her Dad worked with my Dad at the University, and her Mom was a highly respected nurse. They always had the BEST snacks at their birthday parties (she had an older sister and a younger brother), and we used to bake cookies and make fudge at each other’s houses. We also had the most amazing sleepover parties, which always included a midnight feast where we raided the pantry. Those were great times!

Unfortunately, Martinette’s Dad passed away a few years ago, and she moved back from the UK with her young family to spend some time at her Mom’s house in Stellenbosch. I attended a baby shower of her youngest daughter, and had the most amazing custard cake – her Mom’s recipe – complete blast from the past! This was the cake that I had dreamt about for years, not being able to find the recipe anywhere, nor buy a similar cake in any shop. I asked for the recipe, and she wrote it down for me on her Mom’s customised writing pad (it says “From the desk of Elza de Jongh”). I stuck the piece of paper in my recipe book, and it has since collected a few yellow “baking marks”, showing just how popular the recipe is!

Sadly, Martinette’s Mom passed away shortly after I had gotten the recipe. She was a formidable women, quietly spoken, but such an inspiration to all of us. I now think of her every time I see the handwritten recipe “from the desk of Elza de Jongh” for custard cake. I’m sure she is smiling at how much joy this recipe has brought to our family!

Tannie Elza, no-one can beat your custard cake! We miss you!

Note: This recipe is all about the custard icing. Please use any sponge cake recipe that you are comfortable with – I like the warm milk method, and I use a little less sugar than tannie Elsa’s original cake batter recipe. But don’t tweak anything about the custard icing – it looks a little curdled, but that is exactly what it should look like! 🙂

Ingredients for sponge cake:

  •  4 eggs
  • 300 ml (250 g) caster sugar
  • 500 ml (280 g) cake flour
  • 15 ml baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 250 ml milk
  • 100 g butter
  • 5 ml vanilla essence


  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C. Grease and/or line 2 x 20 cm round cake tins.
  2. Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together, then fold into egg mixture.
  4. Heat milk and butter until butter is melted, but don’t let it boil. Add vanilla, then fold into flour and egg mixture.
  5. Pour batter into lined cake tins, then bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked and golden brown.
  6. Remove from oven, and cool on wire racks.

Ingredients for Custard icing:

  • 500 ml milk
  • 100 ml custard powder (I use Moirs)
  • 125 g butter at room temperature
  • 200 ml caster sugar
  • 5 ml vanilla essence
  • 100 ml desiccated coconut, toasted to a golden brown in a dry pan


  1. Dissolve the custard powder in 100 ml milk. Heat remaining 400 ml milk until boiling point, then add custard mixture and stir for a few minutes over lowered heat until it is smooth and thick. Take care not to let it burn.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar and vanilla for a few minutes until creamy.
  3. Add cooled custard to butter mixture, then beat on high speed for about 3 minutes until smooth. It will look slightly curdled, that is perfect!
  4. Spread custard on cake layers and on top, then top with toasted coconut.


This post was especially written for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Food: Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Photography: Tasha Seccombe.

Styling: Tasha Seccombe

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  1. That cake looks amazing- I can’t wait to try it out!! I love making things that remind me of wonderful people, they just taste so much better!

    1. Hi Olga, you’re right! It’s amazing how food makes us remember people and events and stories. 🙂

  2. This looks amazing! I’m sorry about your friend’s parents!

    1. Thanks Nadia! They will be remembered with loads of love and great memories. 🙂

  3. This cake looks so good. My husband loves custard so can’t wait to give it a go. Catherine 🙂

    1. Hey Catherine, my husband and brothers LOVE this cake! But kids love it too – such an all-round favourite. 🙂

  4. aww what a touching story. and a delicious recipe.. it helps that it’s made with love 🙂

    1. Thanks Katie! Yes, it tastes so much better if it’s made by real people with lots of love. 🙂

  5. I feel like it’s time to tackle some cake after looking at that photo- maybe it had something to do with custard, which had my stomach at attention…

    1. It’s always time to tackle some cake!!! 😉

  6. Tried the recipe great cake indeed although the custard icing was a bit tricky

    1. Thanks for trying Nthabiseng – it’s one of my favourites. x

  7. I just found this recipe of yours on another site. I recognised it immediately as I made it years ago but lost my printed version and googled “Elza Custard Cake”.

    1. Thanks so much Heidi – I followed it up.

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