Whisk milk, 2 egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in medium saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Set aside to cool while making cake.
Cake and Meringue
Preheat oven to 325ºF. Spray two 8 inch cake pans with cooking spray. Line each with cut to size wax paper on bottom and spray paper. Set aside.
In a bowl mix together shortening, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, egg yolks, and milk. Blend until combined, scraping down bowl. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat for 1 minute on medium speed, scraping down bowl.
Spread in bottom of prepared cake pans. The batter will be extremely stiff and you might have to press it down evenly with your fingers or an offset spatula. I sprayed my fingers with cooking spray to press down the dough. Set aside.
In another clean, dry bowl beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until meringue is stiff and glossy.
Spread half the meringue on top of cake batter in each pan. On top of the meringue, sprinkle each pan with half the almonds, then 1 tablespoon sugar on each. Repeat with other cake pan.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until meringue is set. The meringue will look done before the bottom layer of cake is, so insert a toothpick in cake to make sure it's done. Cool cake layers completely in pans.
Use a knife to go around edges of cake pan completely. Since the layers are assembled with meringue on top, you need to use a little finesse taking the cake layers out. Use a small spatula and your hand to gently lift cake out of pans. Once the cake is fully released I held the cake like a serving tray while I peeled off the wax paper. Place first layer on serving platter, top with cooled cream filling, and then release other cake layer to place on top. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Use a serrated knife to cut slices and refrigerate leftovers.
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The custard can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the fridge in an airtight container.Adapted from (a very old) Betty Crocker cookbook.