It’s probably not a stretch to say this Presidential election has left many Americans with a bad taste in their mouth. But some bakers across the country are trying to make it all better by resurrecting an old American election day tradition: Election Day Cake.
Susannah Gebhart and Maia Surdam of OWL Bakery in Asheville, N.C. are using the slogan “Make America Cake Again” to promote their bakery’s Election Day Cake and encourage others on social media to pick up the tradition.
According to “What’s Cooking America,” Election Day Cake goes back to pre-colonial days when American farmers were called to military training or “mustering” with the British. Huge quantities of “muster cake” were made to feed the troops. A dense, spice, raisin and currant-filled cake, muster cake is reminiscent of a British fruitcake or plum pudding. Eventually, bakers also added whiskey or brandy to the cake. Soon it became a favorite on election day and thus its new name was born.
By 1771, at least one colony, Connecticut, was serving the cake to all men as they gathered to vote. Unlike today, election day was a festive holiday full of parades, social gatherings and good food. Women, who still did not have the right to vote, participated by making enough cake to feed the masses. In fact, in 1796, when Amelia Simmons published the first recipe for Election Day Cake in her cookbook called “American Cookery,” it called for 30 quarts of flour, 10 pounds butter, 14 pounds sugar, 12 pounds raisins and three dozen eggs.
In 1830, Election Cake become known by some as Hartford Cake when politicians there served it to men who voted a straight party ticket. (Maybe an idea some of today’s partisans would like to reconsider.)
By 1900, election day started to fade as a major holiday largely due to the growing commercialization of Christmas and Easter and more non-English immigrants bringing their own holiday traditions to America.
But with the latest #MakeAmericaCakeAgain trend hitting social media, perhaps it’s in for a resurgence. Fortunately, “What’s Cooking America” came up with a modern-day recipe more suited to serving your friends and family than your entire legislative district.
Because it’s a yeast cake and requires time for both the sponge and the cake to rise, it takes longer to make than what many modern bakers are used to. (Watch our video to see the step-by-step process). I think the cake was worth the effort. It’s dense, rich and fruity and serves more like a breakfast bread to me (even with that fabulous cream cheese frosting). In the colonial days, Election Cake was always considered better if left to ripen for a day or two in a covered crock. Now we prefer to slip it into a plastic bag and let it age. It also freezes well.
Enjoy! And don’t forget to vote. Maybe someone will give you a piece of cake.
Election Day Cake (Modern Version)
2 cups raisins or currants or other dried fruit (¼ used for garnish)
8 tablespoons brandy, separated
Sponge (see recipe below)
1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs room temperature
3/4 cup chopped nuts of your choice (optional)
2 packages active dry yeast or 3 1/3 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sifted powdered (confectioners’) sugar
3 tablespoons milk or light cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
(Or store-bought cream cheese frosting)
Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.
In a small bowl, combine 1 ¾ cup of the dried fruit and 4 tablespoons of brandy. Let sit at least 1 hour or overnight to let the fruit plump up.
Prepare sponge (yeast mixture). In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over the water; stir to dissolve. Add sugar and flour; beat 2 minutes either by hand or with your electric hand mixer at medium speed. Cover and let rise in a warm place until bubbly, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.
Prepare cake batter while the sponge is rising.
Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg; set aside.
In a large bowl of your electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, adding one at a time and beating well after each addition. Beat in the remaining 4 tablespoons of brandy. Add the sponge mixture and continue to beat. Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, beating well after each addition, until smooth (the batter will be soft and sticky). With the electric mixer on low, blend in raisins or currants and nuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top with a rubber spatula, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place (away from drafts) until doubled in size, approximately 2 to 3 hours. This batter rises very slowly and the rising time may take as long as 4 to 6 hours, depending on the temperature of your room.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place oven rack in center of oven.
After the cake has risen, bake 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean or the internal temperature on an instant-read digital thermometer registers 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove from oven and let cool on a wire cooling rack for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan on low heat, heat the powdered sugar and milk until the sugar is dissolved and slightly thickened, about one minute. Remove from heat and brush over the top and sides of the cooled cake. I chose to use store-bought cream cheese frosting instead of the glaze, because I wanted a brighter white frosting and I’m pretty sure if colonists had been introduced to store-bought cream cheese frosting they would have declared it our national food. I also chose to garnish the cake with dried fruit.
Recipe courtesy: What’s Cooking America