In America’s early history, the election was a time of celebration when family and friends gathered for a banquet in anticipation of the election results. An integral part of such gatherings was the election day cake.
The first mentions of this dessert date back to the late 1700s, and the ingredients may sound strange (if not unappetizing) to modern eyes, but keep in mind that bakers did not have the luxury of ordering ingredients online back then. Instead, they were left with what was readily available – raisins, currants, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, as it turned out. The resulting fruitcake can be quite dense. So dense that early versions of the cakes allegedly weighed up to 12 pounds, according to the New England Historical Society.
Even today, people still eat and drink a lot, though not so much out of happiness but rather to dispel fears. Nonetheless, given the bizarre course of the election and the year 2020, there may be no food more suitable for this moment than election day cake.
The following recipe is reprinted with permission of the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It was taken from the 1833 edition of The American Frugal Housewife, a household manual written by Lydia Maria Child. The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s recipe adapted Child’s recipe and added a little spice that was typical of the election cakes of the time.
Election day cake (from the Old Farmer’s Almanac), makes 12 to 16 portions.
2 packages of active dry yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons each)
1-1/2 cups of hot water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups sifted flour, divided
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) margarine or butter
1 teaspoon of salt
1-1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup currants
1/4 cup chopped candied lemon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Cake: In a large bowl sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and dissolve while stirring. Add 2 teaspoons sugar and 1-1⁄2 cups flour. Beat well by hand or for 2 minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
In a separate bowl, beat the margarine and 1 cup of sugar until frothy. Set aside. Sieve the remaining flour with salt, cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg.
When the yeast mixture is bubbling, add the eggs to the cream margarine and sugar and beat well. Mix with the yeast mixture. Add the flour mixture little by little and beat with a spoon after each addition. Whip to a smooth dough. Stir in raisins, currants, lemon and nuts.
Pour into a well greased and well floured 10-inch tube form. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place until they have doubled in size (approx. 1-1⁄2 hours). Bake at 190°C (375°F) for about 1 hour. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the form for 5 minutes. Turn on a rack to finish cooling.
Heat slightly and coat with powdered sugar.
Coat ingredients with powdered sugar glaze:
1 cup sieved powdered sugar
Milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
In a medium bowl, mix the confectioners’ sugar with enough milk to make a glaze. Add vanilla and salt and stir until smooth.
Serve under the singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and enjoy. If you don’t get a chance to prepare it tonight, just remember what many experts predict and consider it a cake of election week.