November 3, 2020

What is Election Cake? | Colonial Recipe | Amelia Simmons, 1796

Colonial Recipe Election Cake

Many cookbooks include a recipe for Election Cake. What is it? The hallmark of an election cake recipe is the enormous batch size. Some of the finished cakes weighed over 10 pounds. In the 1700s, Election Cake was a yeast leavened cake with prunes or other dried fruits, intended to feed dozens of people. Sometimes they were made of soft gingerbread. Regardless of the ingredients, Election Cake was frequently served with cider. 

Election Cake seems to be derived from "Muster Cake." In the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s, some men were expected to attend military musters for training and were supplied with cake and cider as a reward. In the late 1700s, Election Day was new and a day of celebration. Eligible men who made the trek out to vote were given cake, cider, and alcohol outside of the polls and at parties.   

This recipe is from American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the second edition published in 1796. This book is known for being the first known American cookbook. The full recipe makes a lot of cake. It contains 30 cups of flour and 36 eggs! I cut the recipe by about 1/7! The recipe also assumes you're cooking in the 1700s and that it will take 24 hours for your sponge to rise. It took me about 45 minutes in my 21st century oven. Likewise, if your house is heated in November, you won't have to cream the butter for 30 minutes. When I make this again (even the family liked it) I'll probably add a cup of crushed walnuts.  

   

Colonial Recipe Election Cake


Colonial Election Cake

Ingredients:

- 4 Cups Flour
- 1 1/2 Sticks Butter 
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 1/4 Cup Raisins, Prunes, or other dried fruit, chopped
- 2 Eggs
- 2 Tablespoon Wine
- 2 Tablespoons Brandy
- 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon Coriander seed  

- 2 Tablespoons Yeast (1 Packet)
- 1 1/2 Cups Warm Milk 

Instructions:

Combine your flour, milk, and yeast, cover with a warm, wet cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. In a separate bowl, cream the sugar and butter until smooth. Add the eggs, spices, brandy, and wine and mix until combined. Pour the butter mixture into the dough and mix (with your hands, if necessary). Mix in the fruit.  Pour into greased pans and bake 45-60 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 F. Let cool then cover and let sit for a day.   

 
Sources:

Humble, Nicola. Cake: a Global History. London: Reaktion Books, 2010.

Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery; or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, Adapted to This Country and All Grades of Life. . 2nd ed. Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin, 1796.

Stradley, Linda. “Election Day Cake History and Recipe,” November 3, 2020. https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/ElectionCake.htm. 


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