This novelty dates to the colonial era when people had to travel long distances to vote.
“The cake was offered as sustenance for the long journey home,” writes Seattle cookbook author Kim O’Donnel, a former food writer with the Washington Post.
She has a new idea: What if people made Election Day Cake for friends and family and other folks Nov. 6? “Or sold it at a bake sale the weekend before? Or brought it to church, or synagogue, or temple, or yoga studio, with printed-out recipes?”
She’s created an Instagram account for the effort @ElectionDayCake and uses the hashtags #votingisapieceofcake and #stirupthevote. She’s keeping the campaign “non-partisan with a focus on participation, and how we are a mightier republic when we all vote.”
The cake – “not particularly sweet” – is “a delightful surprise and a reminder that old-fashioned can sometimes be a good thing,” O’Donnel wrote in the Post in 2006. It also “appears to have been adapted from English yeast breads or fruit cakes. Although some historic documents point to its appearance in the early 1700s, the first published evidence of an ‘Election Cake’ recipe surfaced in 1796, when Amelia Simmons wrote ‘American Cookery,’ the first known cookbook by an American.”
That recipe was a doozy, calling for “thirty quarts of flour, 10 pound butter, 14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins, 3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy, 4 ounces cinnamon, 4 ounces fine colander seed, 3 ounces ground allspice.”
These were the instructions: “Wet flour with milk to the consistence of bread over night, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.”
Election Day Cake was less of a dessert and more of a hearty repast. In fact, similar cakes were called “muster cakes,” made for men traveling to military training, or “mustering.”
In these days of mail-in ballots, voters don’t need to carry provisions long distances – or any distances at all. O’Donnel’s hope, instead, is this: “Maybe we’ll pre-heat our ovens and spread the good cheer of cake crumbs and the vital importance of our civic duty to participate and vote.”
Here’s the recipe that ran with her story in the Post in 2006.
Hartford Election Cake
From “Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes” by Patricia Bunning Stevens
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 warm water (105-115 degrees)
1/2 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (divided in two parts: 1 ½ cups, then 1 ¾ cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons milk
Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in milk. Add 1 1/2 cups flour gradually, until mixture is smooth. Cover and let rise in warm place until very light and bubbly, 30-45 minutes.Mix together 1 3/4 cups flour, salt and spices and set aside. Chop raisins, mix with nuts and set aside. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Blend in yeast mixture. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating until smooth after each addition Add raisin-pecan mixture and mix well.
Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan or large Bundt pan. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until dough almost reaches the top, 1 1/2 -2 hours. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake cake until golden brown, 40-50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then loosen cake from edges with a knife. Turn out onto a cake rack and cool completely.
For glaze: in a mixing bowl, whisk confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and milk, until desired spreading consistency. Glaze should cover top of cake and drizzle down the sides.
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