UPDATED BELOW, WITH PHOTOS OF AN ELECTION CAKE!
That’s of course the original French for what Marie Antoinette allegedly said when reliably informed by her courtiers that the people had no bread to eat. “Let them eat cake!,” she said in a loose translation, although most of Historiann’s readers are righteously skeptical of these little historical fables that blame selfish, frivolous women for the falls of kingdoms and empires. (As if the end of the Ancien Régime was a bad thing?)
Well–tomorrow is Election Day in the United States, and I want to share with you a recipe for an old-fashioned New England Election Cake. Election Days in colonial New England were festive affairs–Anglo-Americans knocked off work to muster on the town green for militia duty (every free man between 16 and 60, that is), and to listen to inspirational election sermons. (Wev.) But much of the day was given over to feasting and drinking (preferably, but not always, after the militia had completed their drills with live rounds.) All of these activities sound incredibly manly, don’t they? So, let’s “Remember the Ladies,” who were working much of the day in their primitive kitchens brewing that beer, preparing those enormous feasts, and perhaps towards the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, baking up a decadent little treat like this Election Cake. It is supposedly based on a recipe in Catharine Beecher’s Domestic Receipts published in 1857, and she alleged that her Election Cake recipe was then 100 years old.
Hartford Election Cake
1/2 cup each yellow and dark raisins
4 t dried coriander seeds
¼ C brandy
2 packages active dry yeast (2 T)
2 ½ C warm water
½ C nonfat dry milk
7 C all-purpose flour
¾ C sugar
½ lb. butter (2 sticks)
¾ C brown sugar
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon
½ t freshly grated nutmeg
½ C sliced citron
Soak the raisins and coriander in the brandy for 3-4 hours.
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in ½ C of the warm water and let stand a minute. Add the remaining water, the dry milk, 4 C of the flour, and ¼ C of the sugar and beat well, about 100 strokes by hand or 3 minutes on the electric beater. Cover with plastic wrap and let this sponge rise for about 3 hours.
Cream the butter with the remaining sugar and the brown sugar, then beat in the eggs, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Turn this mixture into the sponge, stir in the remaining flour, cup by cup, using enough to form a soft dough. Add the citron and the raisins and coriander, along with their juices, and a little more flour, if necessary to make a cohesive dough. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise again until double in volume.
Beat down the dough, adding a little more flour again if it is too sticky. Divide in half and placed in two greased 9-inch cake pans, cover lightly with a towel, and let rise again for 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 55 minutes. Turn out of the pans onto a baking sheet. Drizzel molasses over the tops and slip the cakes under the broiler until the glaze bubbles. Let cool on racks.
MAKES TWO 9-INCH CAKES
Source: Judith and Evan Jones, The L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery (New York: Random House, 1987), 587.
You’ll note that it’s a yeast dough, which is why I’m posting the recipe today. If you want to serve it tomorrow, you’ll need to pick up some yeast on your way home from work this afternoon and get going on the cake tonight. You can let the second rise happen in the refrigerator overnight so that all you have to do is the final rise and baking, which you can get done before work if you like. (Good luck finding citron in the supermarket now–in some places I’ve lived, Election Day wasn’t close enough to Thanksgiving Day and therefore not close enough to the “holiday baking season” for the supermarkets to stock things like citron and other fruitcake ingredients.) This Election Cake is basically a yeasty fruitcake, kind of like a Panettone, but not as good. (But then, I’m not much of a baker, and I haven’t made it since Election Day 1998, so I’m perfectly willing to believe the fault is mine!) Personally, I would skip the broiled molasses topping and just serve it up with a generous slather of butter. (Or, make a Hot Cross Bun-like icing, and draw outlines of donkeys and elephants, since this dough is very similar.) And, maybe wash it down with slug of rye whiskey.
Happy Election Day, one and all. I hope you get what and who you voted for (although I realize that all of us will be disappointed by at least one local, state, or national result.) I’ll have an Election Day open thread tomorrow, and hope that you’ll all report on what you’re seeing and hearing where you live, work, and vote. Onward, Americans!
UPDATE, ELECTION DAY, 11/4/08: Erica at the good old days has actually tried the recipe! (Did the overnight rise in the fridge work? I was just suggesting it–I don’t know if that’s how I did it.) Check out some of her photos:
Here’s a photo of combining the sponge (light colored batter) with the creamed butter and sugar mixture). This is when the batter crept up the beaters and actually into Erica’s mixer. What a mess.
The next photo is of the batter all mixed together, and the last photo is of the finished products, complete with the molasses glaze. Enjoy! (And be sure to check out Erica’s complete photo gallery of the cake-baking process.)