The Cake That Fed An Entire Town: {Part Two} On Election Day in 1700’s America

Ladies and gentlemen, the results are in!  Eighteen ingredients, nine hours, three loaf pans and one historic recipe later  – we have a winner – in Election Cake. Yesterday, when I wrote about the history of this patriotic confection, there was uncertainty and speculation about what exactly it was (cake or bread?) and if it was going to be a palatable sweet treat that transitioned well across three centuries. Today, we discovered what this celebratory concoction was all about. Let’s look…

The recipe began yesterday, simple enough, with yeast and water and flour, and a dash of sugar and oil…

It was left to rise six hours on its own, which it did, like a good little cake…

Next, went in a handful of ingredients…

After they were all mixed together, the batter was ready to be parceled out into three loaf pans…

and were left to rise again, for another hour, which they really didn’t do at all. It would be generous to say that after the hour was up, each loaf was half an inch taller, but that would be an exaggeration. Maybe, indeed the batter did rise a little, but if so it was barely noticeable. I hesitated here at this stage, thinking maybe I should let them sit longer so that each loaf could get bigger. But then I remembered that the author of this recipe, Fannie Farmer, was a stickler for precision and instruction, so into the oven the three loaves went, without any extra rise time. Just follow the recipe. That’s what Fannie would have said.

Exactly at the one hour mark, no less and no more,  the loaves came out sky high and golden brown…

Fannie didn’t fail us after all! The tops even cracked open themselves, and looked like little lips about to say yum. A good sign of things to come.  After a short cooling off period, the loaves were ready to cut and serve and taste…

And that is when I discovered that this very old Election Cake is in fact, very delicious. I understand how people could get confused about whether to call it a cake or a bread because really it is similar to both.  It has a texture and consistency like banana bread or zucchini bread but also it has a light and fluffy body like cake. The combination of the whiskey, yeast and nutmeg gives it a subtle hint of almost root beer-like tang that is lovely and warm. And although it already has a cup of butter in it, this little darling of a delectable is calling out to be sliced and toasted with an extra slather of butter.

While no one ingredient is powerfully overwhelming, all of them work well together to create a balanced flavor that hints at citrus and at spice, which leads me to understand how so many varieties of Election Cake came about between the 1700’s and now. It’s wonderful just as it is, but it’s also one of those recipes that might spark your creativity. After you have made it once or twice, it will make you feel brave – enough to confidently add your own little twist. Not an improvement, just a twist.  Maybe you’ll want to add some nuts or orange peel or cinnamon or cranberries. Or maybe you’ll get creative on the serving side and want to pair it along with thinly sliced pieces of ham or brie or cream cheese for a savory little snack. I love recipes like this – ones that feed your brain as well as your belly.

Either way you decide to approach this recipe,  you’ll be most successful with it if you use good quality ingredients like local eggs, fresh nutmeg, European butter, etc. They might be a little more expensive to buy, but the more fresh and natural your ingredients, the more flavorful this cake, in particular, will be. And because it makes three loaves at once, you can freeze two for later, preferably when its cold and snowy, as this would be especially nice for winter breakfast alongside a cup of coffee, for lunch or tea-time or even afternoon hors d’oeuvres. Sweet in a satisfying, robust way (not in an empty calorie way), it will give you renewed energy to carry on with your day, which was exactly the original intention way back on voting days in the 1700’s.

Fannie Farmer’s Election Cake

(Makes 3 loaves. Recipe written exactly as it appeared in the 1965 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

Put in a bowl… 1 cup warm water (not hot)

Sprinkle over it… 1 package yeast

Add… 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salad oil (I used olive oil), 2 1/2 cups flour

Beat thoroughly , cover, and let rise overnight or at least 6 hours.

Butter three loaf tins. Cream 1 cup butter. Cream in 2 cups dark brown sugar.

Add 4 eggs, well beaten.

Stir in 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon powdered cloves, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon mace (if you can’t find this spice, substitute it for an additional 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg), 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Add to the the butter mixture. Add 2 cups seeded raisins, 1 cup whiskey.

Stir into the yeast batter and beat to blend well. Divide the dough in the tins. cover and let rise 1 hour. Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Interested in learning more about Fannie Farmer and her historic recipes? Find the 1965 edition of her original 1898 cookbook in the shop here.

And just a little reminder… there are just two days left to save 20% off all vintage and antique platters in the shop! Find your favorite here. 

Happy Hour: The Vintage Holiday Cocktail Guide of What to Drink When

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Nothing is more festive than whipping up a round of cocktails to toast the season and spread holiday cheer. Whether you prefer your happy hour hot or cold, sweet or staunch, straight or slushy chances are there is at least one vintage drink that you could enjoy any time any where no questions asked. But did you  know that there is actually an appropriate time and place for some very specific cocktails? Not all are meant to be enjoyed as a prequel to dinner, a post work wind-down or an eleventh hour night cap.  Today we are setting the bar straight and suggesting the most appropriate time and circumstance to enjoy your favorite vintage libation as approved by Amy Vanderbilt, mid-century America’s go-to etiquette adviser.

Eggnog – Only in the Afternoon

Try a Jamie Oliver version here.
Try a Jamie Oliver version here.

Eggnog, the traditional centuries old cream filled concoction that has more recently filled Tom & Jerry bowls for over  five decades is meant to be consumed only  in the afternoon, in cold climates and ideally alongside a holiday treat like fruit cake or sweet biscuits. Even though it is now consumed anywhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year’s Day is actually the most appropriate holiday for this beverage harking back to the British custom of raising a glass to toast good health and prosperity in the coming year. Never serve eggnog just before dinner. Its high fat content, rich flavor and thick consistency make it too heavy for hors d’oeuvres hour.

Hot Buttered Rum, Glogg and Spiced Wine – Only After Exercise

glogg
Make your own Swedish Glogg with this recipe here.

These are the spirits you want to enjoy after a heavy dose of physical activity in frigid, frosty climates.  Any outdoor activity that has you moving around a bit (shoveling snow, ice skating, skiing, chopping firewood, hanging holiday lights, building a snowman, etc)  is the perfect precursor to a warm cup of spice that will balance your blood sugar and warm your belly. Plus that extra bit of butter in your cup of rum doesn’t seem nearly as devastating if you just shoveled your way out of your latest snowstorm. Like eggnog these contain a rich and colorful mixture of scent and flavor, so you should avoid serving this trio right before a big meal too.  Give yourself at least a three hour spacer between these drinks and dinner.

Tom Collins, Mint Juleps, Rum & Colas, Punch – Only When You Are Not Eating

Find a traditional recipe for a classic Tom Collin here
Find a traditional recipe for a classic Tom Collins here

This assortment of spirits is meant for more sociable affairs where large amounts of food or a dedicated meal are not going to be served. Traditionally in the mid-century days of Amy Vanderbilt’s time such activities included club meetings, card games, dances, open houses, fundraisers and sporting events typically attended sometime between noon and 5:00 pm. They generally followed brunch but preceded cocktail hour. Their light, sweet consistencies were meant more as a refresher  – a spirit to perk your spirits – and keep you feeling lively and engaged in an activity that didn’t revolve around eating.

Brandy, Stingers, Vegetable and Herb Liqueurs – Only After Dinner

The easiest of cocktails. Find the two ingredient Stinger cocktail recipe here
The easiest of cocktails. Find the two ingredient Stinger cocktail recipe here.

All of these drinks fall under the digestif category and should be enjoyed only after dinner. By this time of  night you undoubtedly would welcome a little peaceful calm down. These types of cocktails are like your very own batch of internal elves helping your body in digesting both the day’s events and the day’s food intake. On the body front they help enzymes and organs break down food and on your brain front they help relax your thoughts and settle your spirit for a night-time’s worth of relaxation. There’s a reason why people “retired” to another room for post-dinner brandy back in the days of elegant entertaining. It was the ideal end-cap to the evening for both body and mind.

Find a classic Manhattan cocktail recipe here.
Find a classic Manhattan cocktail recipe here.

So now that we have discussed some drinks that shouldn’t be hanging out at happy hour, let’s look at the little darlings that deserve a  seat at the bar between that much anticipated 5:00pm-7:00pm stretch…

One of our favorites in the land of Ms. Jeannie - find a classic martini recipe here.
One of our favorites in the land of Ms. Jeannie – find a classic martini recipe here.

Martinis, Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds, Daiquiris, Bacardis and Whiskey Sours –

These are the gang you want to spend your time with if a feast awaits in the near future. While they pack punch in the flavor department they don’t overpower your palate, so dinner will taste marvelous. All these drinks contain a mixture of pretty little garnishes like olives or cherries but proper decorum dictates that you should only eat those offered on toothpick or skewer. Amy Vanderbilt frowns on anyone fishing around inside their cocktail glasses with their fingers. No matter how hungry you get before dinner.

Finally, if all else fails and you can’t recall what you are supposed to be enjoying when remember this easy guide… brights and lights for warm weather, dark and moody for cold weather. That means…

top to bottom: Gin and Tonic, Vodka Tonic and
top to bottom: Gin and Tonic, Vodka Tonic and Coconut Rum.

if you are looking at palm trees, pools, heat, humidity, bathing suits and beaches on your Christmas holiday stick to gin and tonics, vodka gingers, coconut rums or anything light in color and topped with citrus. But if your holiday plans take you in the exact opposite direction and your vantage point involves twig trees, frozen ponds, wind chill temperatures, gloves and scarves and snow covered hills then warm up from the inside out with bourbon, scotch, rum, brandy and all the variations that produce colors in the brown, black, red and amber shades.

winter_collage
Clockwise from top right: Scotch on the rocks, Black Russian, Sidecar

Common sense and natural instinct prevail here in the vintage drink guide. But sometimes we can get so caught up in the novelty of the holiday or the fun of party planning that we forget about proper pairings. We want to try everything. But just like wine and beer every cocktail has its ideal place on the food and activity spectrum.  So this year, follow this guide and you will sail through Christmas and New Year’s feeling snappy instead of sick.

cheers1

Cheers to partying like a professional!