This year’s presidential race for the oval office has been a bitter affair filled with the nation polarized and a nasty lingering taste left in our mouths. However, like good Americans’ there are a group of bakers across the country that are rebelling against the sourness of this election and are joining together to bring some sweetness to this election……..with cake.
By Dana Zia
The Golightly Gourmet
Election cake is quite old and has been around sweetening up elections since America was only 13 colonies filled with the spicy dream of a democratic country. It was originally called “muster cake” back in those days as it was baked by colonial women and fed to the hordes of men that were mustered for military training by the British. A little sweetening to the seriousness of the times.
After the US was able to become an independent country “muster cake” made the effortless leap to “election cake” and baked in massive quantities on Election Day to spice up the festivities. Election Day was quite different back then, it was a very important, hard won, holiday and second only to Thanksgiving in food, drink and revelry. People broke loose and celebrated our new-born country with bonfires, parties and visiting each other’s homes where the food, drink and election cakes flowed freely.
It wasn’t until around 1900 when the industrial revolution was drawing people out of the county and into the cities that Election Day lost its luster and the election cake fell from its cake pedestal into the past. However, this year’s nasty election has brought about the need to take this late great cake out of the past and put it back on its pedestal.
Two bakers, Susannah Gebhart and Maia Surdam, from OWL bakery in Ashville N.C. conceived the idea with others at a baking summit in June. They worked with food historian Richard Miscovich to create a recipe from historical records that has been adapted for our modern ingredients and much smaller portions. They have invited commercial and home bakers across the country to “Make American Cake Again” for the election. All proceeds from the participating bakeries are going to the League of Women’s Voters since that gender wasn’t able to vote when this cake was prevalent.
The election cake recipe is based on a classic English fruitcake redolent with molasses, spices, dried fruit and with a boozy splash of brandy, whiskey or wine. It is leavened with a yeast starter since baking soda and powder were not available when this cake was popular. The process to make it takes a couple of days since you need to build a yeasty sponge to raise the cake. It is very different and is quite fun to make. (At least for geeky foodies like me.) I know what I’ll be doing on Election Day, I’ll be baking and sharing this cake. Join me in making America cake again…for the election.
The night before; Make the sponge or starter
275 ml of lukewarm milk (which is basically a little over one cup. 1.15 cups)
1/4 tsp of instant yeast
2 1/4 cups of unbleached white flour
Warm your milk up to 70 degrees or so and sprinkle the yeast over it and mix it in till it is well dispersed. Place your flour in a warmish bowl (I used glass so it wouldn’t do anything scary to my yeast) and make a well in the flour and pour in the milk. Whisk the milk into the flour like a mad politician on a soapbox till it is smooth and perfectly gooey. If it is too thick, don’t be shy, and add a bit more warm milk till the starter is goopy but not runny. (That made about as much sense as a politician but hopefully you get the idea) Cover the starter with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel and set in a warm draft-free place for the night, 8-12 hours. When you check it out the next morning it should be bubbly and puffy. If so, you won your first primary.
Soak your dried fruit and rehydrate it.
Take 2 cups of dried fruit (I used raisins, currants and dried cranberries) and put in a small sauce pan, barely cover with wine or apple cider, bring to a simmer and turn off and let set overnight.
The day of;
1 cup of unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
3/4 cup of brown or unrefined sugar
1/3 cup of whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup of molasses or honey
2 TBLS of brandy, whiskey or rum
2.25 cups of unbleached white flour
3 TBLS of pumpkin pie spice
OR 2 TBLS of cinnamon, 1 tsp of nutmeg and ground ginger, 1/2 tsp of cloves and allspice
1/4 tsp of coriander
1/4 tsp of cardamom
1/4 tsp of ground black pepper
1 tsp of salt
At the end
2 cups of your rehydrated dried fruit
1 cup of chopped nuts of your choice
Break out your mixer for this last part and cream the butter on medium speed till smooth and creamy then add the sugar slowly, mixing the whole time, till it is very light and fluffy. With the mixer still going, add the eggs one at a time, then add the yogurt, molasses or honey and brandy till everything has the same political agenda. If you have a dough hook for your mixer, exchange that now and add the starter to the wet mix and blend till just mixed. If you don’t, just use what you have.
In a separate bowl, whisk the dry mix together well. With the mixer going, blend the dry mix into the wet mix by cupfuls till it is just blended well. Try not to overmix it. Fold in the fruit and nuts with a big spoon or rubber spatula. When everything is mixed, the best that you can, divide the batter evenly into two bundt pans or cake pans. (I did one cake pan and 10 little rose cakes.) There is quite a lot of batter so get creative! Cover and set in a warm draft-less place for 2-4 hours till your cakes are doubled in size. (at least one third taller, don’t fret if it isn’t quite doubled)
Heat up your over with the debates to 375 degrees when your cakes are ready. Uncover and tuck in the oven to bake for 10 minutes then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake another 25-30 minutes till a tester comes out clean and the house smells like good times. (The small cakes baked for about 15 more minutes after I turned down the heat) Cool the cakes completely before cutting or they will fall apart like a bad politician. Glaze with a simple glaze of 1 cup of sugar and 2 TBLS of lemon juice and the zest. Serve on Election Day or anytime you want to sweetened thing up.