Bake a Historical Election Cake

To honor the colonial tradition of baking an Election Cake, we present an old fashioned Election Cake baked after Amelia Simmons recipe found in the book “American Cookery” from the year 1796. 

The Election Cake, also known as the Hartford Election Cake was very popular in the 18th century when being baked and distributed to crowds of people who came into town to vote. The base for the recipe is an English pound cake. This type of cake was also known as Muster Cake as it was provided to soldiers coming through towns due to military training days. Recipes varied and several recipes from the 19th century have survived. Most Election Cakes that are being baked today are based on modernized versions of old recipes., using all-purpose flour and refined sugar, both not available in the 18th. century. 

Our Election Cake attempts to recreate the original recipe. The amount of ingredients in Amelia’s recipe was large because it was intended for many cakes to feed a crowd. It was more practical for us to divide the recipe by 60. For authenticity reasons we have used freshly ground whole wheat flour, freshly ground (with mortar and pestle) allspice berries and coriander seeds. White sugar was very rare in the 18th century and the reference to sugar meant any sugar that was available (raw sugar, molasses or honey). We have used raw honey. The word plum referred to dried fruits such as raisins, currents or dried plums (prunes).  We have used a mixture of raisins and cranberries since cranberries were available in the 18th century. The raisins and cranberries used in this recipe have not been treated with sulfur. Unfortunately fresh yeast was unavailable at this time, but it is preferable to use for more authenticity.

Divided by 60, the ingredient list reads as follows:

  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour (wet with ca. ½ cup milk and ¼ oz dry active yeast) overnight or 8 hours (in the fridge). If you use fresh yeast, use 20g of it. Since modern wheat is much different from the wheat in the 1700s, try other ancient grains instead, such as spelt, einkorn, emmer or kamut.
  • 2 sticks of butter – room temperature or a bit warmer
  • 320 g raw honey
  • 270 g raisins or mix of raisins and cranberries (organic, no sulfur)
  • 1 egg
  • 50 ml wine (since the recipe is not specific, experiment – we used cream sherry)
  • 15 ml brandy
  • 6 g ground cinnamon = ca. 1 tbsp
  • 6 g coriander seed – grind in mortar = ca. 2 tbsp seeds
  • 4 g allspice (dried berries) – grind in mortar = ca. 1 ½ tsp berries

Step 1: Preparation on Night before the Baking

Add ca. ½ cup milk to the two cups of whole grain flour and place in the fridge overnight. If you use dry yeast, add the yeast in step 3.

Step 2: Prepare Ingredients

Measure all ingredients and put in separate bowls. Grind the spices. The recipe does not say if the raisins are to be soaked in the brandy. If you want to soak the dried fruit in brandy, you would do it in this step. 

Step 3: Adding Butter and Honey

Mix in butter, honey and dry yeast and let rise for another 30 minutes or until the dough is lighter.

Step 4: Adding spices and egg

Add spices, alcohol and egg. If you soaked the “plums” in the alcohol, don’t mix them to the dough in this step. If the mixture seems too liquid, add more flour. Let rise again for 30 – 60 min until dough has risen again.

Step 5: Add the “Plums”

Fold in the dried fruit of your choice (soaked if you opted to do this) to the mixture. Fill mixture into a bundt pan.

Step 6: Bake

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 80-100 min. Experience with temperature and time since ovens were not set to a certain temperature. Use a toothpick to check if the cake is baked through. Since cakes were not glazed, sprinkle it with ground hazelnuts or ground walnuts. Enjoy!

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