18th Century Election Cake!

Election Day is here and that means one thing: 18th century cake! To celebrate our hard-earned right to vote, we’ll be baking an Election Cake, a New England tradition going back to the 1700s!

In fact, these cakes have been part of our region’s dessert menu for so long that before we even had elections, they went by other names like “Great Cakes”, “March Meeting Cakes”, and “Muster Cakes”. In colonial times, these Muster Cakes were fed to soldiers to keep up their strength as they went through all the same military drills you can see the Townsend and Stow Minutemen Companies performing at our open houses and Revolutionary War encampments – (You can only do so many “Shoulder Arms” and “To the Right About… FACE”-es before you need to refuel with cake!)

Even though these cakes existed for many years prior to this, it appears that the first time someone swam out of the sea of butter required to make them and formally wrote the recipe down was in a 1796 book called “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons. There are quite a few variations of the recipe that have been handed down over the generations, but some classic ingredients they all feature include autumnal spices like nutmeg and cloves, a TON of brown sugar, and lots of dried fruit that gets baked into the middle!

It’s said that these sweet and spicy cakes were baked in huge batches so that they could feed a long line of people at the polls, and early recipes literally call for ten solid pounds of butter! (Tempting as it is to devour 40 sticks of butter, Anni and I decided to scale back that aspect in today’s attempt.)

Although American women were not guaranteed suffrage until the passing of the 19th Amendment a century ago, it appears that some were able to have their voice be heard by bringing these tasty baked goods to the polls as a way to swing some votes the way they saw fit with the lure of cake!

As always with our historical cooking adventures, you can take a look through the photo gallery to see how we did with the recipe, and most importantly to find out how the Election Cake tastes!

And while we’re all in the electing spirit, please also elect to believe that the headwear I’m sporting in these photos is an authentic 18th century powdered wig, and NOT rolled up printer paper held together with an embarrassing amount of duct tape… And also, vote!




Unbeknownst to us at the outset, it turned out that the yeast and dough actually have to rise for an hour and half before we put it in the oven. That’s why this subsection of the recipe is entitled: “How to inadvertently extend your workday by 90 minutes”.
Mixing in flour by hand of course, pay no attention to the batter-covered KitchenAid in the background. A TRUE chef like myself would never tarnish an 18th century recipe by installing a mixing attachment and setting the machine on “2” and letting it run for approximately 3 minutes… Never…
Warming spices like nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice mean these cakes packs a WALLOP to keep people standing while they wait in long lines out in the November elements at the polls!
Coating the dried fruit and walnuts in flour before adding them to the batter, otherwise they’ll all sink to the bottom of your Election Cake and you’ll be in for a really bizarre dessert experience!
Taking the cake out of the oven all while balancing this powdered wig atop my head. Such poise!
At this point we knew that it A. Smelled like a cake, and B. Looked like a cake, but the true cake results were not yet tallied!
The moment of truth…
Taking a moment to ponder the results. Cake is a thinking man’s game.
Results are in, and the winner is, ELECTION CAKE 2020!
Who wore the powdered wig better? Me, or Charlie the basset hound cookie jar? Visit your local polling station to cast your vote!
We ended up having to tape my powdered wig to my head while we were out on the balcony because it is surprisingly aerodynamic. What’s in my cartridge box, you ask? Election Cake. What’s in my canteen? More Election Cake. #ElectionCake2020

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