Election Day Cake

If it feels like one long holiday marathon from Halloween until New Year’s you are probably right! This morning, I received a great e-mail newsletter from the Old Farmer’s Almanac about Election Day cakes. Celebrating Election Day? Apparently this used to be the norm.  I can’t imagine doing another celebration right on the heels of Halloween!

“[A]n Election Day cake is an American institution. The tradition dates from the 1600s, but the cakes became more elaborate after colonial independence. Weeklong celebrations often accompanied certifying the election results, and women baked these yeast cakes for out-town-guests.”

Election Day Cake, From the Old Farmer’s Almanac website.

Since today is Election Day, I thought I would attempt the cake. Wow! It was a lot of work but it was an interesting connection to the past.

At the time this recipe was created in 1833, a good portion of American society was still disenfranchised. Yet women were making these elaborate cakes and celebrating because at least someone was voting and history was still fresh enough in the collective memory to value voting as a hard-won privilege.

I thought my readers might enjoy seeing this recipe and would have a good laugh at my bumbling attempt to make it.

Election Day Cake
Old Farmer’s Almanac Recipe

  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, heated to lukewarm (I substituted half-and-half)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and forming
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup currants (I substituted raisins)

1. Pour the water into a 4- or 5-quart mixing bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top, and set aside until the yeast dissolves, about 3 minutes. (err…try 30 minutes! I kept waiting for all this yeast to dissolve by itself and finally had to stir the last clump with a spoon.)

Yeast - 30 minutes and a good stir later!

2.  Stir in the warm milk, then beat in 1-1/2 cups of the flour, making a stiff batter.

3.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes (no longer).

2. Beat in the butter, egg, sugar, spices, and salt. Then work in the remaining 1-1/2 cups flour, making a soft, rough dough.

3.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes.

3. Knead the dough until smooth, for 5 to 10 minutes. It will be very soft and sticky. Gradually add more flour as necessary, a few tablespoons at a time, to form a smooth dough.

4. Knead in the currants (or raisins).

5.  Roll the dough into an 8-inch log.

6.  Cut the log into 4 equal pieces. . .

7.  then divide each piece into 6 little rolls.

8.  To create surface tension so the rolls will puff up round, roll each into a little ball. One at a time, pinch 1 side of the ball with your fingers as though stretching loose skin, then tuck the stretched dough into a pucker at the bottom of the ball. Do this several times until the surface looks taut.

9.  Dredge the rolls in flour (oops!  Forgot to do this!) and arrange pucker-side down in a greased 9x13x2-inch baking pan, 4 rows across, 6 rows down.

10.  Loosely drape with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until generously doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The rolls should all be touching.

11. Set a rack in the lower-middle level of the oven. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the cake until all the rolls are puffed and richly browned, and those in the center register at least 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 minutes. (Watch your oven carefully!  I have a small, hot oven and even with the temperature turned down to 350 degrees the cake was in danger of burning after 15 minutes.  After all this work, I would have cried!  I don’t own a baking thermometer so I ignored that part.  Can you imagine making these without the benefit of an electric oven?)

12. Let the cake rest in the pan for 3 minutes, then gently shake the pan back and forth until the cake loosens. Invert the cake onto a cookie sheet, then reinvert it onto a rack. (Please join me in laughing at this part of the recipe.  My rolls were so packed into that pan that there was no way they were coming out without a fight.  At first I thought I might have burned them on the bottom but it turned out that they were fine.  They just wanted to be pried loose one by one.) Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably on the day of baking.

So, what does “election cake” taste like?  A cinnamon roll!

I don’t think any modern American would consider this a “cake.”  Also, it’s quite a good roll with the spices and raisins but it really needs more sweetness.  I added a stripe of cream cheese icing that happened to be left over in my fridge from another recipe I will share with you later this month.

I was so busy making my election cakes that I almost didn’t make it to the polls!  I packed my girls into the car and we got there 30 minutes before closing.

Happy Election Day!