Election Day Cake

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I always love it when I come across an interesting food snippet or bit of history that I’ve never heard of before. Election Day Cake is a fascinating one that I became aware of a few years ago.

I’ve mentioned before the American colleague who inspired the pecan powder puffs that I make each Christmas. Some years later, she shared the recipe for her Election Day Cake with another colleague of mine, who made his own tweaks, and the cake below is the result. Both brought it into work (for both birthdays and elections), but since they’ve both left, I’ve decided to share it for posterity with my own minor tweaks.

My American colleague makes the cake to mark the occasion of both Australian and US elections, and now, with a Federal election underway, seems an appropriate time to share it! It’s a rich pound cake style cake, lightly spiced, and scattered with bourbon soaked pecans and raisins, then topped with bourbon buttercream. While the name has persisted, this is very different from the original versions.

Election cakes have a long history in the US, starting, like many cakes, as yeasted cakes with fruit, often of enormous size. These were originally called muster cakes, being given to men called up for military service during the colonial era, and became election cakes after independence. They apparently fell out of favour in the early 20th Century, reappearing as a cake similar to the one I’m posting here, without the yeast, but retaining the spices and dried fruit. Many cakes popular before the origin of chemical rising agents followed a similar pattern of replacing yeast with bicarb soda or baking powder as they became available.

It’s a fascinating history, and for those who are interested, there are also modern versions of the original yeasted cakes, like this one with dried blueberries, cranberries, and golden raisins for a patriotic colour scheme!

Election day cake

  • 110ml bourbon
  • 170g chopped pecans
  • 3/4 c raisins
  • 340g unsalted butter
  • 400g white sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 310g plain flour
  • 3 slightly heaped tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 120ml milk

Bourbon buttercream

  • 115g unsalted butter
  • pinch salt
  • 450g icing sugar
  • 11/2 Tbs bourbon
  • 2 Tbs cream

Chop pecans and combine in a small bowl with raisins and bourbon. Cover, and leave for at least an hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 200C. Sift 250g of the flour with the baking powder, salt and spices. Cream butter in a stand or electric mixer until soft, then add sugar and beat until pale and fluffy. Add lightly beaten eggs and vanilla and beat well. If the mixture looks like splitting, add a spoonful of the flour.

Add the rest of the 250g flour to the butter mixture alternately with the milk and beat on low speed until thoroughly combined. Drain the raisins and nuts, and toss with the remaining flour. (This is to prevent them all sinking to the bottom of the cake – I find the raisins still do sometimes if they’ve absorbed too much bourbon :)) Fold into the batter with a spatula, followed by the bourbon.

Scrape into a baking paper lined high sided 23cm square tin and spread evenly. Cover loosely with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 175C and cook a further 90-100 minutes, removing the foil 20 minutes before the end, until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning onto a rack to cool completely. Ice when cold.

For buttercream, beat butter and salt with a stand or electric mixer until well creamed and smooth. Beat in sugar gradually, alternating with bourbon and cream, until very light and pale. Add slightly more or less cream to give a good consistency for spreading. Cover the top and sides of the cake evenly.

Stores well at room temperature for several days iced, and a couple of weeks un-iced in an airtight tin.

Slices to serve at least 30