Make War Cake, Not War [by Katy]

For the past three weeks, Katy & Josh have blogsat. This is the end of the run.

Oh, how I have suffered for you people! I have just had a devil of a time deciding what to do for my third and final post on historic American desserts. Having done a pie (vinegar), and a fruit dessert (blackberry grunt), I wanted to do a cake for you before you return into the Amateur Gourmet’s loving hands.

Decisions, decisions!

war_frustration

For instance, there was the intriguing and holy option of SCRIPTURE CAKE. If, at any point in your life, you have been churched, and that church put out a fundraiser cookbook, you’ve probably seen this spice cake recipe before. It is an old, old recipe, going back probably to nineteenth century revival meetings.

The ingredients for Scripture Cake are traditionally listed as 3/4 cup Genesis 18:8, 1 teaspoon Exodus 3:23, 3 cups sifted Leviticus 24:5 … the idea being that you should look up the specific verses to see what food they mention.

That’s right! It’s good for your belly, and good for your soul! Sometimes the whole thing is drizzled with a Burnt Jeremiah Syrup, or dotted with an Lamentations reduction, candied Zechariah, and essence of grated Habakkuk.

But okay. Scripture Cake sounds good, but it is SO MUCH work. I’d have to, like, find my bible and a pen and paper. Forget it. Next!

Another option was ELECTION CAKE, an interesting American dessert dating back to 1771. (Which is weird because that’s before elections, but that’s neither here nor there.) Election cake dates back to before there was such a thing as baking powder, so it was a yeast-leavened cake baked in a loaf pan, with molasses, spice, raisins, and brandy. It was a New England tradition to bake these cakes on election days, and supposedly it was served in the 1830s in Connecticut only to those who voted a straight ticket.

I don’t just know this, by the way. I learned this all from reading this interesting cake history. (Did you know birthday cakes date back to ancient Greece and Rome? Of course you didn’t.)

But you know what? This isn’t an election day. Nope. There IS an election coming up here, which all of you Americans should remember to vote in, but it’s not until November. Hadn’t I better wait until then? I think so.

That’s when I decided the very best option was WAR CAKE.

That’s right, WAR CAKE. War cake comes from this country during World War II, when clever women figured out ways to make cake during wartime ingredient shortages.

Here are some of those clever women, figuring stuff out:

clever_women

For one thing, I just like the slogan: make war cake, not war. That’s good, right? They should put that on a bumper sticker. For history-dorky foodie anti-war types. Which might end up just being, well, me.

My war cake recipe came from World War II. But there seems to be no end to war cake recipes from various wars. It seems that no matter what is going on in the world, there’s always someone MacGyver-like enough to make cake.

Which begs the question: do you think MacGyver could make a cake? I don’t think so. I don’t ever REMEMBER him making cake. Gadgets, yes. Cakes, no.

macgyver

There are 1917 War Cake recipes out there, too. (Meaning they’re from the FIRST World War, for those of you who were passing notes during history class.) I even found this 1994 Bosnian recipe for War Cake , — a no-bake cake made from bread and cocoa powder.

In 1943, the government put butter on the list of rationed ingredients along with cheese, eggs, white sugar – all of which, for reasons I don’t quite understand, were desperately needed in large quantities for the soldiers abroad. (Were they making quiche and shortbread?)

This rationing had all kinds of crazy, long-lasting effects on our national eating habits, including popularizing margarine for the first time, as well as giving Kraft macaroni and cheese a chance to shine, since these blue boxes offered a way to eat mac-and-cheese without butter, or, well, cheese.

This also led to the birth of my War Cake recipe, which has entirely no dairy in it. That’s right. You can make this for your vegan friends, as well as your friends from the 1940s.

Yum! It has undeniable spice.

war_spicy

Here’s the first step. If this cake were a world war, this step would be like the assasination of the Archduke Ferdinand. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix up a cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/8 cup shortening, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon each nutmeg and ground cloves.

war_first

Bring this mixture to a boil, and then let it simmer and get all syrupy for five minutes or so. Set it aside to cool. You want it warm, but not so that it burns your finger.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit, and grease and flour a 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan.

I don’t recall where we got our loaf pan, but it’s pretty old. It might have been Elenor Roosevelt’s once. Who can say?

war_greasedpan

Mix up your dry ingredients in a big mixing bowl. (That would be 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon each baking soda and powder.) Add the cooled sugar mixture, and let your KitchenAid go at it to smooth out that batter:

war_adding

Once that batter is smooth — and at this stage it really reminds me of batter for, like, pumpkin bread or something — add 2/3 cup chopped walnuts and stir them in well:

war_addnuts

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Strangely, I found that the batter did not nearly fill the pan up, resulting in a rather short loaf. But maybe that’s because people were shorter in the 1940s. You could use a smaller loaf pan.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. This is what the finished loaf looked like, cooling:

war_loaf

What does War Cake taste like?

It is chewy, quite sweet and dense, not overwhelmingly spicy, with the walnuts and raisins giving it some texture:

war_cutpiece

I liked it. I made a note of it as a future option for guests who don’t eat dairy. When Josh returned home from the front, I gave him a slice, too.

“That’s pretty good,” he said, “I mean, considering.”

Exactly. Considering the WAR and all, that’s not bad cake. Which is precisely what it was designed to be. No grandiose extravagance, but excellent under the given constraints.

Which is what I hope our interim rulership of this food blog has been for you dear people, too. Our beloved Amateur Gourmet will return to us tomorrow, and not a moment too soon.

He will no doubt have much to share with us about the bar exam. And perhaps he will make Bar Cake. Or perhaps just go to lots of bars.

As it is — to stretch this post’s thematic thread until it can stretch no further — I do hope that these three weeks of rationing have not sapped you of your desire to make cake. Your hero is returning! Let’s throw him a parade.

— katy

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