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!

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:


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.


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.


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.


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?


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:


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:


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:


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:


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

18 thoughts on “Make War Cake, Not War [by Katy]”

  1. I posted this recipe on Super Eggplant the other day, and thought you’d like it too. It’s vegan as well, as long as you don’t use milk as the liquid. I left all of my other ramblings on there too. :)


    This cake, from King Arthur Flour’s website, is an absolute standby at our house. The recipe is endlessly flexible, it is moist and just the perfect density, and can be adorned with everything from chocolate ganache to a bit of sour cream or creme fraiche mixed with a touch of brown sugar. I usually make it with the applesauce and about 1 T. of oil (one of those little individual applesauce cups is perfect, I use the unsweetened ones).

    I’m usually ‘go go butter’ in recipes, but the applesauce and oil combo works out perfectly. But I’m sure it would be delish with just oil too. And note, this recipe can be vegan too… if anyone out there has vegan friends who just love chocolate cake. And you can even use some whole wheat flour in the recipe, it’s virtually undetectable. :)

    Variation: If you want a plain vanilla cake… just omit the cocoa and add 1 T. more of flour. I cut up some peaches the other day, put them in my cake pan, whipped up the cake w/o cocoa and added some almond extract. I turned the cake out to serve it… yum!

    (And I bet if you made the recipe w/o the cocoa, you could add some of that green tea powder and make a green tea cake. Fancy, eh?)

    So here goes…

    King Arthur Flour’s Original Cake Pan Cake

    350 degrees

    8 or 9 inch round or square pan (nonstick is best if you have one)

    1 1/2 C. AP flour

    1 C. sugar

    3 T. cocoa

    1/2 t. salt

    1 t. baking soda

    1 t. vanilla

    1 T. vinegar (I use plain old white distilled)

    6 T. oil or 1 individual serving container of applesauce + 1 T. oil

    1 C. cold water (coffee, milk, or a combo of 3/4 C. water and 1/4 C. amaretto, kahlua, dark rum, etc)

    Combine all dry ingredients in pan. Make three indentations. (you can mix this in a bowl too if you want, then pour the batter into the pan)

    Vanilla goes into first hole, vinegar into the second hole, and oil or oil/applesauce into third hole.

    Pour over your cold liquid (whatever you chose), and stir to just combine.

    Bake 30-40 minutes until done.

    You could easily double this recipe and make two layers. And it takes no time at all to pull this together, and you’ll pretty much always have the ingredients on hand.

  2. Katy (and Josh, who doesn’t do quite as much posting), surely you are persuaded to start your own blog. As much as I look forward to the return of Monsieur Gourmet I have mightily enjoyed the past three weeks writing. Being a long distance reader (UK) the mini American history lessons, and deserts, have been really interesting, and I have to agree that Brunch is the best meal.

    Go on, you know you want to….

  3. Thanks Katy and Josh! I really enjoyed your blog sitting…and I’ll miss you (as much as I miss the Amateur G!). When are you two starting your own blog???

  4. I voice the opinion as well that you should start your own blog! I have really enjoyed your blogsitting and look forward to seeing you guys in the future!

  5. Thank you so much for the last three weeks. I have enjoyed them so much! I would also like to plead with you to start your own blog. That would be so great! Getting both the AG and Katy and Josh every day!

  6. yes, i also believe a katie and josh blog would be most excellent. i have been on vacation in london, during most of your blog, however, katies entry today about the war cake reminded me of all the war museum i’ve been visiting

  7. Bye bye Katy and Josh! I really enjoyed the blogsitting! Hope to read from you in your own blog or to see you again over here soon!

  8. Thanks for blogsitting Katy and Josh! I agree, you should have your own blog. There are still so many historical American desserts I need to know about!

  9. Maybe instead of starting your own blog you could just guest blog here frequently. With the AG moving, we need some Atlantans to keep us up to date on all the cheap places to eat and various historic desserts (my mom could not believe I knew what a grunt was, btw, so thanks!).

    Whatever happens, you guys were great!!

  10. That’s it… as of today I have sat for 2 bar exams!!!

    The torture of studying ends! The torure of waiting (until Oct. and Nov) begins!

    Now, time to celebrate!!! Congrats to AG and all the other bar sufferers!!!!


  11. A Big Fan of the AG

    Kudos to both Katy and Josh for entertaining the masses the last several weeks. I was hoping you would make a chess pie for us, Katy; all my great aunts make them but have absolutely no idea why they are called chess pie. With your love of traditional American desserts, maybe you can scour through your cookbooks and see if you can unravel the mystery of chess pie. Blog on!

  12. plumpernickel

    I have really enjoyed your blogsitting. I too think you should have your own blog!

  13. yummy yummy i luv war cake even though i used a different recipe it was delicious!here is my recipe…

    1 cup stewed raisins(boil while mixing ingredients)

    1 cup sugar

    1/2 cup shortening

    1 cup cold water

    2 cups flour

    1 tsp. baking soda

    1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt

    mix together.put in 2 loaf pans that have been greased and floured. sprinkle tops with sugar.

    bake at 350 degrees until done(30 minutes)

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