Here it is: the eve of the election. Are you ready for it to be over yet?
I live in Political Junkie Land. College Boy, also known as Ace Reporter, has been covering political events since 2007. (Yes, he was still in high school.) Now that he has an official job as a reporter for a news service while he finishes his final year in college, he proudly displays all his media credentials, and it is hard to stem the tide of clutter of political signs and memorabilia around the house.
Man of the House is no less interested. Our dinner conversations when College Boy is home are lively, sometimes heated, word-flying tournaments. Even now, as I write this post at the eleventh hour, the latest political news is airing on our television.
In order to do my part, I made an Election Day Cake.
Yes, Virginia, there is a cake for every occasion. Living in New England has made me curious about all sorts of obscure traditions and I remember noticing a recipe for Election Day Cake in an antique cookbook. Sadly, that book hasn’t surfaced since our last move—maybe it is buried under election paraphernalia—so I did a little research and came up with a recipe for a cake I used to make called barm brack. Barm brack is an old Irish tea cake, traditionally served around Halloween, and ye olde Election Day Cake bears a close resemblance. This genre of cakes dates back to the eighteenth century or earlier. They are made with yeast, lightly sweetened, and packed with dried fruit and “cookie spices.” We would probably serve them with tea or coffee; they are emphatically bread-like, and we would not consider them anything like modern dessert cakes.
The most famous Election Day Cake was called Hartford (Connecticut) Election Day Cake, and it was reputed to have been served at polling places to bolster the stamina of those waiting in line to vote. Other theories support it being served at church suppers on the eve of an election, or at town meetings. You wouldn’t get much of sugar rush from a slice of this cake, so my guess is the political arguments would remain civil. Marian Burros offers an in-depth run down of some of these speculations.
I have already eaten almost half a cake, slice by slice, here and there throughout the day. Nervous nibbling. Election jitters. However you eat this cake, on election night it should be served with a glass of champagne or a stiff scotch, depending on the outcome. Ever hopeful, I’m keeping the champagne chilled. Toast it for breakfast the morning after, with gratitude that it’s finally over.
Oh, and don’t forget to vote. It’s a privilege we should cherish and act upon.
p.s. You can find College Boy's recent election photos here if you want to take a peek.
If I haven't warned you enough, consider this more of a bread than a cake. It is based on a traditional old recipe and that's how they rolled back then. I admit it will disappoint you if you’re aiming to satisfy your sweet tooth. I made it with half whole-wheat flour, but if you use all white flour the cake might be a little lighter than mine was. My cool kitchen and the whole wheat made the dough a bit sluggish, but I toughed it out through two long rises. I think a simple glaze would sweeten enough to nudge it into the cake category, but just barely (thin some confectioner’s sugar with a little milk and vanilla and drizzle it on top.)
Election Day Cake
Makes two 8 /12 by 4 1/2-inch loaves
3 1/2 to 4 cups bread or all-purpose flour (could be half whole wheat)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant-dissolve yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cups of a combination of raisins, cranberries and chopped dried fruit
1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir 2 cups of the flour, salt, and yeast together. Add the milk, 2 eggs, honey, and butter. Beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon zest. Beat again to incorporate them. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the enough of the remaining cup of flour to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Knead for 8 minutes.
2. Pour the vegetable oil into the bottom of a clean bowl. Form the dough into a smooth ball (pull the edges into the center to make a round). Place the dough in the bowl and rotate it to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. [Note, it could take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours to rise, depending on the temperature of the room and the density of the dough—whole wheat flour in the dough will slow things down. If the room is cold, set the oven on low, and when it has warmed turn it off. Place the dough bowl in the oven to rise in the turned off oven.]
3. Transfer the dough to the countertop and press with your fingers to spread it into a large rectangle. Spread the fruit and nuts on top. Roll over them with a rolling pin to press the fruit into the dough. Roll up, jellyroll fashion, to make a cylinder. Knead and squeeze the dough for a few minutes to incorporate the fruit into the dough.
4. Butter two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Beat the remaining egg with a fork.
5. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a rectangle that is the same length as the loaf pan. Roll up the rectangle to form a cylinder. Pinch the seam and edges to form a compact roll. Place the dough, seam side down, in the loaf pans. Brush with beaten egg. Let rise until the top of the dough domes about 1-inch above the rim of the pan in the center, about 1 hour.
6. About 20 minutes before the dough has risen, set a shelf in the middle of the oven, and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Brush the loaves a second time with the egg wash. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden and the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees on a probe thermometer placed in the center of a loaf (loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.) Let rest for 5 minutes in the pan and turn out on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.