Editor's note: St. Louis food writer Ann Lemons Pollack, our friend and longtime reader of Serious Eats (where she goes by Lemons), shared this blog post and recipe with us. I'll let her talk about its significance when it comes to election history, but I will say it looks like a great tradition to start in your own kitchen and/or polling place—baking a special cake to share with friends and fellow citizens. Who couldn't use a little warmth in early November? Thanks, Ann! —Adam
On Tuesday, my husband and I are both working the polls, serving as election judges. We began doing this four years ago, and while it's exhausting, we both love it. It's exciting seeing people of all types and sizes and races and ages coming out to perform what we think is a near-religious act, participating in their country's essential action. Because our polling spot is near a major university, we've seen lots of first-time voters, including one arriving on a skateboard and more than one depositing a ballot and high-fiving pals.
The polls in Missouri open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Like the folks where you vote, we arrive at 5 a.m. and stay until everything is verified, taken down, put away and locked up. Occasionally, that's 7:45. Sometimes, it's nearly 9. That's one very long day.
This year, the Election Board has asked that we not leave for lunch, but rather be prepared to eat on the premises. Some judges always have done that. (There was the episode when a voter's usually well-behaved dog, bored by waiting in line, quietly ate the sandwich, paper bag and all, of the poor judge whose station he was standing by. No one noticed until the dog had finished all but a bit of the bag.) But most of us like to slip away for a little while, catch our breath and have our repast. So it's carry-in time.
I'm not sure of everything I'm going to haul, but one thing is already set: Election Cake. It's an old tradition from lower New England, especially Connecticut, dating to the 18th century. Mildly sweet (I omit the drizzled glaze this recipe calls for), it's a yeast cake, rather coffee-cake-ish. I made it years ago and wasn't satisfied with the version, finding it dense and bland, as so many ancient recipes are to the modern palate. But the Washington Post food section archives had this recipe from Patricia Bunning Stevens' Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, via Kim O'Donnel's column A Mighty Appetite.
Some people find yeast dough intimidating. I started baking with yeast when I was young and unaware of anything except the recipe I had in front of me. It worked beautifully, and I have never looked back. This recipe requires no kneading. I use my meat thermometer to check the water temperature, but the old baby-bottle test, just warm on the inside of your wrist, held me in good stead for years. (Cooler is better than warmer, which can kill the yeast beasties.) And my raisins were a little exhausted and dried out. I soaked them overnight in a little orange juice, poured off any excess before I added them to the batter, and it was absolutely fine.
Not a particularly handsome cake, especially minus the glaze, but an awfully tasty version. Now if we can just make sure we have decent coffee.
Read more: American Classics: Election Cake
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (105° to 115° degrees F)
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (divided in two parts: 1 1/2 cups, then 1 3/4 cups)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons milk
Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in milk. Add 1 1/2 cups flour gradually, until mixture is smooth. Cover and let rise in warm place until very light and bubbly, 30 to 45 minutes.
Mix together 1 3/4 cups flour, salt and spices and set aside. Chop raisins, mix with nuts and set aside. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Blend in yeast mixture. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating until smooth after each addition Add raisin-pecan mixture and mix well.
Grease and flour a standard angel food pan or large bundt pan. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until dough almost reaches the top, 1 1/2-2 hours. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake cake until golden brown, 40-50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then loosen cake from edges with a knife. Turn out onto a cake rack and cool completely.