Food Nation

The United States of Desserts: Hartford Election Cake

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Baking a cake is not usually what i want to do after casting my ballot, but back in 18th-century America, folks felt differently. Perhaps still giddy from their relatively recent independence from Britain, Americans (then) considered election day an extremely important holiday. In celebration, they often made circular cakes flavored with spices, fruit, molasses, and/or brandy.

Also known as "Training Day" cake, Election Cake became heavily associated with the city of Hartford, Connecticut when in 1830 every man [sorry, gals--we had many more years of disenfranchisement to come] who voted a straight party ticket was given this confection.

The first recorded mention of Election Cake appeared, however, much earlier in Amelia Simmons' American Cookery published in 1796:

Election cake - Thirty quarts of flour, 10 pound butter, 14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins, 3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy, 4 ounces cinnamon, 4 ounces fine colander seed, 3 ounces ground alspice; wet flour with milk to the consistence of bread over night, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.

Certainly not a recipe for those averse to butter and sugar.

Although Hartford Election Cake is considered one of the oldest "American" desserts, the cake actually finds its origins in England as it is a variation of the traditional British sponge or fruitcake.

If you find Simmons' recipe a bit intimidating or you just don't have 30 quarts of flour lying around, blogger Christina Conte has designed a terrific modern version.

And don't feel like you have to wait until Election Day to try it.

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Joanna O'Leary