Americans seem to have lost the tastiest part of their yearly democratic tradition: The Hartford Election Cake. This fruit-filled, communal yeast loaf is now just novelty for the culinarily curious, but this boozy cake actually played an important role in many Colonial elections. Voters would have to make long treks into the city to cast their ballots, and political parties would welcome them with a drink and a slice of cake—often in exchange for voting a straight ticket.
Today, election day has become a civic duty absent of festivity, but we want to change that by bringing back the booze and the cake.
I made a version of this cake on election day four years ago after learning about it from Amelia Simmons' 1796 cookbook, the first known cookbook written by an American.
With another election upon us, I wanted to share with you my take on the old tradition. In Amelia’s version, this monumental dessert calls for 14½ lbs. of flour, 10 lbs. of fruit, and one dozen eggs, wine and brandy.
Since Zak and I are but two voters, our cake is not nearly as large. But it still has room for our preferred candidate: bourbon. Happy voting!
-Alicia and Zak of Daily Memorandum
Hartford Election Cake:
¼ cup lukewarm water
2 packages dry yeast
¾ cup whole milk, heated to lukewarm
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
6 tbs butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
3 tbs molasses
½ -3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 scant tsp mase
3/4 cup bourbon soaked raisins, or any other dried fruit such as plums, cherries, figs, currants, etc.
Preheat oven to 375. Pour lukewarm water into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle over with yeast. Set aside for several minutes to let yeast activate. Stir in warm milk, then beat in 1-1/2 cups of the flour, making a stiff batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for no longer than 30 minutes. Beat in the butter, egg, molasses, sugar, spices, and salt. Then work in the remaining 1-1/2 cups flour until fully combined. Cover the bowl, let rest for 15 to 30 minutes. Set rack in the lower middle of the oven.
Knead the dough until smooth, for 5 to 10 minutes. It will be slightly sticky, slowly add more flour as necessary until it becomes more workable; a soft pliable dough should result.
Remove the raisins/fruit from alcohol, (reserve alcohol to season the cake after baking) dry lightly, then knead into dough. Divide the dough in half; form each half into a small bun cake, pulling the surface of the dough taught and twisting it under on the bottom of each bun.
Bake the cake until the buns are puffed and richly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool until just slightly warm then season with reserved fruit soaking bourbon, applied with brush. Season again once completely cooled.
Note: I use roughly 3/4 cup of dried fruit—raisins, currants, plums, etc.—soaked in bourbon (or really any alcohol of your choice) for at least one day before assembling cake. You can soak longer and use up to a full cup if you want; I prefer a sparser loaf. This recipe yields two to four loaves and is more akin to a sweet bread than a cake. Top with an simple icing of your choice if you prefer a sweeter treat.
01. Alicia and Zac