Ballot Box Cake
A yeasty cake with spices and brown sugar is a New England classic.
We’ve heard about Election Cake for a long time and had always assumed it was something people ate after the last vote was counted. Although we’ve never seen so much as a box of doughnuts at our local polling station, the idea of a special cake to celebrate the day sounded very patriotic. We decided to learn more about it.
The first mention of Election Cake, which turns out to be more of a yeast bread than a cake, was in the spring of 1771 in Hartford, Conn. Back then, election day was more than a quick stop at the polls on the way home from work. It was a multi-day affair with parades and late-night parties. Local housewives baked cakes for voters and officials who came to the city specifically to count the votes. The cakes, which took hours to rise, were made in loaves or large tube pans and baked slowly in wood-burning ovens. It was reported that some women had nightmares that their cakes might not rise. No wonder; the recipes called for gargantuan amounts of ingredients to go wrong: 10 pounds of butter, 14 pounds of sugar, and dozens of eggs.
Election Cakes must have seemed like a good idea because by the next century Americans in other parts of the country were eating them. Not surprisingly, we found that everything from pound cake to gingerbread has been passed off as Election Cake. However, what they all have in common is yeast, raisins and nutmeg. Compared to the original, our Election Cake is a modest loaf, lightly spiced and sweetened with brown sugar.