Old-fashioned Ribbon Cake

Slice of Ribbon Cake

Spice cakes are a favorite around our house, so when a birthday rolled around I got the usual request for a spice cake. I wanted to honor the request – yet at the same time, do something different – so I was pleased to find a hundred-year-old recipe for Ribbon Cake, which is a three-layer cake. There are yellow cake layers on the top and bottom with a spice cake layer in the middle.

The spice cake layer contained two dried fruits- chopped raisins and chopped figs. I’ve often eaten spice cakes with raisins. This is the first time I’ve ever had one that also contained figs, and they were a wonderful addition. When eating the cake, I couldn’t distinguish between the chopped figs and the chopped raisins – but together they added a richer and more nuanced flavor and texture than if just raisins had been used.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Ribbon Cake

The old recipe doesn’t say to beat the egg white before adding to the cake batter, but I did since I couldn’t figure out why else the recipe would have called for separating the eggs. Adding beaten egg whites results in a lighter cake.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Ribbon Cake

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs separated

1 cup milk

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon mace

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon molasses

1/3 cup raisins, chopped

1/3 cup dried figs, chopped

apple jelly

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans; line with waxed paper or parchment paper, then grease again and lightly flour.

Put egg whites into a mixing bowl, and beat until peaks form. Set aside.

Put butter, sugar, egg yolks, milk, flour, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Beat until well-mixed. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Pour the 2/3’s of the batter into two cake pans (1/3 in each pan).

Add the cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, and molasses to the remaining batter. Gently stir until thoroughly combined, then gently stir in the raisins and figs. Put in the third cake pan.

Bake the three layers for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled.

Trim cake layers if needed to make even, then put a yellow cake layer on a plate. Spread with apple jelly, and then put the spice cake layer on top of it. Spread with apple jelly, and then place the remaining yellow cake layer on top.

If desired, frost cake. (I frosted the cake with buttercream icing that was flavored with maple extract.)


15 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Ribbon Cake

    1. If he likes spice cakes, I think that he’d like this one. It was tasty. I don’t make layer cakes very often, but this is definitely one that I might make again.

  1. This looks very tasty! I love carrots and this would be one I would try – except my husband hates raisins… I’d have to substitute figs or dates for the whole amount. I’ll have to give it a try!

    1. The chopped figs worked well in this recipe. It would work fine to substitute them for the entire amount. Dates would probably also work in this recipe.

  2. Found your site looking for clarification on a ribbon cake recipe I just found in my great-grandmothers recipe box. She passed in the early 1970’s at 100 years of age.

    Her handwritten version appears to make two separate batters of two somewhat differently structured/ textured cake.

    Light part
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup butter
    1-1/2 cup flour
    1/2 cup sweet milk (fresh)
    whites of 4 eggs (presumably well beaten_
    2 tsp cream of tarter
    1 tsp (baking) soda

    Dark part
    1 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup butter
    1/2 cup flour (does not appear to be missing a 1 before the half cup while the light cake clearly has 1 and 1/2 cups)
    1/2 cup sour milk
    yokes of 4 eggs
    2 tsp cream of tarter
    1 tsp (baking) soda
    1 tsp cloves
    2 tsp cinnamon

    No further directions given but with more flour in the light part it would have more volume. I can see baking it all in three layers and putting the dark and heavier spice cake in the middle as you did. I do really like the maple icing idea. My grandmother seemed to love cakes and cookies and I have lots of old recipes to sort out

    Thank you for posting your recipe – I look forward to exploring your site further.

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