Old-Fashioned Spice Cake Recipe

Spice Cake

Can a dessert be a comfort food? If so, Spice Cake is one of my favorite comfort foods.

I found a Spice Cake recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook, and just had to give it a try. It was perfect, and brought back memories of luscious Spice Cakes at long-forgotten family reunions and church pot lucks.

This easy-to-make cake has a perfect spicy blend of  cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Brown sugar is the only sugar used in this recipe, which gives this cake a lovely caramel note.

If I had one complaint about this recipe, it’s that it did not make quite enough batter to use my “go-to” 9-inch X 13-inch oblong cake pan. Instead I used a 9-inch square pan, and that worked well. Hmm. . . now that I think about it, perhaps the smaller cake  is an advantage rather than a negative.  It was just the right size for my husband and me.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Old-Fashioned Spice Cake

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: easy
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1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup raisin or chopped dates (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°  F. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan. Combine all ingredients (except for the raisins or dates) into a large mixing bowl. Blend until well blended. If desired, stir in the raisins or dates. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Frost if desired. Good with a maple-flavored frosting.

And, here’s the original hundred-year-old recipe:

Spice Cake Recipe b
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)

Apple Upside-down Skillet Cake

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, September 12, 1914:  Made a cake today. It looked like having been made by a green-horn.

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Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm. . . what kind of cake did Grandma make? It’s getting to be apple season—maybe Grandma made an Apple Upside-down Skillet Cake. It can be a little tricky to successfully get it out of the pan in one piece—so if care is not used it can end up looking like it was made by a “green-horn.”

Apple Upside-down Skillet Cake

1 2/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup shortening

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 cups sliced apples

In a mixing bowl combine flour, salt, baking powder, 2/3 cup sugar, shortening, eggs, vanilla, and milk. Beat until there is a smooth batter. Set aside.

Stir 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Add water and butter, and then pour into a 10-inch skillet with an oven-proof handle. Cook on the stove top using medium heat. Stir constantly until sauce boils and becomes clear. Turn off heat. Add the apple slices, and spread evenly in the skillet.

Pour the batter into skillet over the apple slices.

Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the center of cake is springy when lightly pressed with finger tips. Cool in skillet for about ten minutes; then turn out onto a serving plate.

Hundred-Year-Old Devil’s Food Cake Recipe

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, August 3, 1914:   We had chocolate ice cream and devil’s food cake for supper. The ice cream was the remains of yesterday. The cake also.

Devil's Food Cake (Hundred-Year-Old Recipe)
Devil’s Food Cake (Hundred-Year-Old Recipe)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I’m going to repost part of a post that I originally posted on February 27, 2012 (1912) because it seems so appropriate for this diary entry:

Comparison of Hundred-year-old and Modern Recipes for Devil’s Food Cake

I recently bought a 1912 cookbook off eBay. My daughter glanced through it and noticed that the devil’s food cake recipe seemed very different from today’s recipes.

So we decided to compare a devil’s food cake made with a modern recipe with one made using a hundred year old recipe.

In the early 1900s angel food cakes and devils food cakes were seen as the polar opposites—one was white and light; the other dark and heavy.

The cake made with the hundred year old recipe was a dense chocolate spice cake. The recipe called for mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes ?!?!), cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts. It reminded us of gingerbread–though ginger was not an ingredient. I’ve never eaten anything exactly like it—but the cake was very good and I’d make it again.

100 Year-Old-Recipe

Calumet Devil’s Food Cake (Chocolate Spice Cake)

2 cups flour

2 level teaspoons Calumet (or any other brand) baking powder

2 level teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup butter

2 eggs

1 cup warm mashed potatoes

2 squares unsweetened chocolate

1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour baking pan, 13 X 9 X 2 inches. Melt butter and chocolate. Combine with all of the other ingredients except nuts. Beat until well-blended. Stir in nuts.

Pour into pan. Bake approximately 45-50 minutes or until pick comes out clean.

Adapted from the recipe in Calumet Baking Powder Reliable Recipes (1912)

The modern devil’s food cake recipe that my daughter made was from my Betty Crocker Cookbook. The recipe called for red food coloring—but otherwise seemed similar to other modern chocolate cake recipes. The cake was awesome.

Modern Recipe

Devil’s Food Cake

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)

1 1/2 teaspoons soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup shortening

2 eggs

2 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate (cool)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon red food color

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour baking pan, 13x9x2 inches, or two 9-inch or three 8-inch round layer pans. Measure all ingredients into large mixer bowl. Blend 1/2 minute on low-speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes high-speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan(s).

Bake oblong about 40 minutes, layers 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool.

(Recipe suggests using chocolate or cream cheese frosting.)

Devil's Food Cake (Modern Recipe)
Devil’s Food Cake (Modern Recipe)

Blueberry Buckle (Blueberry Coffee Cake) Recipe

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, July 24, 1912: That’s all. Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This entry makes me think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon line–That’s All Folks.

Maybe I should just call it a day–but I keep thinking that something must have happened a hundred years ago today.

Blueberries are ripe, so maybe Grandma made a Blueberry Buckle. It’s an old-fashioned cake that I’ve only ever seen in Pennsylvania.  A buckle is an archaic word for a one-layer cake.

I make this recipe once or twice each summer. The smaller, tarter blueberries that we get towards the end of blueberry season are perfect for this recipe.

Blueberry Buckle (Blueberry Coffee Cake)

Cake

1/4 cup soft butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

2 cups washed fresh blueberries

Crumb topping

1/4 cup soft butter

1/2 sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter, add sugar and beat until light. Add egg and beat well. Gradually dry ingredients, alternating with milk. Beat until smooth.* Gently fold in blueberries. Pour into 8 X 8 X 2 inch pan.

Mix all of the topping ingredients to create a crumb-like mixture. Sprinkle over the batter. Bake about 45 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.

*The batter is very thick. May need to stir by hand after dry ingredients have all been added.

Angel Food Cake with Black Raspberries Recipe

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, June 23, 1912: Went to Sunday School this morning. Tweet came home with me. Ma and Pa had gone away and we had the place to ourselves. Miss Carrie was over after dinner.Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sounds like a fun Sunday with visits from two friends—Helen “Tweet” Wesner and Carrie Stout.

I wonder if Grandma made any deserts to serve her friends. Black raspberries would have been  in season.

Maybe Grandma made Angel Food Cake with Black Raspberries.

Angel Food Cake with Black Raspberries

Cake

12 egg whites

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar plus an additional 3/4  cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Separate egg whites and bring the egg whites to room temperature. Meanwhile stir together the flour and 3/4 cup of sugar in a medium bowl.

After egg whites have reached room temperature, put the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt into a large bowl.  Beat until foamy. Slowly add the 3/4 cup of sugar (about 2 tablespoons at a time) while beating. Continue beating until the mixture holds stiff straight peaks. Gently stir in the vanilla and almond extract.

[Note: In Grandma’s day, they would have beaten the eggs by hand. I feel tired just thinking about it.]

Sprinkle a small amount of the flour and sugar mixture (about 2 tablespoons) onto the whipped egg mixture; and then fold it in. Continue sprinkling and folding the flour and sugar mixture until it all is folded in.

Gently spoon the batter into an ungreased 10 X 4 tube pan (angel food cake pan). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cake is lightly browned and the top springs back when lightly touched.

Invert pan until cool (at least 1 hour) and then remove cake from pan.

Black Raspberries

Crush a few black raspberries; stir in several tablespoons of sugar, and add enough water to make the consistency of medium sauce. Refrigerate for at least one hour to give the sugar in the sauce enough time to lose its granularity. Serve over the cake. Sprinkle which whole black raspberries.

An aside—When I was a child I loved the black raspberries that grew in the hedgerows. These days I never can find them in stores.

Two years ago my husband and I planted several black raspberry plants, and this is the first summer that we have lots of berries.

The black raspberries are awesome—even better than I’d remembered them.

Old-Time Black Walnut Cake Recipe

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, December 20, 1911: Pa went to Sunbury this morning and I had all the barn work to do at noon and this evening, but I managed to get through with it at last. Picked out some walnuts for Xmas candy and then Mater had to go and swipe some to stick in some cakes for Jimmie. Maybe they’ll all be gone where they’re wanted.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This year my husband and I have enjoyed eating foods mentioned in the diary that we hadn’t eaten in years.

We picked the last of the black walnuts that we gathered last fall out of their shells last week-end.  It’s the first year that we’ve gathered them since we were children.  Next year we’ll need to collect more.

I used the nuts to make a black walnut cake. The cake brought back warm memories of my childhood when I ate black walnut cake at reunions and church dinners.  At those gatherings, elderly woman proudly brought black walnut (and hickory nut) cakes that they’d lovingly made using nuts that they’d gathered, hulled, cracked, and picked the nut meats out of.

Black Walnut Cake

1/2 cup butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup water

2 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup black walnuts (chopped)

2 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Butter icing (optional)

Additional finely chopped black walnuts (optional)

Cream the butter with powdered sugar and cold water. Add egg yolks, cinnamon, flour, and baking powder; beat until combined.  Stir in the walnuts.  Gently fold in the beaten egg whites. Put batter into a well-greased loaf pan and bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for approximately 40-45 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

If desired, glaze with butter icing; sprinkle with additional finely chopped walnuts.