Sunday, June 22, 2014

Despite the name, War Cake is fricken delicious!

Today on A Book of Cookrye, we're presenting a recipe I've made many, many many times. When you read it, you may think it won't work and will be terrible. But, it somehow turns into a lovely, dark spice cake! It's called a war cake because it dates back to the first world war. The recipe makes a lot of sense when you realize it was invented to deal with shortages of butter, milk, and eggs. Since it doesn't have those, it's really cheap too.

War Cake
2 c. brown sugar (light or dark will work, though I prefer dark if I'm buying it)
2 c. water
2 tsp. shortening
¾ c. raisins (or the dried fruit of your choice)
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
3 c. flour

Put everything but the baking soda and the flour in a large saucepan. Put over high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until it boils for 5 minutes, starting the timer when it comes to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and let cool completely*.
When the syrup has cooled, heat the oven to 350° and grease a loaf pan.
Dissolve the baking soda in 2 tsp. hot water (if you have one, a shotglass works well) and stir it into the pot. Then mix in the flour.
Pour into the pan and bake for 1 hour or until a knife, piece of spaghetti, or whatever you have on hand comes out clean.

*If you don't cool it all the way to room temperature, the flour will clump up when you try to stir it in and it'll taste funny when you bake it. You can put the pot in the refrigerator if you want cake that day, or you can just put a lid on to keep things from landing in it and leave it out overnight. 
The first time I made this, I started the oven when I started the cake and didn't realize it'd take all day for the pot to come down from boiling to room temp. Ever since, I turn on the oven a few minutes before I stir the flour in.

It definitely looks like it will be a failure of a cake. There's no eggs, and only 2 tiny teaspoons of shortening. But somehow this thing works. I first made it in high school and have kept the recipe ever since. Here's the page in my little recipe journal.
And this is why I didn't just scan the recipe and put it at the top.
When I was in an apartment with some friends, I made it a lot. We made a thing of always having some cake slices in a baggie for whenever- and after a while called it "The House That Always Has Cake." There's something really reassuring about knowing you've got a few cake slices in the pantry whenever your day's gone rotten, if you're just tired and a little peckish, or if you just need to grab something nice on your way out the door in the morning.
It starts out looking like this.
Since this is by far the cheapest cake recipe I've ever found, we made this one often. Every few days, I'd boil another pot and leave it on top of the fridge overnight with the lid on to keep out the bugs. The next day I'd stir in the flour and bake it.
After it's cooled, you've got this.
I really like how it scents up the house twice when you make it- first when boiling, then when baking.
The syrup and flour may not want to mix at first.
The only thing I'll add that doesn't seem obvious is not to leave out the raisins. Without them, the cake is kind of dry, and a bit bland. For some reason, it seems a lot of my friends got a pathological hatred of raisins from eating oatmeal-raisin cookies thinking they were oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies when they were wee tots. If you don't like raisins, you can try using other dried fruits instead although it does seem to bring up the price a lot. I did once make it with dried cherries and it was really good.
This looks so good I could just turn off the oven and eat it.
While this makes a really good-sized loaf cake, today I cut the recipe in half because I didn't know what I'd do with the leftovers and only had three people coming over. Also, purely for the heck of it, I baked it in a gelatin mold that I found buried under my parents' counter.
"How many segments do you want?"

And why did I have friends over, you may ask? Well, because for once I found a day when most of us could get the night off at the same time and try the pie recipe I'm making for the...
It's coming came June 30! Here it is!

Edit: I linked the friend I lived with at the time to this asking if it looked familiar. The reply: "Lifesaver cake. Better breakfast cake."


  1. Very interesting!
    Have you tried any other war-time dishes?

    1. No, I haven't- which is kind of surprising the more I think about it.