Monday, November 07, 2016

Make America Cake Again: Historical Election Cake

I have had election cake marked to try ever since I was doing research on baked goods associated with each state. But in this election year, it seemed like the appropriate time. I don't often mix baking with politics, except for that time I was trying to start a trend to Take Back the Tea Party.

When I started poking around the internet again, I saw a surge in recent news stories and blog posts about Election Cake. NPR interviewed the two bakers from the OWL Bakery in Asheville, NC, who are leading the charge. Asheville is only an hour north of me, so I felt a greater kinship with their project.

That also helped me pick a recipe, too. The OWL version incorporates local ingredients and natural leavening. I will post their version with my own modifications below.

I found others on Serious Eats and What's Cooking America, all versions of the often cited original recipe. one that came before women had the right to vote, before baking powder, and in an era when voting was a party. Women would bake cakes and bring booze to coax the rich white landowner voting types to cast their ballots. Voting was more of a party and less of a drag. We need to bring back this feeling to voting day, in my humble opinion. It always feels like you aren't even supposed to speak in a normal voice in the precinct.

These days, lady voters like myself can make an election cake AND stand in line to vote. While the precinct is unlikely to have any alcohol or baked goods, I can provide a cake with a little booze in it to reward coworkers who have voted. Most of the alcohol should burn off in the baking, I think? Ha. (The raisins soaked in brandy and apple flavored Jim Bean overnight.)

Election Cake

Day 1 (Prepare Preferment)
Using Sourdough Starter:

240 ml whole milk ~70º F (280 g)
¼ cup active starter — 100% hydrated (75 g)
           2 ¼ cups All Purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (280 g)

Using Instant Yeast:

275 ml milk ~70º F (320 g)
           ¼ tsp instant yeast (1 g)
           2 ¼ cups plus 2 Tbsp All Purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (320 g)
Combine milk and sourdough starter or yeast and mix thoroughly until starter or yeast is well dispersed in the milk mixture. Add flour and mix vigorously until the starter is consistent and smooth. Scrape the sides of your bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Allow your starter to ferment for 8-12 hours at room temperature. When ready to use, your preferment will have bubbles covering the surface.

Soak Dried Fruits

If you plan to use dried fruits in your cake, we recommend soaking them overnight, or for several days beforehand. Measure out your dried fruit and cover with your liquor or liquid of choice (for non-alcoholic options, try apple cider/juice, other fruit juices, or steeped teas) in a small sauce pot. Warm over low heat for a few minutes, remove from the heat, and allow to soak, covered, overnight or for several hours.

Before incorporating into your cake, strain the liquid off of the fruit. Use this fruit flavored liquid as a cordial or to make a simple glaze after the cake is baked.

Day 2 (Prepare Final Dough, Proof, and Bake)
1 cup unsalted butter (226 g)
¾ cup unrefined sugar (155 g)

2 eggs (100 g)
1/3 cup whole-milk yogurt  (85 g)
¼ cup sorghum or honey (60 g)
Preferment (560 / 635 g)

2 ¼ cups All Purpose or whole wheat pastry flour* (280 g)
2 Tbsp spice blend**  (12 g)
¼ tsp ground coriander (1 g)
¼ tsp ground black pepper (1 g)
2 tsp salt (12 g)

2 Tbsp sherry or another  - optional (30 g)
2 cups rehydrated fruit (300 g)
With a paddle attachment in a stand mixer, cream the butter very well, then add sugar, mixing until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time on medium speed. Mix in the sorghum/honey and yogurt.
Exchange the paddle with a dough hook. Add the preferment (starter or sponge) and mix until just incorporated. Combine all of the dry ingredients before adding them to liquid ingredients and mix until just incorporated, being careful not to over-mix. Gently fold in the sherry (optional) and rehydrated fruit.
Divide evenly into a bundt pan or cake rounds that have been buttered and lightly floured. OWL Bakery uses mini bundt pans, which yields 8-10 cakes. Proof for 2-4 hours, until the cake has risen by about ⅓ of its volume.
Bake at 375° F (190° C) for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F (177° C) and continue baking for about 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting and eating. You may enjoy this cake plain or topped with a simple glaze.

*Choose high extraction flour if possible
**Create a spice mixture with warm spices like ground cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, star anise, or mace.  OWL Bakery’s house spice blend is a combination of 8 spices. 

Notes from JennyBakes:

I used sour cream instead of yogurt, because that's what I had. I used half molasses/half honey in place of the sorghum. My spice blend was cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. I rehydrated my raisins in brandy and apple Jim Beam, and had meant to add some chopped apple to the batter but once I got to that stage completely forgot!

My cake was pretty dry, more like a bread. I suspect this is largely baker error, because this is my first naturally leavened cake. I covered it with a lemon-powdered sugar glaze and will let it sit a few days before bringing it to work on Election Day.

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