There is a cake recipe I turn to more than any other, because it is easy and delicious and almost-infinitely tweakable; now I share it with all of you. The base of the recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks – The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, 7th Edition, copyright 1944, Dorothy Marsh editor, published by Rinehart & Company. Need a recipe for game or rabbit? It’s here. Need menu and pre-planning ideas to serve two, or fifty, or to cater a wedding, or an outdoor event? How many calves’ hearts need you buy to serve four? Ditto. Reporting on the ease of using the amazing new heat-controlled ovens, with instructions to determine temperatures in degrees when a recipe calls for a slow oven, or a hot oven. Substitutions (right after WW2 when there was rationing) for butter, eggs, cream, meat, or sugar. The index in back lets you look up recipes by the ingredients you have, such as cake made with only one egg. It’s a delight just to peruse.
But on to our recipe. The official name is “Applesauce Cake (1 Egg),” but that is just the starting point. Here is the full recipe, with directions, as printed in the book.
½ c. shortening
¾ c. granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp mixed cake spice or cinnamon
¼ tsp powdered cloves
1 c. seedless raisins, chopped
1 c. walnuts, chopped
1 c. sweetened fresh or canned applesauce
Work the shortening with the back of a spoon until fluffy and creamy. Gradually add sugar, while continuing to work with a spoon until light. Then add the egg. Sift together next 5 ingredients and combine with raisins and nuts. Heat applesauce to boiling point. Add to sugar mixture alternately with flour mixture. Turn into a greased and floured loaf pan, about 9” x 5” x 3”, and bake in a moderate over of 350F for 1hr 15min or until done. Needs no frosting.
I have never made this cake according to this exact recipe. The changes I always make are these:
Butter, not shortening, softened – and worked with an electric mixer, not a spoon
Only ½ c. of sugar
I don’t sift flour (instead I weigh it; 120g = 1cup, and these days we don’t need to sift to get out the flour weevils as I recall my grandmother teaching me to do)
“Cake spice” (which I’ve never seen, but use cinnamon or nutmeg, depending) up to 1 ½ tsp
Powdered cloves down to 1/8 tsp
Never have I heated the applesauce, pearsauce, or fruit being added
It gets baked in a Bundt pan, cutting bake time down to 40-45min (Let it sit in the pan at least ten minutes, cooling, before attempting to turn it out of the pan.).
My goal with this cake is usually to see how much fruit I can stuff into it while still having enough cake to hold the fruit together. We have a very prolific pear tree, and the more fresh fruit a recipe takes, the more I like it when the pears are ripe. This recipe will use four or five fresh pears chopped in pieces. Go up to six pears, though, and the cake has trouble on slicing, as there is insufficient cake to hold the fruit in place. It’s still delicious, but far less well-behaved.
When using fresh fruit, the sauce (apple, pear, peach, whatever) can be skipped entirely. I will note that if only using fruit-sauce, the fruit flavor tends to get lost in the cake but makes it beautifully moist. When using a fruit sauce with fresh fruit too, it does support the fruit flavor, but is not necessary.
Cinnamon is too strong a flavor for pears – substitute nutmeg instead. That also works better with peaches. Plums can go either way, depending on the flavor of the plums and how you want to push the spice versus fruit balance. Likewise, walnuts tend to be a bit much for pears, and almonds work better. Or leave them out entirely. Since I rarely have raisins around, I can’t tell you how well they work in this cake. I have added bits of dried fruit, but stopped bothering because on eating it’s hard to tell whether the chewy bit is a nut or a dried fruit piece.
When turned out of the Bundt pan, it looks pretty and festive as-is. The flavor is wonderful and it truly does need no frosting. To make it extra-special, for a fancy function, a dusting of powdered sugar will make it look more special.
Try it once and it will become one of your favorites too, I’m sure.