September 12, 2008

Boiled raisin cake

I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother, lately. I've been wanting to make a cake that reminds me of the raisin cake my grandmother made, and thinking about the cake has gotten me thinking about my grandmother and how much I adored her. When I was very young, my parents would drop me at my grandparents' house for the weekend. I guess it was a beneficial arrangement for all concerned. I hated when Sunday came and my parents would arrive to pick me up. My father would wait in the car and my mother would come to fetch me and my belongings, and I'd go back home where no adoring grandmother and grandfather doted on my every move.

One of my earliest memories comes from my grandparents' house. Nannie put me in the crib for a nap, and she covered me up and tucked me in. I was feeling really hot and wondering if it would be okay with her if I kicked the covers off. I remember thinking that Nannie wouldn't have covered me if I wasn't supposed to be covered. (I must have been a cooperative child!) Then I got an idea. Maybe if I pressed the covers very neatly against the edges of the crib, she wouldn't be upset. I think I didn't want to hurt her feelings by undoing something she had so carefully done.

Years later, as an adult, I was having one of those "shared memory" sessions with my grandmother when I mentioned the memory I just described. "Oh my God," she shouted, you were only 12 months old! She said, "I remember that so well. When I went upstairs to check on you all the covers were pressed neatly to the crib edges. I thought to myself, 'this baby is smarter than I am.' I felt so guilty for trying to suffocate you in that warm room."

I asked if she was sure I was only 12 months old, and she insisted it was correct. "I'll never forget that," she said. Yikes. That should give parents something to consider.

I'm so sorry I never got that raisin cake recipe. I've been collecting recipes for boiled raisin cake for years, and today, with all of them spread before me, I attempted to make a cake. When I mixed the spices together and pressed my finger into them and then to my tongue, it was like a light coming on in the room. I could taste Nannie's cake in those simple spices. So I made the cake, and I'm happy to say the taste was right, but sorry to say the texture was WRONG. The original cake was very firm—almost hard. It had a very tight crumb, and you could slice it ultra thin and hold it in your hand. The cake I baked was soft like an ordinary cake. It's a delicious cake, but not the one I was looking for. And the shape was wrong. The hole in the center was much too large. I'm posting this recipe because it's good, but will have to try again to create the cake I'm after. I think it was more of a pound cake. And I need a new pan.

Boiled raisin cake
  • 1-1/2 cups seedless raisins
  • water to cover raisins
  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup evaporated cane juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, sifted before measuring
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup boiling water

swirl topping
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
  1. Put the raisins in a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until most of the water has evaporated. (about 20 minutes)
  2. Remove from heat and add margarine, sugar, salt, cocoa and spices.
  3. Stir in flour.
  4. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water and add to mix.
  5. Place in greased tube pan or 9" square pan.
  6. Mix together the cocoa, cinnamon and sugar for the topping. Swirl it onto and into the cake with a knife. (I used about half of the mixture.)
  7. Bake at 350˚ for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake tests done.
I used an 5-cup tube pan but it was too small, and I made three cupcakes with the extra batter. I think I need a bundt pan.


  1. What a beautiful story! And how lucky for you that you did get to spend all those weekends together! I never knew my grandma, but felt that way about my aunt, and I sure do miss her now!

    The cake sounds very much like one I've made before (and will be in the cookbook). Mine is definitely more dense than a regular cake--I usually do it up in a loaf pan, but it could probably be baked in a round pan as well. This one does sound good, though! :)

  2. Maybe my grandmother's cake can't be made without a pound of butter! I don't know if dense is the right word—it was firm but light. I may have to settle for the taste and forgo the texture. I remember the "secret" ingredient was cocoa—not enough to taste—just to add an exotic twist to the spice mix.

  3. Thanks for the memories! I loved the story!

  4. Thanks, Claire. I actually went out and bought a bundt pan today so I can try the cake again with the right pan. Will you come help me eat it?


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