Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Thanksgiving Cake, a Sweet Bread from a 19th Century Recipe

Mini Thanksgiving Cakes

This recipe comes from Mrs. E. Haskell's The Housekeeper's Assistant, published in New York in 1861.  It is one of the very few recipes I have come across from the middle of the 19th century that is marked specifically as a Thanksgiving recipe. As a matter of fact, not only is the reference to Thanksgiving in the recipe title, the recipe itself  also contains this line, "This is an old New England receipt."  This is particularly important to me because before Thanksgiving was made a national holiday in 1863, it was celebrated regionally in New England more than in any other part of the United States.

When you read the original recipe, you will notice that it is for a massive amount; fear not, I have a modern recipe adaptation following it for a single cake!

Thanksgiving Cake
The Houeskeeper’s Encyclopedia, E. Haskell, 1861

Six pounds of butter, and six pounds of sugar, worked together; twelve eggs well beaten, three quarts of sweet milk, twelve pounds of flour, mace, cinnamon, raisins, and one quart of hop yeast, good and fresh.  Let it rise once before putting in the pans; if the fruit settles, stir it up before pouring it in the pans.  This is an old New England receipt.

Modern Recipe Adaptation


  • ¼ Cup Water, Warm
  • 1 Package Active Dry Yeast
  • 4 ½ Cups of Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Ceylon Cinnamon
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1 Cup Raisins (optional)
  • ½ Pound Butter, Softened
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Cup Milk

  1. Grease a large tube pan.
  2. Mix together the warm water and the yeast and let sit for a few minutes, until bubbly.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, and raisins.  Set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg and the milk.  Then add the yeast and the flour mixture. Stir until all of the ingredients are well incorporated.  Cover bowl and let rise in a warm spot for two hours (it will not rise much, but will be light and airy).
  5. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  6. Fill the prepared baking pan and let sit for 30 minutes.
  7. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature plain or with butter.

Note:  You can also make 48 individual mini-muffin size cakes.  Follow these directions: 
  • Grease 48 mini-muffins cups.
  • Fill each cup with a heaping tablespoon of the dough.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the center springs back when pressed down.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Before Thanksgiving was a National holiday, it was a regional one. Many individual governors can still proclaim days of Thanksgiving as they see fit.This is a really nice cake.


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