The Traveler’s Cake: a Special Historic Spice Cake Recipe

Chocolate Sauce on a slice of vintage spice cake bake this cake

Grab some blankets for the spare room or throw a comforter on the couch ’cause when the season turns chilly road trips are on the rise. No, nothing warms a wayfarer’s heart like a warm slice of spice cake direct from the pages of history. But (also) nothing eases a busy schedule like an easy classic cake served straight from the bundt pan or dressed up with a drizzle of hot chocolate sauce and homemade ice cream.

spice cake on a yellow fiestaware plate with chocolate sauce bake this cake

You could be an avid cakeaholic baker or a newbie baker. Either way, you’ll find this recipe is simple and straight forward — resulting in a warm and aromatic slice of hearty tea cake. It also makes a nice “Bake Sale Cake” or “Cake Raffle Cake”for the charitable season – where homemade cakes draw in dollars that do a world of wonder for your favorite charity.

Pine cones by the fireplace for the holidays bake this cake

Cake On Board!: To qualify as a “road cake” or a “travel cake”, it must be able to lock and load. It must survive being jostled about in the stagecoach, I mean, in the car with casserole dishes, maybe suitcases, maybe kids and maybe a menagerie of animals. Frilly cakes can’t take the heat. This cake travels well on road trips, short or long, (then or now) and also keeps well without moving an inch from your kitchen counter, standing at the ready in your favorite cake keeper for your visiting holiday guests.

Homemade Winter Spice Cake on a vintage glass platter bakethiscake

Transport it right in the bundt pan for impromptu tail-gate parties or serve it up at a potluck party with any variety of toppings or frostings (how about a fabulous Hazelnut Buttercream Coffee Frosting?). So, whether you’re the traveler or the welcomer, this is a well-rounded cake that shines with vintage pride.

Winter Roses peach rose  bake thisc ake

Historic Cake: The recipe we’re using (formerly known as a “receipt”) has a lot of frequent flyer miles from perhaps 150 years or more of cake-staying power.And it’s scripted by Mrs. Roosevelt herself!

Mrs. Roosevelt's Recipe for Spice Cake from book bakethiscake

It’s in a book (still in reprint) that was published in 1906 by the John C. Winston Co. of Philadephia (our book was revised in 1908) and it goes by the name: “Famous Old Receipts Used a Hundred Years and More in the Kitchens of the North and South Contributed by Descendants”.

Famous Old Receipts book for the vintage spice cake recipe bakethiscake

The book is dedicated to “the old memories of the hospitable homes of the North and the South” and contains a charming Introduction reflecting on the importance of genuine hospitality (there’s an art). The “descendants” referred to in the book title seem to center around Philadelphia — with recipes from every corner of the world, since Philadelphia was the mecca of the food and social universe for early America.

The front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Rdsmith4

The front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, second wife of Theodore Roosevelt

Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, 1900

Historic Cake for Your Delectation (word of the day! meaning “pleasure and delight): The recipe and prep are simple and made with just a few ingredients. It needs no updates. So it remains just as Edith Roosevelt made it for her darling Teddy. Because it calls for Royal Baking Powder (that started operations in 1866), we know this recipe was likely not 100 years old in 1906 as the book title implies (not that I’m doubting the former First Lady). It also omits the heavier clove spices that would have been common in earlier spice cakes. If you’re looking for a darker and spicier (is that a word?) cake with cloves and raisins, see Mrs. Roosevelt’s Yosemite Clove Cake recipe. But I like the light spice blend of nutmeg and cinnamon.

And we hear that Edith’s husband, President Theodore J. R. Roosevelt, Jr., liked it too. He was the President of the United States at the time of the publication of this recipe (from 1901 to 1909) so this was a very special recipe contribution in its day – direct from the White House.

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President, as New York City Police Commissioner, 1895.

The Intro of “Famous Old Receipts” also discusses the start in 1732 of Philadelphia’s first gentleman fishing and dining club where the members were trained to fish and to cook fine feasts all by themselves on a rotating basis. The name and locations have changed over the years but we see: “The Schuylkill Fishing Co.” aka “The Fish House” aka “State in Schuylkill” (a 1782 name change) and (whew!) sometimes referred to as just “FishHouse” or “Fish House Restaurant“. It was the first angling club in the American Colonies and arguably remains “the oldest continuously operating social club in the English-speaking world”.

Schuylkill River looking south to Philadelphia, photo by Ed Yakovich

Schuylkill River looking south to Philadelphia, photo by Ed Yakovich

The name Schuylkill [“skoo-kell”] derives from Pennsylvania’s “Schuylkill River” in an area that became Schuylkill County in 1811. My own great-great grandmother came to America in 1854 from Scotland to raise her family in Schuylkill County with her husband, Robert McClelland. After he was killed in the Civil War, Grandma Ellen lived in places like Pottsville and Bear Gap Village and Rausch Gap with her 7 children before she married Robert Grayston, had 3 more children and traveled in a clipper ship with the family around Cape Horn (with my future 2-year-old great-grandmother, Sarah Jane Grayston, in tow), arriving in California in 1868 (and having one more child to add to the mix).

Ellen Jane Burt McClelland Grayston 1828-1905  photo of Leslie Odell Macchiarella

This one’s for you, Grandma Ellen!

slicing homemade spice cake on a vintage candlewick platter bake this cake

Edith Roosevelt’s Spice Cake Ingredients (re-ordered in order of use):
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh, if you can!)
1 cup (2 cubes) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 cups fine quality whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup milk (2% fat is fine)
Tip: Old Saying: Ye who gathereth beforehand hath greater chance for success.

recipe ingredients for vintage winter spice cake recipe bake this cake

Okay…Start Your Engines Please!

Edith Roosevelt’s Spice Cake Directions (step-by-step):

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 and place a rack at center position. Prepare a 10-cup (10″ x 3″) classic-sized bundt pan with a good smearing of butter and a light coating of flour. (I’m using a copper pan but I don’t think they make these any more.)
Tip: Be sure to knock the extra flour out of the pan.

preparing bundt pan for vintage spice cake bake this cake

2. Grate fresh nutmeg to measure 1/2 teaspoon lightly packed (we’ll remind you later if you don’t have a fresh nutmeg nut lying around).

Fresh nutmeg for vintage spice cake recipe bake this cake

3. Bring 1 cup (2 cubes) unsalted butter to room temperature and chop it into chunks.
Tip: I just nuke the butter cubes for a few seconds in the microwave to soften them a tad.
butter for  Edith Roosevelt's Spice Cake recipe  bake this cake

4. Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, beat 2 cups of granulated sugar into the prepared cubed butter for about 2 minutes on high-speed.
Sugar for Edith Roosevelt's Warm Winter Spice Cake recipe bakethiscake

5. In a medium bowl, blend 4 room temperature eggs with a fork.
Tip: Place the eggs in a bowl of warm water remove the chill.
4 eggs for vintage spice cake recipe bake this cake

6. Beat the stirred eggs into the creamed butter-sugar mixture on high-speed for about 3 minutes until lightened in color and “flufferized”.
Creamed butter and sugar for winter Spice Cake recipe bake this cake

7. In a large bowl, whisk together:

4 cups of fine quality whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
the prepared grated fresh nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon powdered nutmeg if you don’t have fresh)

whisking dry ingredients into flour for warm winter spice cake recipe bake this cake

8. With the electric mixer on low- to medium-speed, add the dry ingredients and 1 cup of milk in alternating one-third portions to the butter-sugar-egg mixture. Blend until thoroughly incorporated (about 1 minute). Milk for Edith Roosevelt's Spice Cake Recipe bakethiscake

The final batter is light, fluffy and thick — like a super-thick milkshake.
Fluffy spice cake batter bake this cake

9. Spread out the thick batter in your prepared bundt pan and smooth ‘er down using a spatula or the back of a large spoon.
Smoothing cake batter for spice cake bake this cake

10. Okay, let’s bake this cake! Pop it in the oven (center rack) at 350 degrees for  50 to 55 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Internal temperature should be about 200 degrees.
Tip: This is a fairly dense cake, almost like a butter cake or a pound cake, so it needs a full amount of baking time and a nice golden brown color.

Edith Roosevelt's Spice Cake hot from the oven bake this cake

Your bundt pan was perfectly prepared so your little baby is going to pop right out of your pan when you flip it upside down and onto your cooling rack for an hour…unless you want to serve it warm (please do!), in which case only 10 minutes cooling time is required.

Vintage Spice Cake Hot from the Oven bake this cakeHow to serve the cake: It looks quite charming to dust powdered sugar lightly over the top of the cake, set it full center on a vintage glass platter and haul it over to the window — where your guests will enjoy the wonderful aroma as they walk in the door. You might also want to serve it with a little homemade ice cream. Check out our recipe for Homemade Ale Ice Cream.

Slice of Winter Spice Cake with homemade vanilla ice cream bake this cake

Fish and Punch (what??): If your holiday party is in the party spirit for some more Schuylkill, Pennsylvania history and you wants some spirits with your Roosevelt Spice Cake, you might want to whip up a famous and potent “Fish House Punch”. But, beware, this punch will knock the chill right off your socks. The punch recipe comes to us in party-size quantities from a New York Times article published May 24, 1896 that admits it may not be the secret original (and there is much debate) but thought to be pretty darned close. As my grandpa used to say: “Close enough for company!” 🙂

California Sierra Nevada Convict Lake Fishing photos by LifeForcePhotos for BakeThisCake

Fish House Punch (served in a large bowl over a block of ice):
1 bottle of brandy
2 bottles of Jamaican rum
1 quart of sour (lemon juice)
1 pound of sweet (sugar, 2-1/4 cups)
Dash of peach brandy
Sliced fruits

Of course, my personal favorite topping for this cake is a nice, thick drizzle of Chocolate Ganache made with sour cream and dark chocolate. The chocolate with the cake’s light flavoring of cinnamon and nutmeg seem to go together like, well, like cake and coffee.  Oh, so many options!

Side Slice of vintage Spice Cake with chocolate sauce bake this cake

Thank you for joining me on this historic cake adventure. I do hope you’ll have a chance to bake this cake. Be sure to post your experience or your tips in the Comments section. I love hearing from you!


Leslie Odell Macchiarella

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