The name "Picnic Cake" is interesting. Reading the recipe, I'd be inclined to call this a molasses cake, or maybe a molasses spice cake. I think the name "Picnic Cake" came about in Sue's family because this was Grandma Becker's standard cake to make for a picnic. It's the kind of cake--heavy, dense, and not likely to dry out easily--that would hold up well in a picnic basket.
This is not a delicate gateau: it's a sturdy, hearty cake. It keeps well; indeed, it tastes better the next day. I've made a few slight changes to the original recipe; nothing really major. My version is a tiny bit moister than the original, and I like that about it. But no matter what, this is a tried and true recipe that you're sure to enjoy.
GREAT-GRANDMA BECKER'S PICNIC CAKE (Molasses Cake)
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- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 cup sour cream
- pinch of salt
- 3-1/2 cups white flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- pinch of nutmeg and ginger
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup chopped nuts, such as pecans
- 1/2 cup very hot water or hot coffee
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a tube pan or a 9 x 13-inch pan (or spray it with Baker's Joy).
2. Using a wire whisk, combine the oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl.
3. Stir in the molasses (warm it for a few seconds in the microwave and measure it in the cup you used for the oil--this will make it easy to pour and easy to get from the measuring cup), sour cream, and vanilla.
4. Add a cup of the flour with the spices, salt, and cocoa, and stir to combine. Add two more cups of flour, and stir quickly.
5. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup of flour with the baking soda, and stir that in. (You could also combine all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and stir them all in at once. This saves dirtying another bowl, and it works just as well.) Stir in the hot water or coffee, then the raisins and nuts.
6. Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and tap the pan once sharply on the counter to settle the batter and get rid of any large air bubbles.
7. Bake in the middle of the preheated oven. The tube pan will take 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes. The 9 x 13-inch pan will take about an hour; less if it's glass. The cake is done when a toothpick or broom straw inserted into it comes out clean.
8. Cool 1/2 hour before removing from the pan if using the tube pan. Dust the top with powdered sugar if you like. You can serve it directly from the 9 x 13-inch pan while it's still a bit warm, which is also wonderful.
I never met Great-Grandma Becker, but I've met many of her descendants. There's something very reassuring about baking something that women (and at least one man--me!) in Sue's family have been making for a century or more. It makes me hope that people we love and their descendants might still be eating this cake at a lovely picnic a hundred years from now. I'm sure Great-Grandma Becker would be pleased.