Vintage poor man’s cake is a delicious blast from the past. This simple spiced raisin cake is made with ingredients that are likely to be in your pantry.
This classic cake is simple but delicious. It is a hand me down recipe that has been enjoyed for generations.
It is simple to make because the batter comes together in a saucepan then it is baked in a standard 9×13″ pan. So it doesn’t get much easier.
There are no special ingredients or equipment needed. Then just finish it off with a dusting of powdered sugar or a simple glaze.
It is a perfect sweet ending to any meal. You might just find it gives you a nostalgic little hug while checking off the dessert box.
How I found the recipe
I had actually never heard of poor man’s cake before. That is until it was shared with me on Facebook.
The mother of a high school classmate of mine mentioned it when I shared the recipe for Irish tea brack. The color and raisins reminded her of her grandma’s cake.
Here is what she said:
Did you ever hear of poor mans cake? We always had it at my Grandmas. (Depression cake)
I just made it this past week. The kids love it.
Grandmas icing was powdered sugar and a little water. Just the smell of it baking always takes me back to Grandma’s. ❤️
Of course I was immediately interested. She was gracious enough to send me over a picture of her recipe card.
I love that it was her grandma Z’s recipe and now she serves it to her grandchildren. There is something so special about recipes that get passed down through the generations like that.
Origins of the recipe
From what I can tell, the recipe comes from the Great Depression. It was a way to make a treat with affordable ingredients.
It falls in the same vane of recipes like wacky cake and other egg free magic cakes. It is tender and delicious.
The recipe also goes by names like depression cake and economy cake. All pointing to affordability of the ingredients.
Luckily it tastes good too, so there’s no downside! There is definitely a reason the recipe has stuck around for so long.
Making the batter
The batter comes together really easily. You start by boiling water, sugar and some form of fat in a saucepan.
Grandma Z used oleo or margarine in her cake. Kim said she also used lard a few times.
I have seen some versions of this recipe that used shortening. I used butter in my cake, because that is my preference.
You can use whichever you prefer. Because it is melted in the boiling process, you don’t have to worry about getting it to room temperature first.
Boiling the raisins gets them extra plump and juicy. That really imroves their texture in the cake, so be sure to do this step.
All you have to do from there is add flour, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice. It adds such a nice flavor and beautiful aroma.
That’s it, the batter is ready to go in a greased pan to bake. It’s super simple!
Finishing your cake
The simplicity of this poor man’s cake lends itself well to easy finishing touches. A dusting of powdered sugar would be great.
Kim said her grandma used to make a powdered sugar and water glaze for it. I whipped up a quick glaze with powdered sugar, vanilla and milk.
I am not one to say no to frosting, so feel free to add some cream cheese frosting if you would like. It would go really well with the spice and raisins much like it compliments a carrot cake so well.
More vintage favorites
Date nut loaves are baked in tin cans making them retro and adorable. The batter is quick to whip up and they are perfect for breakfast or tea time.
Dutch apple cake has been in my family for generations. It is a simple cake topped with apples and plenty of golden topping.
Sour cream raisin pie tastes like something your grandma would make, because she probably would! This pie is sweet, creamy and delicious with a pillow of fluffy meringue on top.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a review in the recipe card below!
Poor Man’s Cake
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup raisins
- ½ cup butter or oleo or lard
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- In a large saucepan, bring sugar, water, raisins and butter to a low boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then remove from heat to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13 inch pan.
- Whisk in salt, flour, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice.
- Spread batter in prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is springy when lightly touched with a finger.
- Dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with powdered sugar glaze. For an extra special treat, cool and top with cream cheese frosting.