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Poor Man’s Cake

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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.

Lifting first piece of spiced raisin poor man's cake out of pan.

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. ❤️

pile of pieces of poor man's cake with powdered sugar glaze running down them.

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.

Stack of poor man's cake pieces in pan in background.

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.

saucepan with raisin cake batter and whisk inside, ready to be poured into pan.

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.

pan filled with poor man's raisin cake fresh from the oven.

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.

spoon drizzling powdered sugar glaze over raisin depression cake.

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!

Lifting first piece of spiced raisin poor man's cake out of pan.

Poor Man’s Cake

Servings: 12 Servings
Author: Carlee
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.
4.93 from 13 ratings
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes


  • 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
Makes: 9 x 13inch rectangle


  • 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.
    1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water, 1 cup raisins, ½ cup butter
  • Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13 inch pan.
  • Whisk in salt, flour, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice.
    ¼ teaspoon salt, 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon 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.



Serving: 1ServingCalories: 247kcalCarbohydrates: 43gProtein: 3gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 20mgSodium: 213mgFiber: 1gSugar: 24g

Nutritional Disclaimer

“Cooking With Carlee” is not a dietitian or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories and other nutritional values can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

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Recipe Rating

Andrea Nine

Wednesday 7th of April 2021

I love blast from the past recipes! This looks so yummy! Be a fun one for company!


Wednesday 7th of April 2021

I was so excited when Kim sent it over, I love trying old family recipes like this!


Tuesday 6th of April 2021

So much to love about this. Family recipes are the best - especially those we remember from grandma. It’s fun that people that read Cooking With Carlee are willing to share their favorite recipes and memories with us! Thank you Kim and Carlee for caring enough to share your recipes


Wednesday 7th of April 2021

I love recipes that have been passed down too, this one was a fun one to try. I was so excited when Kim sent it over!