A vintage recipe from the 1930s, when certain ingredients were scarce. Poor Man’s Cake is made without eggs or butter, but it’s subtly sweet flavor brightened with walnuts and raisins makes it a real treat!
According to Granny, Poor Man’s Cake is the oldest recipe passed down through our family. She remembers her grandmother making it. In Granny’s family, they always had this cake for Christmas.
Poor Man’s Cake doesn’t taste poor though! It tastes moist, rich, and nutty with just the right amount of sweetness. It’s one of the most delicious treats that you wouldn’t expect to taste so amazing! Sometimes less really is more!
What is Poor Man’s Cake?
Poor Man’s Cake is an old-fashioned dessert that first appeared in the 1930s during the Great Depression. During these times, certain food items such as dairy (milk, eggs, buttermilk, etc.), were not always readily available. Resourceful home cooks substituted ingredients in their favorite recipes with what they had on hand, such as shortening, lard, and even vinegar!
In our family, despite the name of this cake, it was only made for special occasions such as the holidays. It’s one of Granny’s favorite cakes!
Similar to Depression Cake, Poor Man’s Cake got its name because it doesn’t call for eggs or butter. Instead of butter, the recipe calls for lard. Don’t let that scare you! Lard is an essential ingredient — you won’t get the right taste without it.
Poor Man’s Cake is not a super sweet dessert compared to many of the hyper-sweet treats we know of today. Back then, sugar was a pricey commodity and harder to come by. It truly was for special occasions!
For that reason, there is a modest amount of sugar in the batter — and raisins are used to enhance the sweetness. You can also make a simple glaze with confectioner’s sugar to sweeten it up a little more.
Another neat part about this recipe is that it doesn’t require an electric mixer! It’s a simple dessert made with simple ingredients, but it’s always been a special treat for us!
Poor Man’s Cake Ingredients
For your convenience in re-creating this recipe at home, we’ve included shop-able ad links to some of the products and supplies used. Read our disclosure policy here.
- Seedless raisins
- All-purpose flour
- Baking soda
- Black walnuts — these can be hard to find in regular grocery stores, so you can substitute regular walnuts if needed
Kitchen Tools Used
Why is Lard Better for Baking?
In the early part of the 20th century, lard was ubiquitous in the kitchen — it was cheap, easy to use, and flavorful. Lard fell out of favor as processed foods came into vogue, but it is making a resurgence in the food community.
In this recipe, lard is used out of necessity. However, lard is actually excellent for baking, whether or not you’re creating a “vintage” recipe! Lard creates flakier crusts than butter and is more flavorful than baked goods made with shortening.
Beyond that, lard is actually a “healthier” choice than those so-called better for you creations like shortening or margarine. Unlike shortening, there is no trans fat in lard. and it actually is lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than butter.
Once you’ve tried it in this recipe, keep lard in mind for future baking projects!
What Can You Use Instead of Allspice?
If you don’t have allspice on hand, you can create a simple spice mix to substitute:
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- pinch ground nutmeg
Once you’ve mixed the ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg together, you can use at a 1:1 substitute in any of your baking recipes. The above proportions are just the right amount to swap in our recipe here. The flavor won’t necessarily be exact, but it will be quite similar and enough so that no one will tell the difference.
How to Make Poor Man’s Cake
One of the really great things about this recipe is how easy it is to prepare! No mixers to wash!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F while you “cook raisins.” In a saucepan mix the raisins, lard, sugar, and 3 cups water.
Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for five minutes to “cook raisins,” stirring occasionally. After five minutes, remove pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, allspice, nutmeg, baking soda, and walnuts.
Pour cooled raisin mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until completely combined.
Grease a Bundt pan with cooking spray and add the batter.
Bake for approximately one hour. Check with toothpick to see if it is done. Don’t over bake.
Remove from oven and place bundt pan on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan and transferring to a cake stand or serving dish.
If desired, you can frost with a simple glaze made from confectioners’ sugar and milk. It also tastes fabulous with cream cheese frosting, though this is admittedly not the most “authentic” presentation. Or you can enjoy as is — this sweet and nutty cake pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee.
Poor Man’s Cake Recipe (Printable Copy)
If you tried this recipe and loved it, please rate it!
Poor Man's Cake Recipe (No Eggs or Butter)
- mixing bowl
- bundt cake pan
- 1 cup seedless raisins
- 1 cup lard
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 cups cold water
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tsp soda
- 1/2 cup black walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a saucepan, combine the raisins, lard, sugar, and water. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for five minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, allspice, nutmeg, baking soda, and walnuts.
- Add the wet ingredients and stir until completely combined.
- Grease a Bundt-type pan with cooking spray and add the batter.
- Bake for approximately one hour and check to see if it is done. Do not over bake.
- Optional: Frost with a simple glaze made from confectioners’ sugar and milk.
Pin this recipe on Pinterest:
You might also like: