Poor Man’s Cookies


This spice cake is a recipe that my great Aunt has been making for as long as I can remember. It’s her “signature dish”. Well, one of a few. She also makes a killer Jello that has baby food in it (secret ingredient!) and a mean broccoli casserole. But as far as desserts go, this one is all her. This past weekend was her birthday and since she hasn’t made this in awhile, I thought it would be a nice treat to bake this for her to enjoy. She was so excited when I showed up with this, it was a true pleasure to see her face light up.

Ironically, the original name of this recipe is “Poor Man’s Cookies”. Well, as you can see, this is not a cookie! I always wondered about the name and the recipe’s origin, and then when going through a ton of my grandma’s old recipes, I found a yellowed newspaper clipping of a recipe for Poor Man’s Cookies, which was nearly identical to my aunt’s, save for a few quantity changes. There wasn’t an explanation in the clipping about the origin of the recipe, so I am taking this for what it is – a beloved old-fashioned recipe.


The preparation of this cake starts with a method I have not encountered in any other recipes – the raisins are boiled with water and butter for 20 minutes. Doing this results in raisins that are nice and plump and water and butter that have boiled down to a flavorful syrup. When this mixture is first added to the dry ingredients the batter will have the consistency of paste, but don’t worry, once the eggs are added the batter takes a familiar form.

This cake is so moist and flavorful that it can really be served without any adornment or accompaniments. The mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves deliver wonderful flavor, and the raisins and nuts make give a great texture contrast to the soft cake. If you feel that plain is a little too boring, I would recommend serving this with some simple – a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. You really want to let all of the flavors in this cake come through without being overpowered.


Does anyone in your family have a “signature recipe” that everyone loves? Have you ever made it?

More classic cake recipes:
Texas Sheet Cake
Pound Cake
Russian Grandmother’s Apple Pie-Cake
New York-Style Crumb Cake

Old-Fashioned Spice Cake (a.k.a. Poor Man's Cookies)

Yield: 12 servings

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes


2¼ cups water
1½ cups raisins
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons baking powder
1½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup chopped walnuts


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease a 9x13 baking pan.

2. Combine water, raisins, and butter in a medium saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, remove the lid, and let cool for 5-10 minutes.

3. While the raisin mixture is boiling, combine the dry ingredients (through cloves) in a large bowl, whisking until thoroughly combined.

4. Pour the slightly cooled raisin mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until mostly combined and moistened (the batter at this point will have the consistency of a paste). Add the beaten eggs and again stir with a spoon, until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts.

5. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until deeply browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.

6. Cool to room temperature before serving. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap to keep the cake moist. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.