Thursday, September 27, 2007

Old Witch's Magic Nut Cake

Last week, my unfortunate English teacher friends had to have their regular, once-a-semester workshop to calibrate the grading of placement essays. The only good part of the lengthy meeting, as I understand it, is that there's food. The budget is not large, but they manage to order some pizzas and drinks, and sometimes, a kind soul steps forward to bring a homemade dessert. I am always lucky, because I am a speech teacher and am, thus, exempt from the dreaded workshop. But my neighbor across the hall, Carey, who coordinates the event, always brings me leftover pizza and Diet Pepsi. (Thank you, Carey!) And last week, another friend and colleague, Marta, offered me a piece of homemade cake for dessert. Now, I am not a big fan of cake as a general rule (that surprises you, doesn't it...but mostly, it's because I hate frosting), so I politely declined. But then she said, "Are you sure? It's a pumpkin nut cake." And those three little words won me over. Even though the cake had those wrinkly abominations (=raisins) in it, it was very good, quite moist and flavorful. Then Marta told me the origin of the recipe, and I became all the more enchanted (so to speak).

The recipe is from the back of a children's book from the 60's called Old Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon, the sequel to Old Black Witch (commonly known as Blueberry Pancake Witch for the blueberry pancake recipe included in that story). Marta and her son first read the book that they checked out from a library back when he was young, and I guess she's been making Old Witch's Magic Nut Cake ever since, much to the delight of her family. The book is out of print, so I haven't read it myself. But apparently. the witch wants to enter her cake at the town carnival to win the polka dot ribbon for "Most Original Cake" (sounds like my biography, except for the witchiness, of course!). As Marta told the story, the witch is worried that she won't win, so she casts some sort of spell to spoil all of the other cakes. But something I found online said that the witch's neighbor always wins the prize, so she steals the other cake and hides it under her hat so that her own cake will win. (Mind you, if this were my story, I wouldn't stoop to any kind of deception to win the special ribbon--my cake would be victorious on its own merits! Hmph!) If anyone is familiar with this epic tale, please write in and set the record straight on the particulars of the plot, will you?

In the meantime, I encourage you to make the cake. It's perfectly autumnal and very yummy. Of course, I couldn't let well enough alone, so I made a couple of changes to Old Witch's recipe (I hope she doesn't curse me with an evil spell!). First of all, you can guess that I omitted the raisins, but I encourage you to leave them in if you can tolerate the evil little things. And since the raisins were absent in my cake, I doubled the nuts. As a rule, I double the nuts (and garlic) in all recipes, but I will leave that decision up to you. Finally, I did not care for the cream cheese frosting on Old Witch's cake. It wasn't creamy enough, and it had too much powdered sugar (too sweet) for my liking, so I swapped out my favorite cream cheese icing instead. I will share both versions below and you can decide. But I should tell you, when I made the cake for my trivia team this week, it was the frosting that they ooh'ed and ahh'ed over. Here ya go:

Old Witch's Magic Nut Cake
(Source: story by Wende and Harry Devlin)

3 eggs
1 (1 lb.) can pumpkin
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can swap out white whole wheat if you like)
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup yellow (one might say, golden) raisins (I omitted these, as is my way)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I double this, as is also my way, and I used half walnuts and half pecans)

4 oz. cream cheese
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon juice
1/2 box confectioners' sugar
chopped walnuts to sprinkle

Beat together wet ingredients, mix together dry ingredients and combine the 2 mixtures. Pour batter into 3 pans (or pound coffee cans--or I just used a 13x9). Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool cake(s). Cream together ingredients for icing. Frost top of cakes and sprinkle with more chopped walnuts if desired.

My Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting
(Source: Southern Living)

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 pound (16 oz.) powdered sugar, 3 1/2 to 4 cups
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy (don't use too much powdered sugar--you want it very creamy and supple!). Stir in vanilla.


Anonymous said...

I last made this 30 years ago when I was 10. Used to make it repeatedly in the Fall when pumpkin was in the supermarkets. Remembered it about 5 years ago and have been looking for it ever since though I could barely remember the book where I first found it. If you're a kid and don't mind excessive sweetness, substituting chocolate chips for the raisins just may blow your socks off.

Shelley Salmi said...

I had this book when I was a child! It was one of my all time favorites and I read it so many times the binding fell apart. If I remember right, the recipe said you could bake it in a tin can. If I remember the story correctly, Old witch did try to sabotage the other bakers, especially Mrs. Butterbeans coconut cake, which was hidden under her hat. It was a delightful story. I am going to have to see if I can locate an old copy now.

Tomas El Pronto said...

My wife and I were elementary school teachers and we make the cake and served it after reading the book to the kids.
Plus my daughter, who for some strange reason, liked Halloween more than Christmas, loved the book and read it to her classmates every year through grade six; then served the cake as cupcakes to her class.
We loved it, she loved it and all the kids loved it!!!!!!

Tom and Nancy, Tucson, Az.

Adriana said...

I read this book as a child. Mrs. butterbean was a cheater, and had a chef secretly make her coconut cake and Old Witch heard her admit this to her driver. She didn't like someone cheating except for her of course, and took Mrs. Butterbean's cake. The other cakes got accidently wrecked by Old Witch's sampling of the other cakes. Great book. Bought it second hand for my kids in great shape and they totally love it as well. It has a spooky flavor! Happy Halloween!

Kat said...

I found your site, while trying to find one of the other book's about the Old Witch. I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!! I got the book as a birthday present, when I was ten. I have made this cake just about every year for Halloween. I have read it to my kids so much that, my book is falling apart. My husband and his family do not like pumpkin pie, but they all love this cake, so I make it for Thanksgiving. Last year I made it for a Christmas party and added Peppermint flavoring in place of the Vanilla or Lemon juice and it was really good. I also have the book with the Blueberry pancakes and they are yummy. I think there is three or four books in the series and they each have a different recipe.

Anonymous said...

I got the recipe from the book which came home from the library with one of my kids. I believe it said to bake it in a coffee tin and check for doness with a straw from a witches broom.

Anonymous said...

I had this book as a child in the 60's. Mom and I made the cake many many times! Delish!

Anonymous said...

I loved this book as a child. My mother and I baked the cake in coffee cans every year. I thought I would never find the recipe again. It is one thirty in the morning but I am going to wake her up to tell her. We have been reminiscing for thirty years about it.

Anonymous said...

I made this since my daughter was 8, nearly 20 years. I try to cut down on sugar and fat, substituting half the oil with unsweetened applesauce and using on 2 cups of sugar, Sometimes I use half brown sugar and halr white. I bake it in a bundt pan at times and just sprinkle the cake when cooled with powdered sugar. It is deliscious anyway I fix it . The cake flys off the platter as my family loves pumpkin any way I use it

Rosetta aka NanaRose said...

Hello, I bought this book for my children in the 60's or early 70's. We still have the book hanging around some place...I have been making this cake since I bought the book. I tried it and loved loved loved it...
I came online today to look up the recipe as I am a travel nurse and don't have all my things with me. However it is a favorite and thank you so much for the clue to the Blueberry pancakes...
Rosetta...aka NanaRose

Anonymous said...

I learned how to make this recipe 40 years ago in my cooking class in junior high. The only difference is that my teacher called it old witch's nut bread instead of cake and we did not frost it. I remember having to bring in a coffee can to bake it. I never knew it came from a children's book. I can't wait to make this once again!

Jill said...

Old Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon and Old Black Witch are back in print now. Glad you all remember the stories and recipes fondly!

Jill @ Purple House Press