Slightly dark and tangy with the warmth of seasonal spices, this Prune Spice Cake is just the cake you didn’t know you needed this autumn.
Personally, I think prunes get a bad wrap. They’re usually associated with the elderly, improving “regular” digestion, and viewed overall with disgust and something to be poked fun at. (A certain episode of Star Trek Voyager where prune juice is referred to as a “warrior’s drink” comes to mind! haha!)
I’m not ashamed to admit that I love prunes. I think they have a wonderfully dark, complex flavor. In fact, they are sometimes used as a substitute for chocolate in recipes. I think everyone should at least try prunes once in their dried form – not necessarily as a glass of prune juice though. That’s a whole different experience!
And that’s where this recipe comes in. Prune Spice Cake is a wonderful way to try prunes. Even the raisin-haters might give this one a go because the prunes in this are soft and add a lovely tangy richness. Prunes in this vintage cake just make sense.
I’ve seen quite a few 1940s recipes using prunes. They weren’t shy about it at all. Prunes were just another dried fruit and were right up there with raisins and other dried fruits. Of course, they were also valued for their health benefits of fiber for the bowels, just like they are today. I think their stigma needs to end, though, because there are many ways to enjoy prunes, including this week’s recipe for Prune Spice Cake!
This recipe comes from The Watkins Cook Book published in 1943. It tastes amazing with cream cheese frosting, but you can’t just use a modern cream cheese frosting. The sugar amounts were different during the war compared with today, not to mention the wartime recipes made a smaller quantity than modern ones. So using a wartime cream cheese recipe is essential to maintain the best flavor profile.
I’m including a cream cheese recipe I like from the United Nations Recipes for War Rationed Cooking published by the AWVS in 1943. I doubled it so there’s enough to spread between the layers, on the top and just enough for the sides, but think wartime restriction thoughts! You can’t be too generous with the frosting on any of these areas. What you end up with is a nicely balanced cake with just the right amount of frosting.
Stewing is an older technique that we’re not as familiar with today. It’s a method of softening dried fruit by simmering it in water, sometimes with sugar. To stew the prunes for this recipe, place the prunes in a small pot. Fill with just enough water until they are a little over halfway submerged. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes (depending on how hard or soft the prunes already are) until they are very soft and most of the liquid is gone. Stir occasionally. Be careful not to let them simmer dry or to burn. Chop them finely once they’ve cooled.
The recipe calls for the prunes to be pressed through a sieve, which you can do if you want them to be well incorporated and hardly noticeable at all. I like to chop them finely, so you can still taste the bits of prune in the cake. It’s up to you.
I think you’ll really enjoy this throw-back vintage recipe for Prune Spice Cake. It’s quickly become a favorite of mine and is the perfect autumn treat!