War cake is a frugal cake recipe made with no eggs, butter, or milk.

Old-Fashioned Cooking: War Cake is a Sweet Loaf That is Both Dairy-Free and Vegan-Friendly

One day when my daughter asked me if we could make up a batch of poor man’s pudding, I discovered that I could no longer find my favourite recipe. So instead, I went looking for one on the internet. What I came up with was one that looked more or less right, but was subtitled “war cake.”

Figuring it was just another name for this frugal dish, I printed off the recipe and gave it to her to make. It turns out, though, I had stumbled upon a completely different and delicious dessert!

History of War Cakes

War cake dates back to the American civil war, and was popular on both sides of the Atlantic during the WWI and depression eras. The recipes is characterized by the absence of milk, butter and eggs – ingredients that would have been scarce during wartime. The cool thing for us today is that this recipe is dairy-free and vegan-friendly!

Shortening replaces the butter that would be in most cake recipes, and you’ll notice that the only leavening is provided by the baking soda in hot water. I’ve included shortening in our 24 Carrot Diet recipe because this is how it was traditionally made. But if you prefer, you can replace it with coconut oil instead.

The hot water also replaces the milk and eggs for the purpose of providing moisture. If you find the cake dry, you can increase the moisture by placing a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of your oven during baking.


War cake is sometimes called boiled raisin cake
War cake is sometimes called boiled raisin cake
(Image: forwimuwi73/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

Frugal Substitutions

You’ll notice that this recipe uses two cups of brown sugar, a more expensive ingredient even today. Many other war cakes have a smaller amount of sugar, and it certainly would be more frugal these days to replace the brown sugar with white.

The pound of raisins is also a bit of a splurge for families on a budget, as are the optional nuts. If you are trying to be frugal, do leave out the nuts. But the raisins (and the brown sugar) give this cake a good deal of its texture and flavour. Don’t skimp on them!

Remember that the recipe makes two loaves, and that it’s supposed to be a little bit of an extravagance when you are otherwise living a rather austere life. Think portion control, and consider freezing one of the loaves for later on. Or make this as a frugal alternative to a more expensive Christmas fruitcake. It will save you money and it’s also a lot faster to make!

War Cake Recipe

2 cups dark brown sugar
2 cups hot water
2 tbsp shortening
1 tsp each: cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 tsp each ground cloves and ginger
1 lb raisins
1/2 lb chopped walnuts and/or almonds (optional)
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp hot water


In a saucepan, mix together the sugar, hot water, shortening, spices and raisins. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook 5 minutes.

Set aside to cool for up to several hours, stirring often. The mixture will thicken up during the cooling period. Don’t rush and add the flour too soon, or the cake won’t bake properly.

Gradually mix in flour and soda. The batter should be thick. Pour into two well oiled and floured loaf pans.

Bake 45-60 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. The resulting loaf should look like a darker, more dense version of banana bread.

Serve slices with a little butter at breakfast or tea time, or as a sweet finish to a hearty meal like stew or shepherd’s pie.


Want to pin this recipe for later? Feel free to use the graphic below:

War cake is a frugal recipe made with no eggs, butter, or milk. It is both dairy-free and vegan-friendly. Enjoy it with your coffee or use it as a substitute for more expensive fruitcake recipes.
War cake is a frugal, old-fashioned treat
PLEASE PIN THIS RECIPE – remember sharing is caring!
Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user OpenClipart-Vectors


Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Graphics made with public domain and licensed images by jeffreyw/Flickr/CC-BY 2.0, forwimuwi73/Pixabay/CC0, and OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay/CC0

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!



2 thoughts on “Old-Fashioned Cooking: War Cake is a Sweet Loaf That is Both Dairy-Free and Vegan-Friendly”

    1. I can certainly understand you wanting to wait until summer’s heat is over, Barb! I hope you’ll enjoy the cake, when it is cool enough to make it 🙂


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