Recipes, Retro Cooking

Retro Cooking: 1928 Nun’s Cake

For this month’s Retro Cooking, I decided to make a nun’s cake, from the book Anyone Can Bake, published by the Royal Baking Powder Company in 1928.

In all honesty, I was intrigued by the name. A French-Canadian really can’t deny her Catholic-influenced culture! After looking it up, I learned a lot about the type of cake, that came to life in the 18th century and became very common at the turn of the 20th century. I even found a 1923 advertising page explaining the merits of the nun’s cake. According to this, it might have been the “first cake ever made”…which may or may not be true but I like the idea of it!

The recipe was quite simple although finding the rose extract (rose water) was a project. Thankfully, my trusty Buford Highway Farmer’s Market came through once more, in their Eastern European section. The cinnamon extract, on the other hand, had to be replaced by cinnamon powder as I couldn’t find it anywhere.


1928 Nun’s Cake

  • Servings: Makes 1 cake
  • Source: Anyone Can Bake, by Royal Baking Powder Company
  • Print


  • 1 cup of butter, softened
  • 1.5 cups of powdered sugar
  • Yolks of 5 eggs
  • Whites of 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • 3 cups of pastry flour (I used half all-purpose, half cake flour)
  • 2.5 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons of caraway seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of rose extract (or rose water)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon extract (or cinnamon powder)


  1. Beat the butter until soft and creamy.
  2. Add the sugar and the yolks. Beat well.
  3. Stir in the unbeaten egg whites and beat for 1 minute.
  4. Sift the flour with the baking powder and the salt. Add to the batter alternately with the milk, a little at a time. Mix well but do not over beat.
  5. Sprinkle in the caraway seeds, cinnamon and rose water. Mix well.
  6. Pour into a well-greased and floured loaf/cake pan.
  7. Bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes at 325°F. (***Note: The book said 1h40m but I believe it was fully baked after 1 hour)




The cake flavors turned out really well. I rarely cook with caraway seeds and only tried rose water in Middle Eastern desserts so this was a nice change from the flavors I’m used to. While it was quite surprising to me to find such exotic flavors in a turn-of-the-century American recipe, it certainly made me feel like I need to use these flavoring options more regularly.


The only issue I had with the cake is how dry and hard it was. Part of it was my fault for wanting to stick to the original directions. Cooking a cake for almost two hours seemed like an overkill but I figured there might be a reason for it so, since the cake didn’t seem to burn, I let it cook for the suggested amount of time. It was so dry. I even tried to put cream on it and it still tasted very dry. Later on, I figured that a 1928 oven probably didn’t provide the same heat as its 21st century equivalent. I probably should have baked it for an hour, at most. Live and learn, right? 🙂

8 thoughts on “Retro Cooking: 1928 Nun’s Cake”

  1. Just today I saw liquid cinnamon at Whole Foods.. never saw it before. I was brought up in Ireland where Nun’s cake was well known. As I recall it was basically a sponge cake with caraway seeds. My mother had that same cake book and it was considered very fancy because “ It was from America “ and the decoration of the cakes were elaborate.

  2. I also grew up in Ireland and remember my grandmother making this cake, though she called it Seed Cake. I just tried to recreate it from her 1951 Recipe book. Same result as yours, very dry and hard, even though I ignored the direction in her recipe for 2 hour baking time and took it out after an hour. We used to eat this with butter and cups of tea, now I know why!

    1. Oh that’s so interesting! And it makes me feel a lot better if yours turned out dry too! 🙂 I do feel like it would have been delicious dipped in tea. Now I feel the need to make it again to try that out. Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

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