A parting gift

From its beginnings a little more than five years ago, The Skillet Chronicles has been great fun.  For a veteran food journalist used to working in collaboration on assignments, it has been exhilarating to connect directly with readers and write about whatever fascinated me at the moment.  I learned so much along the way, exploring unfamiliar produce and expanding my culinary chops.  The best part was hearing from you, dear readers, about recipes that delighted you and nourished your families.

Now, I’m afraid I need to take a sabbatical for at least a couple of months. Some health issues require me to focus my attention elsewhere.

But I didn’t want to take my leave before I shared with you this simple snack cake recipe I’ve been fiddling with for nearly a year.

My mother used to make this Depression-era treat, which she called Hobo Cake, on the spur of the moment. The ingredients always could be found in her pantry. It made a terrific little cake with rich flavor, great texture, and an irresistible broiled coconut topping. It didn’t even require a mixer.

I had the recipe, handwritten on note paper, stashed away in my files for years. Then my mother was gone and the recipe vanished. I searched my files now and then, hoping it had slipped behind another recipe or had been stashed in the wrong category. But I never found it again.

Last winter I decided that the recipe surely would show up somewhere on the Internet if I just dug deeply. Though I eventually found a number of Hobo and Hillbilly cakes in obscure cooking forums, none of them was quite right. Too many started with cake mixes and the frosting, my favorite part, always missed the mark.

The big breakthrough came when I decided to check out my mother’s old 1945 edition of “Better Homes and Garden Cook Book,” tucked away on a bookshelf with several later editions. I might page through them now and again for sentimental reasons, but I never used them.

Right there at the top of Chapter F, Page 21 was the recipe for broiled coconut frosting that I had been looking for. It called for cream rather than the sweetened condensed milk in my mother’s original recipe, but I could tell immediately that it would be perfect.

So, here it is, my mother’s Hobo Cake revived. It may be humble in origin, but it still tastes as great as it did so many years ago. It would be a shame to lose such a wonderful old recipe.

Hobo Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
My mother used to make this Depression-era treat, which she called Hobo Cake, on the spur of the moment. The ingredients always could be found in her pantry. It made a terrific little cake with rich flavor, great texture, and an irresistible broiled coconut topping. It didn’t even require a mixer.
Serves: 9 servings
For the cake:
  • 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
For the frosting:
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup moist, shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Stir together flour, soda, and walnuts in a small bowl.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine raisins, water, sugar, butter and spices. Bring to a boil, then let cool for 5-10 minutes. Stir in flour and walnut mixture with a wooden spoon just until all the flour disappears into the batter. Scrape batter into prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, until a small, sharp knife comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.
  3. Just before the cake is done, stir together the melted butter, brown sugar, cream, coconut and vanilla in a small saucepan until sugar melts and ingredients are thoroughly blended.
  4. Switch oven temperature to broil. Spread frosting mixture evenly over top of warm cake and slide under broiler, watching carefully so the topping browns nicely but does not burn.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 9

12 thoughts on “A parting gift”

  1. You know I’m a baker, Aleta. I guess this is gonna have to be on my to-do list for the weekend.

    Take care of yourself. I will miss your blog but hope you will be back to writing, and cooking, and baking soon. <3

  2. While you’re on hiatus, I will be cooking your recipes that have become part of my daily life–the Thomas Keller chicken, the sweet potato salad, kale salad–too many to mention. By the time you resume, I’ll be in desperate need of more. So get well soon. <3

  3. Hey Aleta,
    This looks great – I may even break by ever present (and not followed) diet to put this together this weekend for a party I’m going to. Wish you all the best my friend and it will give me a reason to go back through The Skillet Chronicles and try all those recipes I didn’t.

    I’m sure my family had a version of this cake so I will add it to the recipes I am resurrecting, like those scalloped potatoes I talked about.

  4. Dear Aleta,
    What a yummy looking cake, just the kind of recipe I love, not fancy but oh so tasty.
    I love old heritage foods. I have so many unwritten recipes that have been with my family for so many years, they were never written down, just put together. This just may have given me the push to get them saved in writing.

    Thanks for all the fun foods!

  5. Aleta,
    I hope everything is ok with you. I have truly enjoyed your Skillet Chronicles, and hope you sabbatical is a short one.
    Take care of yourself, and all best to you.
    — Ann

  6. Really sorry to hear you have some health issues, Aleta, and hope they will be resolved soon. I told Bill Phillips what you wrote, and he said to send you his ‘get better’ wishes as well. As for this cake, it looks like something I’m going to try….soon!

    Thanks for your recipes.

  7. Thank you so much for the wonderful recipes you have given us! Announcing your sabbatical has reminded me how much I enjoy your work. I will keep following your blog until you return…soon I hope.

  8. Aleta, thanks for the recipe. I made this cake and took it to our SuperBowl potluck at work on Friday (GO HAWKS!!). Among all the desserts, it was the most popular, and I got lots of recipe requests! I have to admit I had my doubts while making it (no eggs?, mix the flour into the warm liquid all at once?), but it is really delicious and it is hard to stop eating it. It looked exactly like the picture in your blog! AND it is easy to make! I look forward to your return to writing.

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