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Welcome to my Spanish bar cake journey. I hope you’ll join me on this adventure as we set out to recreate a beloved recipe from the past. I’ve given it

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Welcome to my Spanish bar cake journey. I hope you’ll join me on this adventure as we set out to recreate a beloved recipe from the past. I’ve given it

Spanish Bar Cake Recipe

Welcome to my Spanish bar cake journey. I hope you’ll join me on this adventure as we set out to recreate a beloved recipe from the past. I’ve given it my best shot and look forward to you joining in and sharing your memories, comments, and suggestions.

Our State’s most popular recipe of the summer at has been the Atlantic Beach Pie recipe by Chef Bill Smith of Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill. Recently I was reading through the comments left on the recipe for that pie, and noticed quite a few people talking about a cake produced and sold by the old A&P grocery stores some years back. It was called a Spanish bar cake, and apparently lots of folks enjoyed it back then.

The Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) began back in 1859 in New York City and quickly made a name for itself as an innovator and leader in the grocery industry. Before long, the company even began making its own brand of products, including the beloved Spanish bar cake. By the 1930s, there were over 16,000 A&P stores across the country. Sadly, in the 1950s, A&P lost ground to newer, more modern stores, and eventually closed all its North Carolina locations.

Mama shopped the A&P store in our hometown every chance she had. She had no choice. Her oldest son, my older brother, worked there, and eventually became store manager. He worked with A&P for many years.

When I first asked my older brother about the Spanish bar cake, he lit up and started telling me all about it. He described it vividly, so I knew I’d have to make a recipe that would meet his expert approval. The pressure was on, but at least I knew I had a trusted source.

I contacted the A&P Company, still in existence with about 300 stores in the Northeast, but they never responded. Instead, I did my best to collect copycat recipes from the Internet and gain information from old A&P ads before setting out to recreate the cake.

My first attempt garnered a “6 out of 10” on my older brother’s memory scale. Not bad, but not good enough. He said it should be darker and a little spicier. This, my second attempt, rated a 7 from older brother. We’re getting closer.

If you remember this cake, I do hope you’ll try this recipe. I’m open to your suggestions, and your own memories of the cake. Hopefully together we can come up with a perfect 10.  Now, let’s get cooking!

Make the Spanish Bar Cake

Yields: 1 cake

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup Crisco shortening, plus more for pan
1¼ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup dark molasses
2 eggs
¼ cup evaporated milk
½ cup applesauce
1 cup raisins, soaked in warm water until plump, then drained

½ cup butter, softened
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla
3 tablespoons evaporated milk, more if needed

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°.

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add raisins. Set aside while you make the batter; this will help the raisins become more plump.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Sift flour mixture over a long sheet of parchment paper. Use parchment paper to funnel flour mixture back into mixing bowl. Repeat this step two more times.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add shortening, sugar, molasses, eggs, milk, and applesauce, and mix on medium-low speed until well combined. Add one third of flour mixture to batter and mix until just combined. Repeat until all flour has been added (the batter should be fairly thick). Drain raisins and fold gently into batter. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a little extra hanging over the edges. Coat the parchment paper with shortening and dust with flour. Use a spatula to spoon batter into pan, starting from the center and spreading into each corner until evenly distributed. Lift the pan 2 inches off the counter and drop it to push any air bubbles to the top. Bake cake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: In a bowl, use a hand mixer to cream butter on low speed. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, mixing in a little at a time. Once all the sugar has been added, increase hand mixer speed to high and whip vanilla and evaporated milk into butter mixture. Depending on how thick you like your frosting, you can add up to 2 additional tablespoons of evaporated milk to loosen it. Remove cooled cake from pan and slice in half. Spread frosting evenly over one half and top with second half and frost again. Gently run fork tines across the frosted top layer to create the classic A&P look.

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This story was published on Sep 08, 2014

Steve Gordon

Gordon was an award-winning food preservationist and fisherman based in Sanford. He operated a Southern recipe blog, Taste of Southern.