The Infamous Spanish Bar Cake

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on March 5, 2012

When my family moved to this country in the 70’s, we lived in a suburb of Washington DC called Adelphi, Maryland. We were lucky that many of the stores were in close proximity to where we lived, and when we ran out of something it was always my job to walk to the store and buy what we needed. I began running errands for my mum when I was about 8 years old, and actually believe that I learned much of my shopping savvy during this time.

One of the stores that was close to where we lived was a store called A&P Supermarket. It was the type of store that had a real small town feel and carried many items that the other larger grocery stores did not. I had no idea that they actually began in 1859 as a small chain of tea and coffee stores in NYC. Actually A&P stands for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and it continued to grow as a tea company by adding more and more stores across the US. It was not until the mid 1930’s that they adopted the self serve supermarket concept and by the 1950’s, they had opened 4000 larger stores to incorporate many new offerings.

By the 1970’s the stores were experiencing much more competition from larger, more modern supermarkets and the company was sold to a German group who began a national store closing program. It was during this time that many of the stores in the Maryland area began to disappear and many of their devoted customers were devastated that they would no longer be able to find many of the items they had come to enjoy that were exclusive to these stores. One of these items was a cake called the Spanish Bar Cake and it was not only a product that was exclusive to the A&P, but something that was also loved by many. I had first heard about this cake from my friend George who asked if I had ever made one before…and since I had never heard of it let alone tried it, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more.

As George spoke about the cake, his eyes lit up, so I could tell that it was something that was special to him. I decided to take on the challenge and make it a few times until we got the right flavor and texture that he remembered. He searched for a recipe for me to start with and I provided it for you below. I made it exactly as it was written and had George try it, but it just didn’t have the flavor he remembered. I tried again with a few adjustments but again, it was not close enough. The third time I made it I made several changes- I added much more cinnamon, added some ground cloves and increased the other spices a little more along with the cocoa powder. The batter needed an additional egg, some vanilla and more oil. I also took the raisins and placed them into the food processor and made them into a chunky paste. I found that adding it this way incorporated the raisins a little better into the batter without having them all sink to the bottom. If you prefer, you can add currants instead of raisins and you will not have to go the extra step to ‘process’ them.  These few changes definitely gave the cake a darker and spicier flavor without making it taste like a chocolate cake. When he tried it for the third time, his eyes lit up and he smiled…it was only then that I realized I had finally hit the mark…

Original Spanish Bar Cake Recipe (single recipe for an 8 x 8 cake pan)

2 large eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

2 cups applesauce

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon allspice

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ cups raisins, soaked in warm water until plump


Original Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

1 cup shortening (8oz)

1 cup or 2 sticks softened butter (8oz)

8 cups sifted powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4-6 tablespoons milk to thin out frosting to desired consistency


Spanish Bar Cake Recipe (double recipe with my modifications for a 12 x 18 or 14 x 14 cake pan)

5 eggs (9oz)

3 cups sugar (1 lb 7oz)

1 and 1/3 cups vegetable oil (9oz, slightly increased)

4 cups applesauce (2 lbs)

3 cups dark raisins (14 oz, process into a chunky paste or use currants)

4 teaspoons vanilla (.5oz)

4 cups flour (1 lb 4oz)

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

4 Tablespoons cocoa powder (1.3oz, I used red Dutch processed, slightly increased)

6 teaspoons cinnamon (increased greatly)

1½ teaspoons nutmeg (decreased slightly)

1½ teaspoons allspice (decreased slightly)

1 teaspoon cloves (I added)

Preheat your oven to 350°F then grease and line your cake pan with parchment paper. Next, process the raisins in the food processor and place into a small bowl. Using a wooden spoon stir in 1 cup of the apple sauce (a little at a time) into the raisin paste until it becomes a homogenous mixture. This will help it to incorporate into the batter later on.  Once this is ready, set aside.

Next, measure out all of your wet ingredients into a medium sized bowl along with the sugar and the other 3 cups of applesauce, whisk well together. Next do the same for all of your dry ingredients and then sift them together into the wet ingredients and whisk well until everything is incorporated and has no lumps. Lastly, add the raisin paste with the 1 cup of mixed in applesauce. Make sure this is mixed well into the batter and that there are no large lumps of raisin paste or it will sink to the bottom. Pour this into your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until cake tests clean in the center.

Allow cake to cool completely before frosting. I used my own recipe for cream cheese frosting because it goes so well with spice cake and that’s what George remembers on the original cake…The original recipe listed above did not include cream cheese but feel free to use what you prefer.

If you would like to read more about the history of the A&P Supermarket chain that I found truly fascinating, you can do that here.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar George March 5, 2012 at 7:40 p

Caterina, nice job on the cake. It was awesome. Memories flow, tummy is happy, heart is full. Thanks. <3

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet March 7, 2012 at 5:28 p

Thanks so much George! I’m so happy we got it right for you xoxo

avatar Karen September 3, 2012 at 3:57 p

I think if you dust the raisins with a tiny bit of the flour from the recipe before adding them they won’t sink to the bottom. I learned to do this with dates in loaf recipes.

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet September 5, 2012 at 12:35 p

Hi Karen! yes, that’s a great baking tip, but some batters like this one are very thin and most added things like raisins have a tough time staying suspended.

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