W.I. Favourites – Cakes

Old-fashioned cakes are back in style. And if you’re looking for vintage, it doesn’t get more authentic than W.I. recipes! Browse through an old Women’s Institute book, and you’ll find recipes that are the predecessors to our modern favourites. The names may be different, and the lard and ammonia may be out, but these vintage recipes are classics of their own time!

About the Institute

The Women’s Institute – an idea that travelled from Canada – was founded in 1915 to encourage British women to grow, bake and preserve during World War I. It was funded by the government, and branches sprang up very quickly – 40 in the first year and another 97 the following year. The Institute now has more than 6,000 branches all over the UK. Here are some vintage W.I. cake recipes for you to try.

Sultana Cake

This recipe appears in an old W.I. book, attributed to Mrs Hawkings. It is quick, easy and charmingly vintage – ideal for Afternoon Tea.

You need:
  • 140ml (5fl oz) milk
  • 225g (8oz) self-raising flour
  • 75g (3oz) butter
  • 25g (1oz) vegetable shortening
  • 175g (6oz) caster sugar
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 110g (4oz) sultanas
  • 1 egg, beaten

There is no creaming or sifting here – it’s nice and simple. Before you start weighing and mixing, deal with the milk. Measure it into a small pan (or the baking tin, if hob-proof) and bring to boiling point, then set aside to cool.

Weigh the flour into a bowl, then weigh the fats and cut them in using a knife. Rub the fats in with your fingers, until the mixture has a breadcrumb consistency.

Weigh out the sugar and sultanas and stir them into the flour mixture with the lemon rind. Make a well in the middle and put in the egg and the milk. Use a wooden spoon to beat everything together, gradually incorporating all of the flour from the sides to ensure an even blend. The batter will be fairly thick. Line a baking tin (an 8” square or round tin) with greaseproof paper and spoon in the cake batter, smoothing out the top.

Bake at 160ºC, gas mark 3 for 30-40 minutes or until the top is evenly golden and a skewer comes out of the cake cleanly. Cool before serving, and store in an airtight tin.

Date and Walnut Cake

This cake is a good keeper. It comes from an old W.I. book, attributed to L. Beckett. It’s easy to make, with good-for-you dates and walnuts, and ideal for Packed Lunches and Picnics.

You need:
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 110g (4oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 175g (6oz) self-raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2tbsp milk
  • 75g (3oz) chopped dates
  • 75g (3oz) halved walnuts

Cream together the butter and sugar, until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and the milk. The mixture may look a bit curdled at first but keep going – it will soon even out. Then sift over the flour and salt. Stir gently to incorporate.

Stir in the dates and nuts, then spoon the mixture into a buttered loaf or square tin and bake at 160ºC, gas mark 3 until nicely browned and a skewer comes out cleanly.

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