Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nutty Graham Picnic Cake

Take photos of your work. Take photos of your work. Take photos of your work.

You'd think that after writing this blog for a couple of years I'd remember to take photos of everything I make, but I don't. Sometimes, as in this case, I took photos of the process and then forgot to take a photo of the final product.

So what you see here is the photo of the last, lonely piece of cake; the cake that I made for my Mother-in-Law's birthday. This cake and I go way back. I think the first time my Mom made it I was around 8 years old or so. This cake became one of our standard family recipes for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's delicious. It's also easy to make, and pretty too because it's made in a bundt pan and it has a lovely glaze on top. Having said all of this, I had never made this cake for my husband or kids or husband's family until just this month - and my husband and I are about to celebrate 20 years together so that is pretty remarkable indeed.

So here's how it happened...I was looking through a box of old photos recently and came across one of my Mom, brother, and me sitting at the kitchen table with this beautiful cake in front of us. I looked closely - could it be? Yes! The Nutty Graham Picnic Cake!!! How had I forgotten all about this beauty?   I put the photo up on the fridge to remind me - next time you need a cake, make this one.

Fast forward to early this month - my Mother-in-Law's birthday. Just the night before I had made another old family recipe, Sour Cream Chocolate Cake, for a dinner we were going to. It was so crazy rich and delicious I actually couldn't even consider having another chocolate cake this night. It was over the top and simply should not be repeated two days in a row. What to make that isn't chocolate? And then I glanced at the fridge and saw the photo. And that was it - to the grocery store for some graham cracker crumbs and orange juice!

As you may have noticed in the title of this recipe, the word 'graham' appears. That's because there are graham cracker crumbs in the batter! You are probably used to using graham cracker crumbs for the crusts of pies and squares, but you are likely similar to me in that in all my years of baking I have never seen graham cracker crumbs inside the cake itself (other than this recipe obviously). The other complimentary ingredient in this cake is orange juice. The juice (and rind) help to cut the sweetness of the cake and give it a certain je ne sais quois.

Since I hadn't made this cake in about 25-30 years I decided to make no substitutions or adjustments just to see what it tasted like the way the author intended it to be. The second time I made it (the next day), I cut back on the sugar. I didn't really notice any difference. I also left the nuts out since I was making this second cake for my kids to take to school (and the school is a nut-free zone).

This delicious cake recipe is from a mini magazine called America's Bake Off and it was published by Pillsbury in 1978. The funny thing about this mini magazine is that almost every single recipe starts with "Take a XXX cake mix and add XXX...". Not typically my kind of recipe source. However, this cake recipe is totally from scratch and doesn't involve any boxed mixes.

Here is what the cake looks like in the mini magazine:

And here is the photo that inspired me:

So you can see that it IS actually possible to make a cake that looks as good as the professional photo in a cook book.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for the now infamous Nutty Graham Picnic Cake. Instead of re-typing the recipe I am going to show it to you since I especially love the little blurb about Mrs. Esther Tomich of San Pedro, California.

The only changes I made were to put the ingredients in the bowl in a specific order, and beat after each addition. As well, for my Mother-in-Law's birthday cake I used pecans instead of walnuts because that's what I had on hand.

Here are the ingredients in the order I prepared them:


1 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar (I left this out of the second cake entirely)
3 eggs
1 cup orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange rind
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)


2 tbsp brown sugar
5 tsp milk
1 tbsp butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup chopped nuts (to sprinkle on top of glazed cake, before glaze cools)

Start with the butter, then the sugar:

Then the eggs, beating after each one.

Then I added the orange juice...note that the orange juice causes the batter to separate but don't panic. As soon as you put the dry ingredients in the batter will come together again nicely. Here is a photo of what it will look like so you won't panic:

And here's what it looks like when you add the dry ingredients (and orange rind and nuts if you so desire) in and keep on beating:

Once your pan is prepared, pour the batter in and place the cake in the oven. It took 45 minutes in my oven (and I have a hot oven) so I would start checking at about that time.

When it comes out of the oven, the toothpick should be clean. Let it cool on the rack in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn it out on to the rack. 

While the cake is cooling you can prepare the glaze.

Let the cake cool entirely before pouring the glaze over the cake.

Here's a photo of the cake after the glaze has been poured on, but before it has hardened (it firms up slightly as it cools). The cake in this photo has no nuts on top as this was the one I made for the kids for school:

I hope you enjoy this delicious cake as much as my family does! 

Update: October 2017

Made this cake again on the weekend for my brother-in-law Simon's birthday and remembered to take a few photos.


  1. Thanks for sharing! I have a soft spot for these amazing recipes, that have been lost, found and re-booted. You are awesome!

  2. I loved your story of the cake and the lovely picture you shared of your childhood. That cookbook looks like some I have that my mom used to own. The cake itself sounds delicious and that last lonely piece is proof it was good.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Bonnie and Lois! I hope you both try the recipe and enjoy it as much as we did. Thanks for following my blog!