Nostalgia comes packed in a sweet treat — A&P Spanish Bar. This copycat of a Jane Parker classic has all of the flavors of the original 20th-century snack. A mildly spiced raisin studded cake is layered with a thick cream cheese frosting. Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, you’ll find a way (or excuse) to eat a slice.
A&P was one of the companies that radically changed the way people shopped for food. Step into an A&P, and you were likely to find vegetables, meats, baked goods, and tea all in one store and all self-serve. When A&P opened in 1859, going to the grocer was an interactive process, where you had to ask the shopkeeper for specific items to be weighed and packaged. A&P changed the game by prepackaging everything, so the customer took and item and put it in their cart. By the 1930s, it was the largest chain grocery store in the nation, offering low prices that local grocers simply couldn’t compete with, especially during the Great Depression. Their trick was hiring few employees and having in-store brands, making prices cheaper — if you wanted coffee, you’d buy Eight o’clock, if you wanted a sweet treat, you’d buy Anne Paige or Jane Parker treats. This became a problem for the company by the mid-century, especially with the uptick of commercial and publicly advertised products led to people demanding well-known national brands. By the 1970s, the A&P model of few employees and store-brand inventory would eventually lead to an outdated business, and by 2015, it’d close its final stores’ doors.
Yet there’s something nostalgic about this store, especially if you ask anyone who shopped there. You’d find people reminiscing and thinking of Jane Parker desserts. As one of A&P’s in-house bakery brands, Jane Parker was known for cupcakes, cookies, fruitcakes, and snack cakes, one of which was the Spanish Bar. A&P’s Spanish Bar came into popularity, especially during the 1940s. This cake used very few eggs and relied on affordable dried spices to add flavor to the cake. Raisins were the original mix-in, but as the years went by and the cake’s popularity progressed, chopped walnuts got added to the batter as well.
Here, this A&P Spanish Bar is similar to the original version, which simply added spices and raisins. This sweet treat is a double-decker cake held together by a smooth and velvety cream cheese frosting.
To start, boil water and soak the raisins for ten minutes. This step plumps the raisins up and ultimately injects good moisture into the cake. As the raisins cool, you go ahead and mix up the dry ingredients.
Add the raisins, oil, and egg to the batter. At first, it’ll look lumpy, but trust the process and keep stirring, it’ll form a smooth mixture.
Pour into a parchment lined greased 8×8 pan and bake until the cake is golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted comes out with a few moist, not wet, crumbs.
The frosting is a simple but classic combination of cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and the tiniest pinch of salt.
Once the cake is cooled, lift it out of the tray and carefully slice it in half. Place one cake layer on a tray, spread some frosting on top, and then top it with the second layer and the remaining frosting.
Sliced and served, you’ll have yourself a dessert from the past. The raisins and spices have a warm Christmas-y sort of vibe, while the cream cheese frosting gives the cake an appeal for any time of year.
A&P Spanish Bar
Serves 8 to 10
20m prep time
35m cook time
For the Cake:
- 2 cups water
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup walnuts, very finely chopped (optional)
For the Frosting:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
To make the Cake:
- Preheat oven to 325°F and grease a 8x8 pan with baking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper, set aside.
- In a large saucepan, combine water and raisins and bring to a gentle boil, cooking for 10 minutes. Add vegetable oil to the boiled mixture. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
- Combine flour, sugar, pumpkin spice mix, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, whisking to break up any lumps.
- Mix the dry-ingredients into the boiled raisin mixture. Add in egg and walnuts (if using).
- Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely before assembling.
To make the Frosting:
- In a large, bowl beat cream cheese and butter until smooth and lump free, about 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually add powdered sugar and salt, beating until smooth.
To assemble the A&P Spanish Bar:
- Remove the cake from the baking pan and place it on a cutting board.
- Slice the cake in half.
- Transfer one layer to a serving tray and apply the frosting on top.
- Top with the second layer and top with remaining frosting.
- For a grooved pattern, use a fork to draw lines in the frosting.
Recipe adapted from Rock Recipes