MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

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P3_Orion_EWO
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MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by P3_Orion_EWO » Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:12 am

I spent twenty years in the USN/USNR as a non-acoustic sensor operator on Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. During the mid to late 1990s I flew a lot of counter-narcotics missions staged from Howard AFB in Panama, where flight crews had the option of obtaining MREs from the USAF flight kitchen, which we could not do when flying from Navy bases. One of my favorite MRE entrees was the cherry nut cake, which is unfortunately obsolete.

A few months ago I wrote to the Natick Labs and requested the recipe for the old MRE cherry nut cake from the 1980s and 1990s, which they graciously provided. Here's the actual recipe from the Natick Labs:

Batter Formulation

Ingredient

Sugar, white - 38.40 percent
Flour, cake - 27.40 percent
Shortening, emulsified - 15.40 percent
Eggs, whole (wet basis) - 14.80 percent
Starch, pregelatenized, instant - 2.10 percent
Salt - 0.95 percent
Baking powder 0.95 percent

Cake Formulation

Ingredient

Batter ingredients - 55.635 percent
Cherries - 25.000 percent
Nuts - 15.000 percent
Water - 4.330 percent
Oil of bitter almonds - 0.035 percent

Cake preparation

a) Cream emulsified shortening with sugar until the mass is fully aerated.

b) Prepare a flour mixture, consisting of the flour, starch, salt, and baking powder.

c) Prepare an egg mixture, consisting of the egg, appropriate flavoring, and water. Frozen whole eggs shall be thawed and held at a temperature of 40 degrees F or lower and shall be held for not more than 24 hours prior to use in the formula.

d) Starting with the creamed shortening and sugar, mix in 20 percent of the flour mixture followed by 20 percent of the egg mixture. Continue mixing in remainder of flour and egg mixtures in alternating 20 percent increments.

e) Continue mixing until a density of 0.73 to 0.85 g/mL is achieved. (Note, a higher mixing velocity may be needed in this step).

f) Combine nuts and/or candied fruit or chocolate drops, as applicable, and add to prepared batter. Mix to uniformly distribute, but DO NOT OVERMIX! (Overmixing will create a gummy product).

Some Notes from Me:

The cherries are red candied or glace cherries that are chopped into quarters

The "shortening, emulsified" is also called high-ratio shortening. This is a special product used by professional bakers that you will most likely have to order on-line. Do not substitute regular consumer type shortening such as Crisco. I used a brand called "Sweetex" that I purchased on-line. Do a search on Sweetex and you will find a number of places that provide it in small blocks to home bakers. Normally you can only get this stuff in large industrial quantities and you will never find it in a store.

The nuts are shelled pecans chopped into approximate 1/4 inch pieces

Oil of bitter almonds is actually regular almond extract

You will need a digital scale that is capable of measuring in grams and an eight inch brownie pan.

Don't ask me how (it required a lot of math), but for experimental purposes I was able to take the percentage quantities of ingredients presented in the actual recipe and turn them into something practical that could be measured using a small kitchen digital gram scale and fit into an eight inch brownie pan. Here's what I ended up with for my test batch, which my wife and I made last night:

Sugar, white - 172.8 grams
Flour, cake - 123.3 grams
Shortening, emulsified - 69.3 grams
Eggs, whole (wet basis) - 66.6 grams
Starch, pregelatenized, instant - 9.45 grams
Salt - 4.275 grams
Baking powder - 4.275 grams

Batter ingredients - 450 grams
Cherries - 202.5 grams
Nuts - 121.5 grams
Water - 35.073 grams
Oil of bitter almonds - 0.283 grams

Using these quantities of ingredients, I followed the sequence of a), b), c), d), e), f) mixing instructions presented in the actual recipe shown above. The resulting mixture was then poured into an eight inch square baking pan as shown below.
CNC1.jpg
For some reason the Natick Labs did not provide baking instructions. We tried 350 degrees F for 30 minutes and this seemed to work out fine for us. Here's how the baking pan looked when it came out of the oven.
CNC2B.jpg
Here's the finished product.
CNC3.jpg
I haven't had "the real thing" in almost fifteen years but I thought that it was very close to what I remembered, though certainly not as dense and compressed perhaps since it was not cooked in a sealed plastic retort pouch, but a very good approximation. Give it a try. Next up will be the MRE Pineapple Nut Cake, which we may try next weekend if time permits.

Note, when I do this again I will try to get the mixture in the pan down to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, using a larger pan, and will watch the baking time very carefully (it may take less time to bake if the mix is thinner). The test cake made as described above ended up being about an inch or so thick. The original MRE cakes were perhaps 1/4 inch thick as they came out of the retort pouches. This might make a difference, but it might not.
Last edited by P3_Orion_EWO on Sun Jan 08, 2012 12:40 pm, edited 3 times in total.

cavguy
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by cavguy » Sun Jan 08, 2012 12:23 pm

Cool deal! Thanks for the converted formulation too!

P3_Orion_EWO
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by P3_Orion_EWO » Sun Jan 08, 2012 12:34 pm

I typed the original post very early in the morning (could not sleep) and missed the last two steps (e and f). This has been corrected in the recipe presented above. Sorry!

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mreheater72
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by mreheater72 » Mon Jan 09, 2012 2:08 pm

P3_Orion_EWO, thank you very much for your awesome instructions for baking a CHERRY NUT CAKE :D ! Your cake looks very fine and tasty, but as you already said the appearance of the baked batter is more fluffy as the original out of the MREs :) .

As soon as I have organized emulsified shortening (I hope I will get that in Germany) I will also give it a try with exact the same batter mix :D ! But instead of using a brownie pan for baking, I will try to fill about 100 g of batter in usual aluminum foil fold in double or triple layers pouches for each cake, in hope that will be gas-tight so that no humidity will pass off while baking (I guess that could be the best alternate to "imitate" flexible pouches used in MREs for baking the nut cake). Baking temperature and time I will try the same as you. Ok, we will see... :)

So long mreheater72
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P3_Orion_EWO
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by P3_Orion_EWO » Mon Jan 09, 2012 3:20 pm

I'd be very interested in knowing how this works out when baked in tinfoil, or some other method that replicates the way the originals were baked within the retort pouch. I want to reiterate that despite the different texture (my reproduction is not as "dense" as the original) the taste appeared identical to what I remembered.

cavguy
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by cavguy » Mon Jan 09, 2012 3:53 pm

You might could actually bake and sell batches, just an idea... maybe vacuum pack them or somehow seal batches of them in bags? I know alot of veterans like me that really liked those old cakes that are not kitchen friendly! I read a few post's awhile back on other forums too about people asking about the nutcakes.

P3_Orion_EWO
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by P3_Orion_EWO » Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:38 am

Baking and selling would not be worth my time. However, vacuum packing using a home vacuum sealer might be the way to compress the home-baked cakes a bit and make them more dense, as the originals were.

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Name_not_found
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by Name_not_found » Fri Jan 13, 2012 12:34 pm

P3_ said: though certainly not as dense and compressed
-Find one of those turkey roasting bags for the oven and butter the inside
-Put your batter in that
-Put the bag in a pan
-Cover with another pan
-Weigh down top pan with "a rock or something" :D

That should give you a dense cake and even be in bag shape
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mreheater72
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by mreheater72 » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:51 pm

Name_not_found wrote:
P3_ said: though certainly not as dense and compressed
-Find one of those turkey roasting bags for the oven and butter the inside...
OK, thanks for that info :D ! What size do that "turkey roasting bags" have?
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Re: MRE Cherry Nut Cake Successfully Replicated!

Post by Name_not_found » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:57 pm

What size do that "turkey roasting bags" have?
Found the link, big and bigger it seems:

http://www.reynoldsovenbags.com/faq.aspx
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