Here is a recipe for such a "trench cake" that I have baked several times already. It has been updated somewhat for modern bakers and their kitchens, but it remains just as tasty. What makes this recipe unique is that it does not contain eggs to hold it together, nor yeast to make it rise. Just like making a "volcano" for a grade school science experiment, it uses baking soda and vinegar to rise!
1 2/3 cup flour
4 oz margarine/butter (one stick of butter should be enough)
1/2 cup of milk
1/3 cup of brown sugar
3 oz. dried currants (the only place I could find currants for sale in bulk was Whole Foods. Otherwise, raisins would make an acceptable substitute. Remember, we're talking about baking a cake during a time when simply having sweets was a luxury!)
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
The recipe can easily be doubled of you want to make more for a party or gathering. While I was baking the cakes in my kitchen, it dawned on me that bakers from 100 years ago probably didn't have the convenience of being able to use an electric KitchenAid mixer, rubber spatulas, or even an electric oven! No matter how you prepare or bake the cake, it still tastes great! The texture is not unlike Irish soda bread, and the spices and currants give it a unique flavor.
I would recommend serving this cake with coffee during breakfast or for an after-dinner treat. It's a tasty way to remember what it was like living -and eating- during a time when baking your own cake was a special event all on its own. As I always say, one of the best ways to experience history is by eating it!