Martha Washington’s Great Cake

In honor of our first president’s birthday, I wanted to share the recipe for Martha Washington’s infamous big-ass cake.

From the Mount Vernon website, Mrs. Washington’s Original Recipe:

“Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.

Notes on making Martha Washington’s Great Cake:

In making the great cake, Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff followed Mrs. Washington’s recipe almost exactly. Where the recipe called for 5 pounds of fruit, without specifying which ones, 2 pounds of raisins, 1 pound of currants, and 2 pounds of apples were used. The wine used was cream sherry. Since no pan large enough was available to hold all the batter, two 14 layers were made and stacked (note: the original was one single tall layer). The layers were baked in a 350 degree oven for 1.5 hours. Should be iced with a very stiff egg-white based icing, flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.”

And in the spirit of the Month of Presidents, and the ongoing celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, Dj Bryan sent me this post on What about the plastic animals? about Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Almond Cake:

“The Lincoln Home National Historic Site has the recipe, which I assumed was authentic. It turned out well. The recipe called for six whipped egg whites to be folded into the batter. That made the cake fairly light, but still denser than an angel food cake…

Another recipe still has me scratching my head. And I quote: ‘Because I love a challenge, I took this recipe home and made Mary Todd Lincoln’s cake. Even with today’s modern technology, the process was slow going. In all, it took about four hours to cream the butter, whip the egg whites, chop the almonds and get it all mixed and baked. I used a mixer and a mini chopper…’

Four hours? Discount the baking time and there’s still three hours left. What task could have possibly taken three hours? I don’t mean to brag but it took me all of 15-20 minutes using an electric hand mixer, a mini food processor, and a large wooden spoon. Did she shell, peel and blanch the almonds? Were the almonds chopped one at a time? Did she forget to mention that she has no arms? I am baffled.”

Me too. Happy Birthday, Presidents!

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