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Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake

Mary Todd Lincoln was born in 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky. As a member of a wealthy family, she was accustomed to a rather comfortable lifestyle, so it’s somewhat of a surprise that she was such an avid baker. But it appears that cooking and baking were one of her main interests in life. In fact, Mary was said to have purchased thirteen pounds of sugar for just one week of baking in 1849. Mary is famous for many things, not the least of which is this cake, which is said to have been one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite desserts.

The story goes that Mary got this recipe from a bakery in Lexington and went on to bake this cake for Abraham Lincoln during their courtship, and then as a housewife in Springfield, Illinois, and later as a First Lady in the White House. There are many versions of this recipe in circulation at this point (after all, it is approaching 200 years old). It has been printed in newspapers, cookbooks, and Godey’s Lady’s Book, and sometimes features a simple white frosting topped with sliced almonds, though historians say that Mrs. Lincoln served it with just a dusting of powdered sugar.

It’s easy to see why this cake was a favorite of President Lincoln’s. It’s delicate but so flavorful, with a buttery background and plenty of sweet almond throughout. It’s just sweet enough and manages to be simultaneously moist and light, which is probably thanks to the unique list of ingredients. A cup of blanched almonds are processed into a coarse flour before being folded into the cake, but plenty of whipped egg whites ensure that they don’t weigh anything down.

It really is a truly stellar cake. The flavor is so much more interesting than the white cakes you might be used to, interesting enough that this is a cake that doesn’t need any adornment at all. It stands on its own easily and is one of those rare recipes that truly stands the test of time.

Mary Todd Lincoln's White Cake

1 hour 15 minutes to prepare serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup blanched almonds, pulsed into coarse flour in food processor
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
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Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Set bowl aside.
  3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Sift two more times. Add dry mixture to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk. Beat until just blended. Fold in almonds and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt on high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold one quarter of the egg whites into the batter, until just combined. Fold the remaining whites in, again until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
  6. Remove to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before running a knife around the edges and inverting onto the wire rack. Let cool 1 hour before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Recipe from the National Park Service.

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