Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Hey, when was the last time you tried some cake from the 18th century? I was watching the Travel Channel on TV a couple of weeks ago and saw them actually make a cake following the recipe of Martha Washington, wife of George! I went to their site, found it and wanted to pass it along to you. On the TV program they told how Martha was an excellent hostess to parties so long ago. Here it is. Back then they actually baked the frosting on the cake.


Martha Washington’s Great Cake
Martha Washington’s great cake recipe results in the type of cake traditionally served for Twelfth Night, Jan. 6. Also known as the Epiphany, it is the last of the 12 days of Christmas. It also happens to mark the date of George and Martha Washington’s wedding, which took place in 1759.
Original Recipe
“Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it, a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put in the Youlks [sic] of eggs & 5 pounds of flower [sic] & 5 pounds of fruit. Two hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace & nutmeg, half a point [sic] of win [sic] & some frensh [sic] brandy.”
Adapted Recipe
10 eggs
1 pound butter
1 pound sugar
1 1/4 pounds (20 ounces) flour
1 1/4 pounds (20 ounces) fruit
2 1/2 teaspoons ground mace
2/ 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 ounces wine
2 ounces French brandy

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Separate egg whites from yolks and set yolks aside. Beat eggs whites to the “soft peak” stage. Cream butter. Slowly add the beaten egg whites, one spoonful at a time, to the butter. Add sugar slowly to egg whites and butter — again, one spoonful at a time. Add egg yolks. Add flour, slowly. Add fruit.
Since Mrs. Washington would have used anything that was seasonable or available dried, and since nuts were considered a fruit, for this adapted version use the following:
5 ounces of pear, peeled, cored and diced (about 1 large pear)
9 1/2 ounces of apple, peeled, cored and diced (about 2 medium-to-large apples)
3 1/2 ounces of raisins
2 ounces sliced almonds (about 1/2 cup)
After fruit is added, add ground mace and nutmeg, wine and brandy. You can use cream sherry and other sorts of wine. Madeira, one of George Washington’s favorites, would certainly be an appropriate choice. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch springform cake pan. Put batter into pan and place in oven. Bake for about 75 minutes. When done, remove cake from oven and cool.
18th-Century Icing Recipe
Taken from one of Martha Washington’s cookbooks
“Take two pound of double refin’d Sugar, beat and sift it very fine, and likewise beat and sift a little Starch and mix with it, then beat six Whites of Eggs to Froth, and put to it some Gum-Water. The Gum must be steep’d in Orange-flower-water, then mix and beat all these together two Hours, and put on your Cake: when it is baked, set it in the Oven again to harden a quarter of a Hour, take great care it is not discolour’d. When it is drawn, ice it over the Top and Sides, take two pound of double refin’d Sugar beat and sifted, and the Whites of three Eggs beat to a Froth, with three or four Spoonfuls of Orange-flower-water, and three Grains of Musk and Amber-grease together: put all these in a Stone Mortar, and beat these till it is as white as Snow, and with a Brush or Bundle of Feathers, spread it all over the Cake, and put it in the Oven to dry; but take Care the Oven does not discolor it. When it is cold paper it and it will keep good five or six weeks.”

Adapted Recipe
Beat for 3 minutes:
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons 4X sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
Repeat additions of sugar until you have used 1 1/2 cups
Add 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons orange-flower water
Directions: Beat until the icing is stiff enough to stay parted when cut through with a knife. Smooth it onto the top and sides of a cake. Let it dry and harden in a 200-degree oven for 1 hour. (Note: Icing will be brittle and will shatter when you cut into the cake. Don’t be surprised when this happens.)

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