Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tasting History with Martha Washington’s Great Cake Recipe

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Recently, I was able to visit Mount Vernon and meet Martha Washington. Okay, so it wasn’t really her but a reenactor instead.  However, while in the dining room, she shared her Great Cake recipe with us.  The recipe shared is one of the few recipes that have survived that are directly associated with Mrs. Washington.  Legend has it, the Great Cake was so well liked that she had her granddaughter, Martha Parks Custis copy it down to give out to other family members.  The Great Cake, as it was called is a basic fruitcake that would have been served as part of the Christmas holidays.

Her original recipe reads:
“Take 40 eggs divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of the 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 manners then put it in the Youlks [sic] of eggs & 5 pounds of flower [sic] & 5 pounds of fruit.  2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace & nutmeg half a pint of wine and some frensh [sic] brandy.”

Thankfully, the recipe that is given out and the one I baked is adapted for modern bakers.  The first step was soaking the candied fruit pieces and nuts in the Madeira for three hours.  The cake includes so much brandy and wine that when finished it was really moist and quite good.  The biggest change I had to make to the cake was using regular raisins instead of currants.  After several stores and an internet search, it was apparent that finding currants just wasn’t going to happen. 

French Brandy, Madeira, Candied Orange Peel, Citron, Lemon Peel & Raisins.
Soaking in the Madeira for at least 3 hours.

Also, I did not make the modern adaption of an 18th century icing that was part of the recipe.  I had on hand an extra bottle of rum icing that we put on the plum pudding we make on Christmas Eve.  To say that the cake turned out to be incredibly tasty is an understatement.  My daughters usually refuse to eat fruitcake—they don’t like the taste and texture of fruits in cakes.  However, Mrs. Washington’s Great Cake was a huge hit.  My usually picky eaters gobbled up every bite.

The cake ready to be baked and fresh out of the oven with icing.

Bon Appetite to baking your very own Great Cake and tasting a bit of history!

Recipe card from Mount Vernon