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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Weekend Cooking

This being President’s Day Weekend I thought it would be appropriate to do a First Family themed Weekend Cooking post. 

I first came across mention of this recipe while reading The Winter of Red Snow from the Dear America diary series.  In this book the main character, Abigail learns of this cake that Martha Washington was making for the officers in the Valley Forge camp, but she didn’t know all the ingredients/directions all she remembered was that there were 40 eggs!  Now I found this interesting because in my head I was thinking 2 things: 1. That cake must have been the size of one of those cakes you see people pop out of! 2. That must have been more of a custard if it was normal size due to all those eggs!


Well with a little digging I found the recipe for this cake.  I am not making the cake because, honestly, who can afford 40 eggs just to try out a cake!  A co-worker of mine just started raising chickens, and if I could get 40 eggs off of him I might try this at some point in the future and share it with my co-workers because I’m sure it would be huge.  You have to imagine that this would likely have been something that only the wealthy could make, because as Abigail’s mother points out in the book, a common person couldn’t afford to waste 40 eggs (not to mention the other ingredients) on a cake.  According to the Mount Vernon website – this was usually made as a celebratory cake – and Martha served this at the Yuletide festivities at Mount Vernon the Christmas following Washington farewell from office. 

With regard to taste and texture: “The end result was a risen cake similar to pannetone, the Italian delicacy that lies somewhere between a cake and bread in texture and is also commonly eaten at Christmas. However Martha Washington's Great Cake would have had a denser texture than pannetone and contained greater quantities of fruit and spice than the Italian sweet” (Mount Vernon website).

However, here is the recipe for your viewing pleasure. 

Copy of the Martha’s actual recipe as penned by her granddaughter

Martha Washington’s Great Cake
Makes 1 Cake

40 eggs (divide whites from yolks)
4 lbs. butter
4 lbs. sugar
5 lbs. flour
5 lbs. fruit
Half ounce mace (1 Tablespoon)
Half ounce nutmeg (1 Tablespoon)
Half pint wine (1 cup)
Fresh brandy


1) Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth.
2) Work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of the eggs into it a spoonful at a time until it is worked in.
3) Then put the 4 pounds of sugar into it in the same manner, then add the yolks, 5 pounds of flour, and 5 pounds of fruit.
4) Bake for 2 hours over a medium heat.
5) Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg, half a pint of wine, and some fresh brandy.

Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies Association for Christmas at Mount Vernon event

Some notes:

  • The cake made by the Mount Vernon staff (as pictured above) follows the original recipe, however it does not specify the types and quantities of fruit.  They use: 2 pounds raisins, 1 pound currants, and 2 pounds of apples.
  • The staff also bakes the cake in 2 14-inch round cake pans and bakes for 1.5 hours at 350 degrees. 
  • The icing they use is a stiff egg-white icing flavored with rosewater or orange flower water.

Also, I guess the cake isn’t as large as I imagined!


Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and any post remotely related to cooking can partake!


Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Working 4lbs of butter to a cream by hand would be seriously hard work!

    1. I can't even imagine doing that by hand - I'm pretty sure my arm would fall off!

  2. Replies
    1. I can't even imagine cracking so many eggs! There would inevitably be shells in it!

  3. Looking at the proportions, I'd say it probably was similar to a pound cake -- but yikes the cake must have be enormous. Who would have a pan or oven that big?

    1. I was thinking it sounds like a pound cake - or a 4 pound cake...

  4. Wow this sounds more like a workout than baking!


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