Celebrating Presidents’ Day with Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake

Celebrating Presidents’ Day with Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake

Presidents’ Day is right around the corner, and we’ve got the best treat for you! Not that there’s ever a bad time for cake, but Presidents’ Day is the perfect excuse to whip up this masterpiece that Claire is about to share with us (we definitely trust Claire’s cake-making abilities).  It looks SO GOOD. Go ahead and veto any other dessert plans you’ve got for this long weekend, because Claire has issued an executive order to make Abe Lincoln’s favorite cake! Give us cake, Claire, or I’ll keep making terrible presidential puns!

It’s time for another installment of “What’s the Weather Like at Claire’s?” Well, I’ll tell you; it’s just beautiful. When my mom comes to visit, it always rains. She came out here for Christmas and stayed for a few weeks to escape the Michigan winter, so of course it rained the whole time. But now, she’s gone home, and the rain is gone with her, and spring has decided to come early. I don’t think we’re quite ready to see the rain go, but I’m never one to sniff at a sunny day. At the very least, we’ll have a nice few weeks of green everywhere before the summer hits and it all turns brown again. More importantly, though, while my mom was out here, she bought me my first Bundt pan! Even though I think Bundt cakes are pretty boring, I’ve been itching to use my pan since I got it, and I thought I’d share the experience with you.

Thanks to my job at the bank, I get to take advantage of bank holidays, and oddly enough, my new Bundt pan got me thinking about this next one. Even though I’m pretty sure Presidents’ Day is actually our nation’s commemoration of George Washington’s birth, I’ve always had a sweet spot for Abe Lincoln, and his birthday is coming up on the 12th, so I’m focusing on that one instead.

I’ve had this cake recipe bookmarked for a couple of years, and I can’t think of a more appropriate time to bust it out than Presidents’ Day.

The story behind this cake, as I understand it, is that Mary Todd baked it for Abraham during their courtship, and he liked it so much, she continued to make it for him throughout their marriage. The Lincoln Home Museum’s website claims that it was Honest Abe’s favorite dessert, but the origin story for the recipe varies depending on who tells it, which sort of suggests to me that it might not be true. Be that as it may, it is a charming story, and it has convinced me to make a cake that looks sort of boring on paper, but actually surprised me in real life, so I choose to believe in it.

Mary Todd Lincoln is often portrayed by historians as some kind of ball-busting, crazy she-devil, but the more I think about it, the more I assume that that’s only because she was a smart, go-getter of a lady in a time when it was very unpopular for ladies to be smart or go-getters. Other accounts depict her as a tender and loving wife, supportive of her husband from the rocky start to his legal career and through his war-torn presidency. While I baked, I imagined Mary Todd Lincoln in the kitchen at the White House, baking sweets for her sweet, and that idea is pretty charming too.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake

(Recipe from Lincoln’s Table by Donna D. McCreary, adapted by Janice Cooke Newman)

  • 1 cup of almond meal, packed and slightly heaping
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Confectionary sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan. Don’t be like me; tap out most of the flour so your cake doesn’t have a film over it when it comes out of the pan. Sift flour and baking powder 3 times. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until it is fluffy. Carefully add the flour mixture to the butter in three parts, alternating with the milk. Stir in almond meal and vanilla, and beat well. Your batter will be pretty thick at this point.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, and then very gently fold them into the batter. Don’t rush this process and stir all the air out of the eggs. You want to fold until they are just incorporated, so the batter is light and airy. Pour it into your prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Presidents' Day Cake

Turn the cake out on a wire rack and cool. When it’s completely cool, sift confectionery sugar over the top to make it pretty. I served my cake with a small scoop of plain, sweet cream ice cream and rhubarb preserves, but cut fruit and cream or a simple glaze or icing would be lovely as well.

Presidents' Day Cake

This cake is exceptionally moist and flavorful. The crust on the outside makes for a great bite against the soft, gently sweet crumb inside. It was a much better cake than I expected, though I admit, I had set my expectations low. Like Mary Todd, I now think Bundt cakes have been falsely given a bum rap. This cake is a perfect food analogy for Mary Todd; a hard exterior, but tender and sweet inside. This Presidents’ Day, let’s forget about George Washington and instead think about Abe, taking a break from drafting the Emancipation Proclamation, lovingly holding his wife’s hand, and telling her, “Mary, this is your best cake yet!”

Presidents' Day Cake



  1. I can’t wait to try this! I’ll make it for Abe tomorrow.

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