Courtesy of Todd Trice, Chicago Tribune

Recipe of the Day: Martha Custis Washington's Excellent Cake

Nothing cures the Election Day jitters quite like baking
Courtesy of Todd Trice, Chicago Tribune

Election Day is officially here, which means so is the doom scrolling. Waiting for the poll results to roll in can be agonizing, so it's important to have a variety of tasks handy to keep you occupied. The best way to stay distracted and have something good come from it is to bake. And what's more fitting this Election Day than taking things back to the 18th century with Martha Washington's iconic cake. 

Pasta Recipes for Whenever You Need a Pick-Me-Up

The first first lady was no stranger to entertaining. In fact, it was customary for election cakes to serve up to 150 people. In fact, the original recipe calls for 40 eggs, five pounds of flour and four pounds of butter. But don't worry — this scaled back version of the dessert will keep you occupied just fine during this Election Day. 

To make the cake you'll need a variety of common pantry items, as well as rose water, oranges and ale. The four layer, decadent cake takes about three hours to prepare. Each layer is dressed with homemade tea simple syrup and buttercream frosting. Once the cake is complete, garnish it with candied orange peels or dehydrated orange slices. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of time away from the TV and in the kitchen. 

Washington's cake is a difficult yet impressive dessert to make. But, if you find it's a bit too involved there are plenty of other desserts you can whip up instead. If you want to keep things simple, a no-bake confection like cheesecake or icebox cake is the way to go. One of our best icebox cake recipes is stacked with alternating layers of cherries, icing and graham crackers, a treat that will still take two and a half hours to complete. 

However, if you really want to put your baking skills to the test today, try making a dessert with a meringue top. Although it's the basis of many popular desserts, meringues aren't easy to make. It can often look deflated and dry if it's not done correctly. Honing your meringue skills is an easy way to keep your mind off the polls.

If you're a connoiseur of tart treats then give this lemon meringue angel food cake a go. Prefer something on the sweeter side? Try making bread pudding souffle or something even more time consuming, baked Alaska

No matter how you choose to keep yourself distracted, having yummy comfort foods on deck is a must. To kick things off, try out some of our election-themed food and drink recipes that everyone can agree on

Martha Custis Washington's Excellent Cake


For the cake

1 cup ale
1 ounce active yeast
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sherry
8 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, ground mace
1 cup granulated sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, cold
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon each: rose water, lemon juice
1 1/2 pound currants
2 ounces candied orange peel, chopped
Candied orange peel or dehydrated orange slices

For the tea simple syrup:

3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 black tea bag
1 ounce spiced rum
1 teaspoon rose water

For the buttercream icing:

2 1/2 pounds confectioners' sugar
2 cups egg whites
8 sticks of butter
2 oranges


For the cake:

Warm 1/2 cup ale and dissolve the yeast in it.

Let sit about 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to froth in the ale.

Mix cream, sherry and remaining 1/2 cup ale in a large bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, spices and sugar at a low speed.

Then cut in the butter until pea-size bits remain and the mixture resembles wet sand.

Slowly add the barm, the cream-sherry-ale mixture, eggs, egg yolk, rose water and lemon juice while the mixer is running.

Beat until combined on low speed.

Stir in the currants and orange peel with a wooden spoon.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap; allow the dough to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in volume, in a warm place.

Spray two 10-inch cake pans with nonstick spray; line bottoms with parchment paper.

Divide the dough in half; press each half into cake pans.

Cover with plastic wrap; allow the dough to rise in a warm place until the pans are three-quarters full, about 1 hour.

Gently remove the plastic wrap; bake the cakes in a 340-degree oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. Let cool.

Using a serrated knife, slice the rounded top off of each cake, making it level and flat.

Slice each cake in half horizontally, making two layers from each pan, being careful to keep the layers as even as possible.

You will end up with four even round layers.

Brush each layer with the tea simple syrup.

Place one layer on a cake stand or plate.

Top with orange buttercream, spreading the icing to the edge.

Repeat with the other layers, building a four-layer cake.

Finish the cake by icing the top and sides with the orange butter cream.

Garnish with candied orange peel or dehydrated orange slices.

For the tea simple syrup:

Heat 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan.

Remove from heat.

Add 1 black tea bag; steep until the syrup turns brown, about 5 minutes.

Remove the tea bag; stir in 1 ounce spiced rum and 1 teaspoon rose water.

Let stand at room temperature until ready to use; can be made and kept refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.

For the buttercream icing:

Place 2 1/2 pounds confectioners' sugar and 2 cups egg whites in the heat proof bowl of an electric mixer.

Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water; whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.

The mixture should be completely smooth.

Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand.

Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until the mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes.

Cut 2 pounds (8 sticks) butter into 1/2-inch pieces and add it, one piece at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition.

Add the zest of 2 oranges; slowly whisk to combine.


This recipe by Bill Daley was originally published in the Chicago Tribune