Abraham Lincoln’s Favorite Cake (with recipe)

ChristmasCoffeeOne of the blessings of this festive time of year is sharing good food with family and friends. During the holidays, mothers and grandmothers everywhere retreat to the kitchen and don’t emerge until they’ve baked a pile of goodies imbued with generation upon generation of family tradition.

In that way, holiday life in contemporary America hasn’t changed much from holiday life in the 1800s…including life in the White House during the turbulent years of the American Civil War. Surrounded by carnage, then-President Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and their sons probably took comfort in family traditions.

Abraham Lincoln with Mary Todd Lincoln and sons Robert and Tad (Curier & Ives lithograph, 1866)
Abraham Lincoln with Mary Todd Lincoln and sons Robert and Tad (Curier & Ives lithograph, 1866)

One of the traditions Mrs. Lincoln took to the White House with her was a cake she called simply “white cake.” According to Lincoln’s Table by Donna D. McCreary, the confection was created in 1825 by a Monsieur Giron to celebrate the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Lexington, Kentucky—the First Lady’s hometown. The dessert proved such a hit that the prominent Todd family somehow convinced Giron to share the recipe, and the cake promptly became a Todd tradition. Mary Todd made the cake for Abraham while they were courting and continued the tradition after their marriage. Reportedly, Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake was her husband’s favorite sweet treat.

The recipe survives to this day. Here it is. (Instructions in parentheses are modernizations.)

image by Betsy Weber; used with permission (click cake to visit her online)

Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake

  • Six egg whites
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup blanched almonds, chopped (in a food processor or blender) to resemble coarse flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

(Preheat oven to 350 degrees.)

Grease and flour a (10- to 12-cup Bundt) pan.

In a medium bowl, beat egg whites (with a mixer on medium-high speed) until stiff (about 4 minutes). Set aside.

In a separate medium bowl, sift together flour and baking powder three times. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar (with mixer on medium speed) until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add flour mixture alternately with the milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the almonds.

Stir in the vanilla, then fold beaten egg whites into the batter until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake about 1 hour (until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean).

Let cake cool in pan about 15 minutes, then remove (to wire rack) and let cool another hour before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.


Allow me to be frank: This cake is a lot of trouble to make, but the result is worth every bit of effort. It’s now part of my family’s tradition, as well.

May your family’s traditions bring you peace and joy that follows you through the coming year.


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16 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln’s Favorite Cake (with recipe)”

    • I am pure-dee evil, Trail Boss. This is payback for that luscious gluten-free pie crust you make. I use your recipe for everything now. In fact, I’m making a cheesecake for Christmas dinner. Guess what the crust will be. 😉

      I hope you can figure out a way to make this recipe gluten-free. It really is delicious.

      Happy holidays to you and your herd!

  1. Wow, can you slice me a piece and send it through email, Kathleen LOL. What a terrific post and recipe. Me, I’m gonna make snowballs (ala Russian tea cakes) today…hugs and merry Christmas to you!

    • Ooh! I love Russian tea cakes! Trade ya!

      It’s so much fun to find out about others’ holiday traditions and foods — except then I salivate all over my keyboard. Not only is drooling unsanitary, but it also upsets the computer.

      Hugs and merry Christmas back, honey!

  2. The thing that saves me during this time of year…no gluten. But that doesn’t stop the cravings, or the peppermint candy. (Grin)

    Still it does sound good. Thanks for finding the recipe, I’ll have to share. Doris

  3. I wonder if it was really Abe’s favorite sweet treat, or in the midst of a Civil War he didn’t want to bring carnage into his own home and admit he hated the stuff? 🙂

    Seriously, it looks wonderful!

    • LOL! I never thought of it that way, Rustler, but you could be right. The poor man had enough war on his hands without inciting skirmishes on the home front. 😀

      Have a wonderful holiday up there in snow country!

  4. Sounds good. No way will I have time to try it this Christmas, but I will probably try it for another special occasion soon. I have made Swiss Meringue Horn Cookies for almost 40 years. I usually make them for Christmas because one batch makes 10 dozen. They take a bit of work, but are elegant and well worth the trouble. (We had a friend request them for his wedding reception.)

    Thanks for the recipe. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.

    • Patricia, that sounds like a TON of work! I’ve seen Swiss meringue horns, and they’re so artistic. I hope your friends and family know how special they are! 🙂

      Best wishes for a joyful holiday full of fun, family, and FOOD! 🙂

  5. I love cooking and especially enjoy baking. Thank you for sharing this interesting post and wonderful recipe. Merry Christmas!

    • Merry Christmas, Britney! Give the recipe a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed. It’s a go-to recipe for me, who by default was named “the designated neighborhood baker”. I get requests for this cake all the time. 🙂

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