Whenever I make a recipe that someone has given me, I think about that person the whole time I am cooking. It really is almost like cooking together, wondering if my friend did a certain part the same way, or if she improvised at all, or even how her family liked it, or added their own touches.
I recently made a cake that had several layers of that kind of history. It’s a recipe suggested by my friend Kim O’Donnel, who writes Mighty Appetite on washingtonpost.com. She got it from a writer who has written a fictional biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, and the writer got it from another Lincoln historian, who got it from…the archives of Lincoln herself, who often baked the cake for Abe Lincoln. It was a fabulous cake, and got lots of compliments at a party when I brought it over.
Here it is, as translated by Kim O’Donnel, and if you try it you’ll add another layer of history!
Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake
Adapted from “Lincoln’s Table” by Donna D. McCreary
1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
6 eggs, separated (best when eggs are cold)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Using a food processor or a spice grinder, pulverize almonds until they resemble coarse flour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan.
With an electric beater or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light yellow in color and fluffy.
Sift flour and baking powder three times. (I don’t make a rule of this practice, but with three cups of flour, it seemed like a good idea to incorporate some air and help make this cake as light as possible.) Fold flour mix into creamed butter and sugar, alternating with milk, until well blended. Stir in almonds and beat well.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until they have stiff, firm peaks. (Use egg yolks for another use — French toast, possibly?) Beaters must be washed and dried thoroughly before whipping egg whites or they will not stiffen properly. Fold egg whites gently into batter with a rubber spatula. Add vanilla extract.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for one hour, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Cool for at least 20 minutes before inverting, then allow to completely cool before serving. Sift confectioners’ sugar on top.
Makes about 12 slices.