Thursday, June 29, 2017

Addy's Washington Pie

A light and flavorful butter cake that’s perfect for any occasion!

Ah, remember when I thought I’d have lots of free time this summer to bake, write my novel, and generally indulge in my favorite hobbies and past times after two long semesters?

Yeah, let’s just say that didn’t happen.

But fortunately, I’m actually sitting on a backlog of posts from last summer, complete with nice pictures in my brightly lit former abode with my wonderful old camera, may it rest in peace. I figured while I’m still trying to find my feet and figure out a time to start featuring new recipes and places to visit, the best place to start might be clearing out my backlog.

And to start us off, I have for you all a really delicious treat that’s allegedly from the Civil War period. The historicity of this recipe is difficult to track down, but it’s a really delicious treat that will be right at home at any summer function you might be holding. Without further ado, let’s get baking!

Somewhat fittingly, this cake is apparently not named for George Washington himself, but instead likely refers to the city of Washington. Washington Pie is also more appropriately Washington Cake, as it’s actually two butter cakes with jam or cream sandwiched between them and powdered sugar sprinkled on top. In that way, it’s got a lot in common with the Boston Cream Pie (which, sorry to say fellow Bostonians, might not actually be from our fair Beantown after all, but that’s a story for another day).

A second version of the Washington Pie was made of leftover cake which was moistened, placed into a pie crust, and baked in an oven. This recipe was apparently very popular in the DC area before the Civil War, but eventually fell out of favor with locals and has thus faded into obscurity, although I think it sounds sort of similar to a cake pop, doesn’t it? Might be worth giving that a shot in the future, too!

Although finding a specific origin point for this dish has been tricky, I used the recipe archived by Total, a website featuring lots of great information about one of the Civil War’s most notorious battles. The web host has featured several other Civil War vintage recipes that look like they might be worth trying out if you’re interested in hosting any hungry reenactors this summer, or just looking for something unique to add to the dinner table.

To my delight, this was an extremely simple cake to make. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a challenge, of course, but I won’t lie: it’s fun to have an easy recipe where you can just kind of relax and let things happen.

To start, you take 1/3 of a cup of butter and cream it thoroughly in a bowl before adding 1 cup of sugar and combining them together. Next, add 2 well beaten eggs. In a separate bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups of cake flour, 1 3/4 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In another container (I always just use my measuring cup), mix together 1/2 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients and the milk to the sugar mixture alternately until all the ingredients are well combined. The batter will be on the thicker side.

Split the batter between two well greased eight inch cake pans. You could probably make this work with a square pan, but I had two round pans and was eager to embrace the Boston Cream Pie esque aesthetic. These bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes. To the best of my recollection, these were cooked through in the 25 minutes, but who knows with my current oven? Just keep an eye out if you’ve got an untrustworthy one.

When the cakes are cool, place one on a serving plate and smear the top of it generously with jam. The recipe I used recommended apricot or raspberry, but since this is a nice, simple butter cake, I’m pretty sure it would pair perfectly well with any flavor you’re in the mood for. 

Place the other cake right on top, and dust generously with powdered sugar.

And here’s a fun tip: put a wire cooling rack over the top to create a pretty grid pattern. I wish I could say I thought of this myself, but credit goes to the folks at Total Gettysburg and the original recipe’s author. Still, neat trick I’m definitely going to be borrowing for other presentations.

Doesn’t it look great?

Now, I don’t want to oversell it, but even just slicing into it was a delight. It held up super well and looked beautiful when plated. 

But who cares about that? How did it taste? 

The cake had a really nice firm texture like a pound cake, but didn’t feel heavy or too dense. The jam was a fun summery touch, and the cake itself wasn’t bland at all, which I do think can be a problem for some butter or vanilla cakes. It had a nice rich, butter flavor, again without being too heavy or solid. Honestly, I’d happily eat the cake all on its own! Between that fact and that this was such a simple recipe to throw together, I’d definitely make this cake again and have been meaning to do so. Maybe once my internship is done for the summer…

So, is this something Addy and her family might have enjoyed? Quite possibly, even if they didn’t call it a Washington Pie. Layer cakes with filling and a simple topping have long been popular, so they might have known it under a different name or with slightly different ingredients.

Regardless, this is a fun historic dish with a slightly mysterious backstory, and its simple but absolutely delicious flavor offer a great springboard for any fruity flavors you might be looking to highlight at a picnic or party. Some versions substitute the fruit for a cream filling, and now that’s got me thinking about turning this into a strawberry shortcake inspired creation… the possibilities seem endless!

I’ve learned not to make any promises about where this blog is going, but I’ve got two other recipes I’ve been dying to share with you guys since before I moved, so hopefully those will be rolling out soon, along with some other posts about our adventures around DC. Stay tuned! Until then, let me know if you’ve been trying your hand at any interesting recipes this summer. Hope you’ve been able to peek into the pantry more often than I have!

If nothing else, maybe this cake needs to make a 4th of July appearance…


  1. Not quite baking, but historical cookie recipes are a major plot point in a story I'm working on.

  2. Replies
    1. It was really delicious, I've got to make it again sometime soon. :)

  3. I guess we missed this one too. It looks great. I like the idea of using fresh fruit with cream. That might be an interesting summer treat after a trip to a farm market.

    1. That sounds good to me! Maybe next time I'm home I'll bring this back. :)