Breaking news from the White House (Cook Book)…

Attention: If you’re not absolutely enthralled with old cookbooks and ancient recipes, stop reading right now and cut to the chase: our recipe for Washington Pie, a takeoff on Boston Cream Pie

But if your heart starts to pound when you unearth a 1929 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book in a stack of books at a yard sale; or, as I recently did, find a first edition of The Cordon Bleu Cook Book signed by Dione Lucas at a community used book sale—you’re one of us. Keep reading.

This week I’m in Washington, D.C. at the national ESOP conference. ESOP (employee stock ownership program) is a group devoted to businesses whose employees own stock in their company; e.g., employee-owned companies. King Arthur Flour is owned by us, its employees. It’s a good feeling to know we’re working for ourselves as well as our customers, rather than for some nameless, faceless stockholders a thousand miles away. The conference is an opportunity to network with like-minded folks from businesses across the country.

Packing for the trip, I was reminded of one of my oldest cookbooks:

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This book came to me courtesy of my mother-in-law, who inherited it from her own mother. Its pages are yellowed and brittle with age; if I’m not very careful, they crumble under my fingers as I leaf through the book. Published in 1904, it features scattered illustrations like this:
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Hey, where’s Edith Roosevelt? Teddy’s wife was First Lady from 1901-1909. And for those of you wondering, Mary Arthur McElroy, at middle-right, was the unmarried Chester Arthur’s sister and de facto First Lady.

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For any of you who’ve been to the White House, you’ll remember the fence is a bit higher now, and you can no longer stroll QUITE so close to it.

Anyway, in honor of this D.C-based blog, I figured I’d better find an appropriate recipe, and came up with this one:

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It refers the reader back to Boston Cream Pie. Apparently the only difference between the two is 1 tablespoon butter added to the Washington Pie, and a suggestion to serve Washington Pie very cold in the summertime, with fruit. Here’s the recipe for the cake part of Boston Cream Pie:

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And here’s where my confusion kicked in. “Three eggs beaten separately”—does that mean beat the eggs alone before adding anything else? Or separate the eggs, and beat yolks in a different bowl than whites? Choose one… I tried separating the eggs and making the cake that way, and it didn’t work. Hard to put together, didn’t rise. Was it the method? The confusion about how much baking powder to use? Back to square one.

In checking other yellow cake recipes to ascertain that my guess of 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder might be the equivalent of “one large teaspoonful,” I came across a recipe given to me in 1968 by my first employer, Mrs. Watson. (Remember back when adults’ first names were always simply “Mr.” and “Mrs.”?) It was a recipe for Lazy Daisy Cake, and lo and behold, didn’t it call for a lineup of ingredients very similar to those in Washington Pie! I combined the Washington Pie ingredients with the Lazy Daisy Cake directions, and made a light, tender, cake, perfect for splitting and filling.

Hey, I warned you; I’m a fool for old recipes. For cookbooks that have passed through many hands before they’ve found mine. For the way recipes change down the years, but at their heart remain the same. Recipes are the language of bakers, and this one, for Washington Pie, spoke to me. I hope it speaks to you, too.

From 1904 to 2008, with a short stop in 1968, here’s a recipe for a lovely, summery cream cake: Washington Pie.

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First, beat eggs (no need to separate!) with sugar for about 3 minutes, till the mixture is creamy and light-colored.

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Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until smooth.

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Bake the cakes in two 8” round pans, till “straw colored.”

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Let the layers cool, then slit in half horizontally.

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Like this. Now you have four thin layers.

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Fill and stack, using your favorite cream filling: mine is instant vanilla pudding mix made with extra vanilla, and a combination of heavy cream and milk. Easy; fast; delicious.

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Press the layers down gently, to push the filling all the way to the edges.

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“Wrap around it a paper”—plastic wrap works just fine. Refrigerate the cake.

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So OK, I know you wouldn’t set a serving of cake on a plate atop the rest of the cake! But my “photo studio” is often a narrow windowsill, and this was the only way I could show both whole cake and single slice at the same time.

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P.S.: Here’s a visual of how the recipe evolved in the test kitchen.

Read our recipe for Washington Pie.

Buy vs. Bake
BUY: Supermarket bakeshop Boston Cream Pie, 8” (closest equivalent): $8.99
BAKE: Homemade Washington Pie, 8” (ingredients cost): $3.93

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Steve

    I completed and ate this cake this evening with family.

    I wish I had thought to assemble it right before serving.

    I put it in the fridge for probably 6 hours before serving, and it simply made the cake too hard/cold.

    It looked nice, and it was fun to make. It was just a bit too cold/hard for me. We even sat the slices out 1 hour, but it was just oh so cold.

    At least I can say I made a Washington Pie!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sorry the cake hardened up on you; apparent;y that’s how it was supposed to be, though, back in the day – if you check out the original recipe, it calls for it to be served very cold (their italics) with fruit. These days, though, you might want to take it out of the fridge sooner. Thanks for making it – and for helping to keep this venerable recipe alive. PJH

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