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:

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:
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.

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:

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:

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.

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

Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until smooth.

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

Let the layers cool, then slit in half horizontally.

Like this. Now you have four thin layers.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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!


  1. Judy Galligan

    This looks wonderful…I have a ladies group gathering in my home on Monday, I am going to make this cake…Strawberries from California are plentiful in our Michigan grocery store so will serve with Strawberries…Thanks for the reciepe I was wondering what I would fix…jkg

  2. Brunetta R. Wolfman

    I loved this recipe, story and photos. I, too, love old cookbooks and found this fascinating complete with the working out of the right ingredients and methods. Thank you.

  3. Anne Lauer

    My mom used to make Washington Cream Pie, and it was one of my favorite desserts as a child. Several years ago I compiled her recipes and found this one in her “John Deere book” – the recipes she received from others and copied into a pocket ledger when she married and moved to Minnesota in 1944. In this version the eggs are indeed separated and beaten separately. Enjoy!!

    Washington Cream Pie

    Sponge cake part:
    3 egg yolks
    ¼ c. cold water
    1 c. sugar
    1 t. vanilla
    1 c. flour
    1 t. baking powder
    ¼ t. salt
    3 egg whites

    Beat yolks, add water, and beat more.
    Add sugar and flavoring gradually.
    Beat more.
    Fold in flour, salt & baking powder.
    Add stiffly beaten whites.
    Bake in 2 layers at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

    Custard sauce filling:
    2 c. milk 1/3 c. flour ¼ t. salt
    1/3 to ½ c. sugar 1 egg ½ t. vanilla

    Scald milk, add other ingredients, fold in beaten egg white. Split layers and put sauce between,
    Dust powdered sugar on top.

    Option: add sliced bananas with the custard filling.

  4. Candace R.

    PJ, will you please check the blog comments for the recently posted Cinnamon Bread recipe? I need advice. In addition to what I wrote there, the bread was very tasty, and great toasted but had trouble getting it out of the toaster as it fell apart. Thanks! I think it may have been dry from the extra baking because it didn’t ever seem to get “done.”

  5. Nel

    This was a trip down memory lane! I grew up with exactly THAT White House Cookbook on a high shelf in our house. We had thousands of books and hundreds were my mother’s cookbooks, but when we were stumped for something – ink in the carpet, mustard-plaster recipe – and didn’t know quite where to look for an answer, it was always, ‘Maybe it’s in the White House Cookbook.’ Or: ‘Get down the White House Cookbook and look in there.’ For years when I was little I couldn’t understand why you’d look in the White House Cookbook for solutions to the problem of a scorched white shirt and the like. Did my mother plan to COOK the shirt? But often enough, the White House Cookbook had a household tip that was worth trying. My mother was born in 1920 and raised partly by her grandmother (born in 1876), so the old-fashioned writing didn’t phaze her. She just ‘followed the recipe’ and usually the White House Cookbook saved the day.

    Mother died almost 20 years ago, and recently my stepmother e-mailed around a list of ‘your mother’s cookbooks’ either to be claimed by my siblings and me, or donated to the library book sale. I noticed that the White House Cookbook was NOT on the list of books to give away. Too much stored wisdom and family history in that book. Giving it away would be like giving away great-grandmother. My father would never part with it.

    What a treat to see that book on these pages! I haven’t been home in years, and that one picture took my right back to childhood.

    I love the Baker’s Banter! Keep it up!

  6. Dawn

    I spend way too much time going thru these recipes, I’m an addict! I love baking and trying these I have literally notebook after notebook cramed with wonderful recipes that I’ve tried I’m anxious to try this Washington Pie sounds pretty simple and delicious.

  7. Malinda

    Hi, I am an Italian wife living temporarily in your beautiful country and with a passion for cooking ( I am a sommelier too). Thanks to you I learnt how to convert ingredients (and measurements) but especially I enjoyed in discovering new recipes. I confirm your recipes are simply the best and King’s Arthur flour is the best in making our traditional European recipes. Thanks for helping me, I will take this country and its flavors with me when I’ll be back in my country. I beg your pardon if my English is not so beautiful!:) Ciao!

  8. PJ Hamel, post author

    Wow, thanks a lot, Mia- I LOVE doing it, and it’s gratifying that you folks are having as good a time with it as we are here!

  9. Mia

    I just have to say how much I enjoy the Baker’s blog — the writing is wonderful; the photos are some of the best and so instructive! Bravo for putting together such a wonderful source.


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