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. Lynette Cruz

    Hello everyone and to the wonderful people at King Arthur flour! I’m making this recipe as we speak, couldn’t have been easier.Looking forward to tasting it ,I don’t know if i can wait two days,maybe have to do an overnighter! LOL

  2. Royce Robertson

    Thanks so much for sharing the recipe and photos of your cookbook. I thought the photos and prints had exceptionaly clear print. You are so lucky, I seldom find anything wonderful at yard sales, much less an old treasure of a cookbook. You and your co-workers have the most wonderful stories and beside baking, you are gifted writers. Once again, many thanks.

  3. Cat

    I can’t wait to try this recipe. I have a bowl of strawberries just waiting for something to go with them. I have to include my favorite cookbook find. While poking thru an antique shop in Maine, I came across a 1921 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. The best part was the inscription on the inside cover to a lady with the same birthdate as mine, just 41 years earlier. That book just had to come home with me!

  4. Catherine de Beauvais

    King Arthur Flour is my absolute favorite website. The products are charming. The recipes are delicious. It is always such a pleasure to see what is new. Such good quality flours and your other wonderful items is of major importance when selecting ingredience for making my mother and grandmother’s handed-down recipes, as well as my own current offerings. Thank you, King Arthur Flour, for such great taste and pleasure you have given us.

  5. Elizabeth Quigley

    Hi PJ,
    I am Cooking Nerd. I love King Arthur products. In fact I place another order yesterday. 🙂 I have so enjoyed reading your blog. I put a link on my blog to yours.
    Have a happy cooking day.

  6. Anne Lauer

    Roger, I’m sorry, I should have added the disclaimer I gave my kids with the recipes – you may need to check a basic cookbook for mixing methods, etc. Old recipes seldom provide good instructions, so part of the fun is figuring out the method. One egg is used in the sauce, and it is separated.

    Here’s my suggestion for preparation:
    In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.
    Stir a small amount of hot filling into egg yolk; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat. Gently fold in whipped egg white and vanilla.

  7. Pingback: Breaking news from the White House (Cook Book)… | Cook Book Digest

  8. Roger

    For Anne Lauer.

    Ms Lauer,

    For your mother’s version of Washington Cream Pie you show the following…

    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.

    Scald milk, add other ingredients! Are we to presume this means the whole egg unseparated? You then indicate to fold in the beaten egg white. What egg white? This would seem to indicate that the 1 egg is separated and the “yolk” is all that is added in the second step after scalding the milk.




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