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. Steve

    I haven’t finished assembling this cake yet. However, I wanted to point out the cakes are very thin before cutting. Mine are about 2/3 inch. It will be challenging to cut. I think next time I will double the recipe.

    The cakes look fabulous though!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Steve, yes, the layers are very thin; mine was a scant 1″ tall, I believe. But, that’s what they’re supposed to be, so I think you’re headed in the right direction. Good luck! PJH

  2. Pat Hunter

    I have “The White House Cook Book” The pages are so brittle they fall apart when touched.
    It says The SAAlFIELD Publishing Company 1904. The cover is made out of material and is hand stitched together. Do you know if this is worth anything or where I could find out about this book?

    Thank You

  3. sagvig3

    You have some recipes linked to your unbleached cake flour product, including this one, which call for AP flour. I find this curious because I once used your baker’s hotline to inquire about what ratio to use when substituting cake flour for all-purpose in a cake recipe (from another source) in order to achieve a lighter result, as your products advertise… and was told I shouldn’t do this! Can I infer from the fact that you link these recipes to your cake flour, that cake flour CAN be used in cake recipes calling for AP flour? If so, what volume/weight adjustments do you suggest? (Usually the substitution is in the other direction: How much less AP flour do you use if the recipe calls for cake flour and you do not have any on hand…)

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello! There seems to be a little confusion here. While you can certainly substitute AP flour for our Unbleached Cake Flour Blend (and vice versa), it can generally not be used to replace a bleached cake flour like Swansdown or our Queen Guinevere in recipes calling for this type of flour. If you need to replace our Unbleached Cake Flour Blend then you will need to remove two tablespoons of flour per cup and replace this flour with an equal amount of corn starch. Jon@KAF

  4. Pearl Louise

    Thank you so much for looking! Enjoy my mother’s recipe. I believe her cake is heavier and darker than the Spanish Bar Cake. As a family we were never unanimous on a frosting for “The Cake” – my brother favored (still does) a coffee icing, my sister loves cream cheese frosting and I like it both ways as well as without frosting!

    I do remember “Ann Page”. The thing I remember most about the A & P is going there to get one dose in the series of polio vaccinations. My daughter doesn’t even know what polio did to people.

    Again, thanks.

    Wow, both icings sound delish, Pearl! My mouth is watering just thinking about “The Cake.” Hard to believe, but some people don’t care for raisins – I don’t count myself in their number! Thanks again – PJH

  5. Pearl Louise

    My mother (born in 1916) made a special cake for Christmas. Here is the recipe that she says came from “a white house cookbook”. Do you know anything about it?

    1 cup Shortening
    2 cups Sugar
    2 each Eggs – well beaten
    3 cups Flour
    3 cups Stewed raisins (reserve 1 cup
    of liquid)
    2 tsp Cinnamon 1 tsp Nutmeg
    ¼ tsp Salt
    1 cup Liquid from stewed raisins
    2 tsp Baking soda
    1 cup Walnuts or pecans
    Cream together shortening and sugar. Add already beaten eggs and beat well. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl, dissolve soda in cooled raisin juice.
    Alternately add dry ingredients and liquid to shortening and sugar mixture beating well after each addition. Add raisins and nuts. Pour into a greased and floured 10” tube pan. Bake at 350º for about 1 hour.

    I don’t see it in my “White House Cookbook,” Pearl, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there – there was more than one edition, if I’m not mistaken. as a raisin-lover, this recipe looks fabulous! In fact, it almost looks like the cake part of a recipe I’ve been researching lately, something called Spanish Bar Cake that the A & P supermarkets used to sell (remember “Ann Page” brand?) I’m absolutely going to try this – thanks so much for sharing! PJH

  6. gail giddings

    Thank you for your website. I am writing a cookbook, (A Hundred Years of American Cookery), & was looking to see what I might find about The White House Cookbook on line. It just gives me a good feeling to know that there are other people that treasure these old cookbooks as I do. Every time I find a ‘new’ one, I couldn’t be happier than if I had found the holy grail. And thank you for your lovely pictures detailing Washington pie. God bless & good luck in all your endeavors.

    And best of luck to you, too, Gail. Writing a book is a challenge, but an enjoyable one – enjoy the journey! PJH

  7. Dana Booth

    Love the post! Have an old White House Cookbook myself, also an old Joy of Cooking which my brother just gave me (can’t wait to cook from it :). I remember seeing the Washington Pie recipe in my White House Cookbook. Love just reading that book there are so many fascinating things. Will try the cake this weekend if I can find everything (just moved recently). As for the older ways of measuring, my favorite is my Grandma’s recipe for peanut brittle. You use a chunk of butter the size of a walnut and cook it over a fire until it spins a hair 🙂 I have finally mastered making this, but the first time it came out as trick peanut brittle — looked great, but actually bent without breaking! 🙂

  8. Louise

    Wonderful to see this recipe and everyone’s comments. The recipe and preparation method is similar to my great-grandmother’s poppy seed cake–2 thin cakes, split into 4 tiers and filled with a cooked custard. My grandmother gave me this old recipe 40 years ago. I found the recipe recently after many years and served it for Mother’s Day. What a pleasure to revive family traditions.

  9. Tinky

    I love this, love this, love this. Treasure that cookbook–and thanks for the recipe! I’ve been dying to make a Washington pie for years; you may have finally pushed me to it.

  10. Anne

    I just unearthed a couple of treasures–a 1918 Fanny Farmer and a “Rumford’s Baking Powder” cookbook of the same vintage. My grandmother wasn’t yet married in 1918, but her sister Annabel got a degree in nutrition and dietetics from what was then the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia (now Drexel University). I think she received it about that time, so I’m guessing the cookbooks were hers. They’re crumbling to dust. Although Aunt Annabel didn’t pursue a career as a cook or chef, she was a marvelous cook, and her food was always wonderful.


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