Lunch with the President

My Web team buddy, Janet, and I have been working together here at King Arthur for almost 20 years. Comfortable old friends, we often like to relax at the end of the day. So late yesterday, she’s reading me the menu for today’s inaugural luncheon.

“It’s supposed to reflect Abraham Lincoln,” she said. “Seafood stew—scallops, shrimp, lobster with a puff pastry topping.”

Really, I thought. Abe Lincoln—The Railsplitter—ate lobster with puff paste topping?

“A brace of American birds: Duck breast with sour cherry chutney and herb-roasted pheasant with wild rice stuffing…”

Wild birds? That’s probably more like it.

“Molasses whipped sweet potatoes and winter vegetables…”

Well, OK—1862, molasses.

“And for dessert, cinnamon-apple spongecake and sweet cream glace.”

Perfect. Spongecake was very popular cake back in Lincoln’s time, as it didn’t require any chemical leavening—just a lot of arm power.

Lightbulb moment: blog the inauguration dessert.

I eagerly Googled “cinnamon apple spongecake inauguration recipe,” knowing I’d find what I was looking for. And sure enough, there it was, direct from Arlington, Virginia’s Design Cuisine: Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake.

I scrolled down through the recipe, “down” being the key word here. Down, down, down… Man, how can a spongecake recipe be so long? There’s nothing to it but eggs and sugar and flour…

Wait a minute: No eggs? No flour? What kind of culinary travesty is being foisted upon us on this gala day?

Turns out Design Cuisine’s version of “spongecake” is based on slices of brioche. You know, brioche—Abe Lincoln’s favorite bread. 34 slices of brioche, carefully cut into a total of 80 pieces (that’s OK, I couldn’t understand the math, either). No cake; and only a “pinch of cinnamon” in the entire “Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake” recipe.

Hello, Design Cuisine: What part of “spongecake” don’t you understand?

Ah, well. I guess it’s up to me to plant our feet on firmer ground here. Spongecake is exactly what a jelly roll is based on; so read my jelly roll post, and click to the recipe from there. That’s your cake.

For the topping, follow these pictures. There’s no recipe; so, as President Kennedy famously said in his 1961 inaugural address, “Ask not…”

Or, as President Obama will no doubt tell us in his speech today, we need to be proactive in finding solutions to our country’s challenges—which might include the challenge of following Design Cuisine’s recipe for Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake.

Don’t ask me; I never got to the bottom of it—literally.

Let’s start with 8  All-American apples: Granny Smiths. I know, they’re not “native”— but they’re grown here, and they’re the best baking apples I know of at this time of the year.


Here’s our handy-dandy apple peeler/corer/slicer.


Peel, core, and slice an apple…


…in under 10 seconds. Yes you can.


Cut slices in half.


Nice, huh?


I was kind of trying to follow Design Cuisine’s topping instructions, so started with 4 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup water, heated in a large, shallow pan.


I added the apples…


And tossed them around in the butter mixture.


Then I just let them simmer on their own, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. By the time the liquid boiled off, the apples were about halfway to tender. I turned off the heat, covered the pan, and went off to bake the spongecake, which takes about 30 minutes, start to finish.


Once I’d taken the spongecake out of the oven, I returned to the apples, adding a good splash of boiled cider (about 1/3 cup; or substitute frozen apple juice concentrate); 1/2 cup brown sugar; and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.


Stirring gently makes this aromatic apple topping.


Cut the spongecake in squares. Add warm apple. Oh, and don’t forget America’s favorite dessert topping: Cool Whip. So honest! Abe would have loved it.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Enjoying Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake with President Obama, Vice President Biden, their families, the Supreme Court, Cabinet designees, and members of Congressional leadership in Statuary Hall, in Washington, D.C.: never mind, you can’t afford it.

Bake at home: Spongecake with Apple-Cinnamon Topping, $1.22

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. nbabyak

    I took a different spin on the original instructions… I made the math work by cutting some rounds and other rectangles… I wish I could find the pictures…

    I ended up with brioche filled pucks with extra caramel poured over top… it was so much fun I am stalking the internet waiting for the menu for this inauguration!

    Yes, making sponge or brioche from scratch is great fun too… but the soaking and construction is like building a charlotte… only different.

    Just may have to make it again and post the how to on Facebook or somewhere ;-)!

    We’ll definitely look forward to seeing some pictures – sounds interesting! PJH

  2. Margaret

    Well, I pieced this together again today(making the thing ‘whole’ rather with ramekins) for the second time (first time was for a local Inauguration brunch) for a bunch of teachers and it worked out great. I made the brioche with a stouter flour (sprouted wheat) and used whipped butter (probably lessens it by only a tablespoon) and flipped it onto a platter after an hour of resting. Big hit, but very, very rich. Could easily get sick from more than one very small slice. Also the caramel apple sauce is really gilding the lily but I served it along side, warm, from a small crock pot. Not practical for the ice cream.

  3. Ann

    I just discovered the KAF website and I’m in love! I downloaded the apple sponge cake from the inaugural website, and like the other commenters, will be making your version! For Susan, who inquired about cider, we are lucky enough in my town to have a cider press, which produces a wonderful unpasturised product. Alternatively, look for Ziegler’s cider in the refrigerated fruit juice section or fresh fruit section of your grocery.

    Welcome, Ann – hope you enjoy this new discovery. Make sure you subscribe to our email newsletter, which features new recipes and tells you when new blogs are posted. Have fun! PJH


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