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. Christine

    Diane Feinstein said that, during one of her remarks today, that the inaugural luncheon recipes webpage was the most visited page on the inauguration website. I wonder if others had the same reaction to the spongecake recipe.

  2. Brandee

    Well, I guess you now know what I will be doing tomorrow! You continue to enable my baking addiction and feed my husbands baked good addiction! 🙂

  3. Sue

    Thanks for pointing that out PJ. I was being far too serious. Sorry!

    I feel your pain about Cool Whip, Sue. However – it’s a wicked easy topping when you’re shooting pictures! PJH

  4. Janelle from VA

    I had the same reaction when I read the recipe for Design Cuisine Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake. Talk about disappointed. Your recipe is a millions time better. Maybe Obama should use his first veto on their recipe

  5. Mike T.

    Oh, but I think I forgot to say in my last post, what really gave me a headache was the math…

    20 slices for the top and bottom + the remaining 15 slices =?= 34 slices???

  6. Mike T.

    My gosh, they have a dumb recipe! I just read thru it… Confusing??? That’s putting it mildly…

    Okay, I get the 20 rounds, it would be for 10 ramekins, but then they say to line the dish using 6 slices each. Okay, I’m betting that these are not individual ramekins. Or are they since one fits on a slide of brioche…. Okay, I’m confused again and getting a headache. Must have been a old IBM Mainframe programmer turned pastry chef that came up with this recipe…

    Yours sounds much better!

  7. Sue

    I was behind you all the way up to the Cool Whip. What’s more honest and up front than real whipped cream? Nothing but cream and sugar. Mmmm. I’m making shortbread today. Happy Inauguration Day however you all celebrate it!

    Sue, re: Cool Whip — tongue was TOTALLY in cheek. 🙂 PJH

  8. Bridgett

    Oh, that looks so delish! What a rotten day to start Weight Watchers! And I even have all the ingredients at home… torture!
    I love your writing style and was quite amused today 🙂


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