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Abe Lincoln’s Favorite Cake

Published: February 12, 2018

On the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, try the cake Lincoln called “the best in Kentucky.”

Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, February 16, 1957.

Every year when the 12th of February comes around, Dr. R. Gerald McMurtry, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, gets a special birthday cake which his wife, Florence, knows exactly how to bake for him. It’s rather rich cake, containing whites of six eggs and a cup of chopped blanched almonds, with half a cup of candied pineapple and fine-chopped cherries poured into the icing. This isn’t for Doctor McMurtry’s birthday, however. It’s for Abraham Lincoln’s. The recipe was handed down in the family of Mary Todd Lincoln. Mrs. McMurtry learned it from her husband, a cheery, mild-mannered man with a Kentucky drawl who, as it happens, is one of the world’s leading professional Lincoln scholars.

“Lincoln had a great sweet tooth,” says McMurtry, who has honorary doctoral degrees from Centre College and Iowa Wesleyan. “For instance, in 1841 he wrote a letter to Mary Speed, of Louisville, Kentucky, telling how he remembered ‘delicious dishes of peaches and cream’ he used to get at her house. Otherwise, Lincoln was a spare eater.”

Mary Todd Lincoln’s Recipe (with Mrs. McMurtry’s baking hints in parentheses)

Mary Todd made this cake for Lincoln before their marriage, and he declared it “the best in Kentucky.”

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups flour (cake or pastry)
  • 2 tsps. baking powder (double-acting)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 egg whites

Cream butter and sugar lightly. Sift flour and baking powder together and add alternately with milk (to the first mixture). Add well-floured nuts, then vanilla. Fold in stiffly beaten whites of egg, to which salt has been added. Bake in three layers (9″ or 8″ pans) in moderate (350° F) oven. Ice with boiled icing, to which add 1/2 cup candied pineapple and cherries, chopped fine.

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