Our Privacy/Cookie Policy contains detailed information about the types of cookies & related technology on our site, and some ways to opt out. By using the site, you agree to the uses of cookies and other technology as outlined in our Policy, and to our Terms of Use.


Celebrate President's Day with Martha Washington's 'Great Cake'

With President's Day around the corner, why not celebrate in true historical fashion?

Martha Washington's "Great Cake" was so beloved that her granddaughter was charged with writing out the recipe, which survives to this day.

A very large fruit and spice cake, "Great Cake" was traditionally served on the last of the twelve days of Christmas. It included forty eggs, four pounds EACH butter and sugar, five pounds of flour and lots of spices, wine, brandy and fresh and dried fruit. It took over five hours to bake and was clearly designed to serve a (very) large crowd.

This recipe has been modified for a more typical kitchen, yet reflects all of the flavors and ingredients of the original. The fruits lend terrific flavor as well as moistness, so this cake will keep for several days — and actually improve in texture over time.

Who says history lessons have to be dry and boring?

RECIPE: Martha Washington's "Great Cake"

Yields: 10 – 15 servings


For the Cake:

  • 10 eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cooking sherry
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 Bosc pear, peeled and diced
  • ½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds

For the Glaze:

  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • zest and juice from one large lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice)


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10" tube or bundt pan.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk until soft peaks form (whisk will leave tracks in the whites). Transfer the whites to a bowl; wipe out the mixer bowl.
  3. Place the butter in the wiped-out bowl and—using the paddle attachment—beat until light and fluffy. Slowly and gradually add spoonfuls of the beaten whites to the butter, beating after each addition until incorporated.
  4. Slowly and gradually add the sugar, beating till well-incorporated. Beat in the egg yolks, followed by the cooking sherry. Beat in the flour and spices.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold in the fruits and nuts. Transfer batter to your prepared pan and bake cake for 75 minutes, or until a tester tests clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then remove cake from pan to cool completely.
  6. Whisk confectioners' sugar and lemon zest and juice in a bowl until smooth and pourable. Set cake and rack over a baking sheet to catch any drips and pour the glaze over the cake. Let set before serving.

Images via Sheri Silver

Love this? Follow us on Pinterest.

More from food