Makes one 10-inch tube cake
This is one of the few surviving recipes directly associated with Mrs. Washington. It was so well liked that she had her granddaughter Martha Parke Custis copy it down for use by other members of the family. Great cake likely would have been served as part of a grand Christmas dinner or Twelfth Night party. It might also have been served at tea.
Martha Washington’s recipe, like many others of its time, is vague regarding certain ingredients as well as method of preparation. For that reason, we drew upon related period recipes, besides Mrs. Washington’s, to develop a great cake resembling the one her family knew. Sources included the original Custis family recipe, Hannah Glasse’s Rich Cake, and Elizabeth Raffald’s Bride Cake. The result is a rich confection, laced with brandy and Madeira, that is similar to the fruitcakes we are familiar with today. Although this cake takes some time to prepare, it keeps well when wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in a covered cake tin.
Learn more about Martha Washington
1 1/2 cups currants
1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel
1/3 cup chopped candied citron
3/4 cup Madeira, divided
1/4 cup French brandy
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons ground mace
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
Sugar Icing (recipe follows) (optional)
3 large egg whites at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water
In the bowl of an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites on low speed, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the sugar. After about 3 minutes, or when they just begin to form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and continue adding the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites form soft peaks.
Add the rose water, and continue beating to form stiff peaks. Use immediately to ice the cake.