This is a cake I was very excited to try out. I never really had too many fruit cakes, but I found the photos very interesting. There was something very pretty about a pretty golden cake with lots of little berries baked inside. And there was also booze in the cake. I am always down with that. This cake has been altered quite a bit in the American Cakes cookbook. Many changes I am happy about, omitting the citron and lemon peels, and using white wine instead of the more heavy sweet fortified wines like brandy or madeira. Many online recipes also offer a frosting/icing to go on top of the cake, which I think it is too much. This is a rich dense cake, very similar to a pound cake with spiked fruit inside. I think it stands very well by itself.
This cake was made by Martha Washington– the first First Lady. She supposedly made this cake when George was returning home from serving as president, making it in time for Christmas. The recipe was written down by her Great Granddaughter Martha Parke Custis and is the main reason why the recipe still survives today.
Another thing that I liked from it’s modern adaptation is how much it has been scaled down. Part of the “great” in “great cake” is the sheer size. Readers of the blog might remember me describing the massive size of Election Cakes, and this cake was quite large as well.
Take 40 eggs & divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well work’d then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powder’d to it in the same manner than put in the Youlks of eggs and 5 pounds of flower and 5 pounds of fruit, 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine & some fresh brandy.
I’ve even taken the size of the recipe down even further! The original recipe calls for a pound of currants, and I had to buy bulk organic currants. It wasn’t terribly expensive, but I found that the currants were quite old, and very dry. So they soaked up a LOT of wine. I later found that it was easier to find 10 oz boxes. The original recipe calls for a larger than normal loaf pan, so I figured I would scale the 16 oz currants to one box. I crunched the numbers and worked out well.
When I first baked the cake I replaced the butter for oil thinking that it would be dense enough to handle the softer texture. I added some baking soda to the mix for some rise, as the original recipe didn’t. And finally I replaced the eggs with aquafaba since the cake was light in color and I wanted to keep it flax fleck free. As I started to mix the aquafaba to the sugar-oil mix, I noticed it acting very similar to a pound cake. It made me wonder if I could skip the leavening agent all together.
So the second time making the cake was when I scaled down the size, and baked like a normal pound cake. I was VERY nervous. But it worked! Surprising I know! The photos might look like the cake is under baked, and it might of been just a smidge. I think I over soaked the currants (I did it overnight) making the cake a little too moist. But the texture was definitely cooked!
So here are some important notes about the ingredients. You will want a nice white wine. Pick something you would drink, but still have it be on the lower end of cost. I omitted the mace from the recipe, but it should traditionally be in there. I also used Earth Balance and specified it in the recipe. It worked for this, but I can not promise how homemade butters would work.
The oven is also on low and slow! This cake takes over 2 hours to bake! Plus 2 hours of soaking! This is going to take a loooong time to make, but very hands off. I hope this doesn’t scare off too many people, because this does make a great cake for the holiday season. One that might get people to question what they think of a “fruit cake.”