The New and Improved Mary Todd Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Recipe

Abe Lincoln overshot Lifeforcephotos for Bake This Cake

We messed with what might be “thee” most famous cake recipe ever! How cheeky is that!? And the results are in! Rich and buttery cake with fine quality ingredients made lovingly from scratch — just like an old-fashioned Seduction Cake!

Christine's Kitchen by LifeForcePhotosOkay. Drumroll paleeze…This cake needs NO FROSTING. Yes, you heard that right! As in >> nada, none<< not even our famous fruited dollops of whipped cream. So, like, WHEN‘s the last time you served a cake with no frosting? I dare you! 🙂 AND you might find this no-frosting cake interesting when you re-live a bit of history-in-the-making right in your own darling kitchen.

{{{{No. I’m not going to make you shuck almond hulls, or bring eggs in from the hen-house, though that could be fun too — but don’t get me started!}}}

Take a close-up look at this little honey, breathe in the warm vanilla and check out the little specks of fresh-ground almonds. Are you with me on this?

Molly Cake Mary Todd Lincoln's Vanilla Almond Cake - Made Better by BakeThisCake

Giron's Confectioner's Shop in Lexington Kentucky
                     Giron’s Confectioner’s Shop, Lexington

Oodles of history: This cake is adapted from great heaps of historic recipe discussions about the “real” cake often called, “Abe Lincoln’s White Cake” (it’s kind of yellow, oh, and it’s not Abe’s), “Mrs. Lincoln’s White Almond Cake”, the “Mary Todd Lincoln Cake“, “President Lincoln’s Almond Pound Cake”, “Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake” and more. And, trust me on this…there are LOTS more! The original recipe was likely shared with Mary by her long-time family friend and neighbor, Monsieur Mathurin Giron, a local confectioner in Lexington.

Mary served this special cake to Abe when they were a’courting in Springfield and then many times at the White House. It gained an amazing reputation as The Best Homemade Cake — right up to the time of your reading of this blog post… 🙂 Now that’s cake with staying power!
Purple Cut Glass Candle holder photo by Leslie Macchiarella for Bake This Cake
But…THIS cake is really an Apology Cake. What? An apology cake??? Yeah. A big apology. This cake stands as a cake apology to Mary Anne Todd Lincoln. (You KNOW you can use a nice home-baked cake as an apology, right?) Yes, this cake is an apology to Mrs. Lincoln for all she put up with in her life…AND for her moxy. And, hello, somebody PLEASE re-write the story of Mrs. Lincoln big time, will you? as I fear (perhaps ignorantly) that the account of her life has suffered from the prejudices inherent in that complicated time in which she lived…So we’ll just start here with, you guessed it…an amazing vintage cake with some modern twists!

Spring Flowers Photo by Leslie Macchiarella for BakeThisCake

Scales of Justice Photo by Leslie Macchiarella for Bake This CakeTurn Back The Tides of Injustice Cake! and a little bit o’ history about Mary…I know. I got a little carried away when I was researching Mary. 🙂

26 Things You May Not Know About Mary:

1.) Born Mary Anne Todd in 1818 in Lexington to a prominent Southern family, she lost her mom when she was just 6 years old.

2.) Mary was raised by a stern step-mom and had 3 sisters, 3 brothers and 9 step-siblings!

3.) She became well-educated (unusual for the time). She studied classical poetry, politics and literature. She was witty, danced and spoke French fluently.

4.) She left home in 1839 to live with her sister in Illinois –where she met and married Abe in November of 1842 at the age of 23. She was pregnant 9 months later with the first of 4 boys.

Old Globe Tavern where Abe and Mary lived during their first 2 years of marriage Old Globe Tavern was home for Lincoln family.

5.) Though she was accustomed to living in grand style in her family’s fine home (now the #1 historical attraction in Lexington), she transitioned gracefully to live with her husband at The Globe Tavern in Springfield for 2 years (where son, Robert, was born in 1843). And no, her family did not approve. Then they bought their first and only humble abode (where son, Eddie, was born). And yes, their family home is still standing as the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

6.) She stayed home alone for 6 to 8 months of the year to care for her boys while her husband worked on the traveling legal circuit.

Lincoln family home in springfield, Illinois Lincoln Family Home in Springfield.

7.) Think of how her world was crushed when her beautiful 3-year-old son, Eddie, fell to a serious illness and slipped away into the arms of angels on the first day of February in 1850.

8.) Mary bucked up and carried on. She strongly supported her husband politically and socially during his campaigns for office — though this seemed to bring her mostly criticism due to her outspoken nature.

Mary Todd Lincoln

9.) She was 42 with three boys (ages 7, 10 and 18) when she moved to the White House in February of 1861 to become the first president’s wife to be referred to as The First Lady.

March 4, 1861 White House Inauguration

10.) She strived to bring harmony and loveliness to her new home and in her own fashion style, but that only brought disdain from the public and vicious rumors.

Mary wore her “Strawberry Dress” for her First Lady Portrait by Matthew Brady in May of 1861. And here’s a 2011 video from Curator, Dr. James Cornelius, of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum showing and discussing details of Mary’s carefully preserved Strawberry Dress:

11.) When that tragic war broke out, the country was divided — and her own Southern family was divided against her (she was considered a turn-coat by some, a spy by others).

12.) Mary worked as a volunteer nurse in the Union hospitals, toured Union Army camps and reviewed troops with her husband.

Lincoln Family Summer Cottage

13.) She worked for the Sanitary Commission to raise private funds for supplies (like blankets) for sick and wounded Union soldiers.

14.) Just after the war began (while living at the White House), she suffered the devastation of the death of her darling 11-year-old son, Willie, from typhoid fever in February of 1862.

Abe and Mary Lincoln Family Sons Eddie Willie Tad Robert Mary’s children, Eddie, Willie, Tad and Robert.

15.) She struggled to overcome her grief and worked valiantly for the Contraband Relief Association (founded and headed by Mary’s modiste (dressmaker & designer) and confidante, Elizabeth Keckley) to help raise donations for housing, employment, clothing and the medical care of recently freed slaves.

16.) She lost many loved ones in the Civil War, including 2 of her step brothers and a brother-in-law.

17.) Just 6 days after the war was coming to a close with General Lee’s surrender, she became the first president’s wife to lose her beloved husband to an assassin. On April 14, 1865, at the age of 47, she lived through that horrific Jackie Kennedy moment– sitting right up next to her husband of 22 years (likely holding his hand).

By Victor Hugo King, who placed the photograph in the public domain (presumably when he gave it to the Library of Congress Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

President Kennedy with Jackie.

18.) Unlike Jackie’s experience almost a century later (where the world would surround the grieving widow with love and compassion), Mrs. Lincoln was booted unceremoniously from the White House with her children just 5 weeks after her husband’s assassination.

19.) She was made to battle Congress for a modest widow’s pension (only soldiers’ pensions were given to widows at the time) while being forbidden from selling her personal possessions.

20.) She tended to him through his extended illness but then came the tragic death of her dear son, Tad, on a Saturday morning in July of 1871. He was only 18 years old and the third of her four young sons to pass.

Books by Candlelight photo by Leslie Macchiarella for Bake This Cake

21.) AND THEN — only 4 years after Tad’s death, and near the 10th anniversary of her husband’s murder, this 56-year-old widow was taken by force to endure the great public humiliation of an insanity trial. That’s right. Stab in the back and in the heart! (BTW, although she may have been depressed, stressed and somewhat eccentric, her “masculine-mind” and her outspoken nature must have played some role in her mistreatment.)

22.) On May 19, 1875, without contest and without one witness called by her defense attorney, the jury returned their insanity verdict after only 10 minutes of deliberation.

Bellevue Place sanitarium Bellevue Place

23.) Mary was committed to the State Hospital for the Insane then transferred to Bellevue Place, a private sanitarium for “disturbed ladies” in Batavia, Illinois.

24.) All that might be more than most could bear. But Mary was determined to set herself free– so she smuggled letters out to plead her case to legal friends and to the press and thereby managed to achieve a re-trial to have her sanity declared — only to be released to the care of her sister.

25.) For the duration of her life to age 63 in 1882, Mary Todd Lincoln received mostly criticism and disdain from the American public and press. And that bad rap continues through today.

26.) The Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum recently held a mock re-trial of Mary’s insanity trail. Watch the re-created modern trial >here<.

At least, these are my (possibly fool-hearty) impressions from my review of Mary’s fascinating but tragic life story. There are other views, of course…even a renewed interest in Lincoln vampire stories: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln The Movie. All-in-all, I think Mary was a spiritual, passionate and bright woman who cared deeply for her family and country and I believe she has been misunderstood and mistreated through tremendous adversity.

But all that changes right now. With cake! It might sound silly — but there’s power in cake…because, when it’s made with love, it comes straight from the heart! 

So, yeah, this will be an Apology Cake for Mary. Big time. A Giving Cake.

Bubble Fountain photo by Leslie Macchiarella for BakeThisCake Bubble up fountain at the Los Angeles Main Library.

It is meant as an Offering Cake that brings good cheer to the household where it is served. You can bake and give it to a respected colleague, friend or visitor. Even bake it as your Go-To Potluck Cake or as a Funeral Cake (yes, I said it) in the time-honored tradition of sharing a special dish to help dry some tears, or when things need to be rectified — a Forgive Me Cake to help soothe the path to love and hugs.

And what better way to say it than with a simple, moist and delicious home-baked vintage cake?

Abe Lincoln Almond Vanilla Pound Cake side view by Bake This Cake

How we changed it: Basically, if the taste of vanilla and almonds are great in this cake, let’s ramp it up with ALMOND FLOUR and EXTRA VANILLA. And let’s lighten it a bit with half less butter (there’s still 2 cubes for heaven’s sake so it’s still nice and buttery but I just couldn’t bear to put 4 cubes of butter in this cake). And I think it’s better as a result. 🙂

Who let the dogs out? woof, woof, woof, woof! Look what happened to our fabulous cake!

Doggie Ate the Cake 2 Photo by LifeForcePhotos for Bake This Cake Doggie Snacking Cake

“Who me? It couldn’t have been me.”

“I’m sure I look too innocent…”

Icarus Chihuahua Photo by Leslie Macchiarella The cake snacking doggie.

And just what do you do when the dog eats the cake??

Well, if it be family, you just hunk off half, flip it over and keep moving forward. Ha! (But take some photos first) 🙂

Now on to the cake baking project!

Cake Tools:
Cooking spray
Tube pan (aka Angel Food Cake Pan, or you could try a bundt pan)
Mini-food processor (or nut grinder, coffee grinder or just sharp flat-blade knife)
3 soup-sized bowls (for bringing butter to room temperature and separating egg whites)
3 Large mixing bowls for dry ingredients, batter and egg whites (or wash up for 2 bowls)
Whisk (or fork, for blending dry ingredients)
Spatula (for folding egg whites into the batter)
Measuring cups and spoons
Optional: Food thermometer for testing internal baking temperature of the cake

Cake Ingredients:
1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds
1 cup unsalted butter (2 cubes)
2 cups superfine sugar
1-1/2 cups almond flour
1-1/2 cups unbleached cake flour* (see substitution notes)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs whites (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup milk (we used 2%)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality

(Flour substitutes: Substitute regular cake flour, and if you need to, then use all-purpose flour. I’ve tried them all and they all work fine but unbleached cake flour seems to work best for this cake.)

Cake Directions:

Preheat oven to 350, placing rack in center position.

Spray a tube pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Separate 6 eggs, setting aside the egg whites (about 3/4 cup) to come to room temperature (refrigerating the yolks for later use in a different recipe – we’re not using them today and that’s why they call this a “white cake” because it has no yolks).

6 Eggs for Mary Todd Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake BakeThisCake

In a mini-food processor (or by hand), chop to a fine coarseness:
1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds

Slivered blanched almonds for Abe Lincoln Almond Vanilla Cake by Bake This Cake

Although we used a mini food-processor to fine chop the almonds, this is totally do-able with a little muscle power and a flat blade knife…

Fine chopped almonds for Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Bake This Cake

Nuke in the microwave in 10 second internals to bring to room temperature (but not melty):
1 cup unsalted butter (2 cubes)

2 cubes room temperature butter Bake This Cake

Using an electric mixer, beat on high-speed about 3 minutes until fluffy:
the room temperature butter

Creamed butter for Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Bake This Cake

Beat into the creamed butter on high-speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes)
2 cups superfine sugar

Fluffy creamed butter and sugar for Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake BakeThisCake

We’re testing King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour (one of the sponsors of our blog) in this recipe. And it worked like a charm! I actually think it works better for this cake than regular cake flour (I tried that too).:)

King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour for Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake BakeThisCake

Whisk together:
1-1/2 cups almond flour
1-1/2 cups unbleached cake flour (substitute: regular cake flour or all-purpose if needed)
1 Tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Prepared ground almonds

Dry Ingredients for Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Bake This Cake

Using a whisk (or a fork), make sure all dry ingredients are thoroughly blended…

Whisked dry ingredients for Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake BakeThisCake

Using the electric mixer on high-speed, beat until fluffy (about 1-1/2 minutes):
the room temperature egg whites

Using the electric mixer on low-speed, blend into the batter in alternating amounts until thoroughly blended (about 1 minute):
the blended dry ingredients
1 cup milk (we used 2%)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality

Adding milk and vanilla to Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Bake This Cake

Using a spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter with overhand circular strokes.

Folding egg whites into Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Bake This Cake

Be sure the egg whites are fully blended into the batter.

Folded eggs whites in Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Bake This Cake

Spoon the thick dough into prepared tube pan, smoothing the top evenly with spatula.

Batter smoothed in baking pan for Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Bake This Cake

Bake at 350 for about 1 hour and 10 mins (about 80 minutes) to an internal temperature of about 208 degrees or until toothpick tester comes out clean at various checkpoints.

Tip: It’s just fine if this cake is buckled or cracked on top because we’re going to flip it over when we served it (even if the doggie stays clear of it). 🙂

The cake is very moist and has a nice crumb…

Abe Lincoln Cake hot from the oven Bake This Cake

Now let’s flip it over for service so that the little nooks and crannies are smooth.

Abe Lincoln Almond Vanilla Cake flipped for serving Bake This Cake

Although we considered frosting it, my family voted “no way”. I had to agree!

So this has become one of the rare cakes we serve that seems best without any topping or frosting at all (and I’m a frosting freak, so this is actually true). 🙂

Don’t forget! This cake is great for traveling!

Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake ready to travel Bake This Cake

You may want to serve the cake slices with coffee, tea, milk or champagne…but when you serve it, please don’t call it your Abe Lincoln Cake…Make Mary proud and add her name to it– along with yours!

Abe Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake slice with coffee LifeForcePhotos for Bake This Cake

Okay! We did it again — old world baking made better with a few twists– ha!

Thanks for checking out our latest vintage cake recipe. I do hope that you’re able to bake this cake yourself sometime soon. When you do, let us know. Snap a photo of your tasty creation and we’ll post your photo here.


Leslie Macchiarella Author of BakeThisCake Photo by LifeForcePhotos

Remember, this is an easy travel cake — so take it to a gathering.

Mary Todd Lincoln's Vanilla Almond Cake for an office party Bake This Cake Mary’s Vanilla Almond Cake for an office party!

23 thoughts on “The New and Improved Mary Todd Lincoln Vanilla Almond Cake Recipe

  1. Thank you for posting this information. Under “26 Things You May Not Know About Mary,” there seems to be some of the text missing between numbers 19 and 20. I am assuming that it has to do with the loss of another loved one, but it is unclear. Also, maybe you are already aware, there is an interesting book written in 1868 by Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidant, Elizabeth Keckley, entitled: “Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.” It was considered quite scandalous at the time, and serves as an intimate, first-hand look into the Lincoln White House (and into their lives), during the time surrounding Lincoln’s assassination. One has to wonder if the sharing of such intimate information helped or hurt Mrs. Lincoln’s image, especially considering what was still to come.

    • Thank you for your comments on the Mary Todd Lincoln history. I have read the book you’ve suggested, thank you, and I think you’re right to question the impact of some of the shared stories in the book . I updated the photo at no. 9 but I did not find missing text. Thank you for checking it out. Best, Leslie

  2. Thanks for the history and the recipe! Just had this cake, frosted, at a birthday party. Agree, frosting not needed, though a dollop of whipped cream would be nice. Just curious what region you’re from; I’ve never heard butter called cubes before. We call them sticks in New England. Happy baking!

    • Hi Deb, A dollop of whipped cream on the Mary Todd Lincoln Vanilla Almond Pound Cake sounds heavenly. I’m in California but I don’t know why many of us say cube for butter. I think I’ll try to change my ways. 🙂 Leslie

    • Rita, Although a bit of almond flour enhances this recipe, the cake will not be tender and light if you use only almond flour. Perhaps you could try subbing a gluten free flour with the almond flour as stated but also you may have to add extra leaveners, etc. I’m not a gluten expert. I was previously married to a diabetic so used to try sugar substitutes and serve small slices of cake with fresh fruit as an option. Good luck with your baking!

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  4. This cake is lovely, but is so changed as to scarcely resemble Mrs. Lincoln’s creation! I followed an historic recipe…one from the period and found no need for alterations. While I will agree that your creation is quite nice, it simply isn’t what the Lincoln’s would have enjoyed or even recognized. Why not completely christen it something original?

    • Dear chaosn2stars, Thanks for your comments. I love that you are a history purist for this cake. I am a culinary (cake) historian so you know I love the real deal but I like to create twists on historic cake recipes for the modern table (and there is much debate about which of a number of competing recipes is the “real” original cake recipe).

  5. Leslie, thank you so much for your excellent thumbnail points of Mary’s tortured life. So misunderstood in her time, I believe we who live now from the vantage point of 150 years out, can see her much clearer, much fairer, and through the eyes of compassion she so deserved but did not receive. We have Zoloft, Prozac, and a myriad of wonder-working aids to ease the pain…. Mary didn’t even have an aspirin. I can’t imagine how I would coped in her shoes….

  6. Thank you for all the wonderful little Mrs. Lincoln tidbits:) I do a bit of period cooking and this was very interesting:) My boyfriend is in the Sons of Union of the Civil War so one day I made him this cake… he loved it:) I did put icing on it.. which was very good… but you are right this cake is great even without icing.. I will have to try your version:)

    • Hello to The Perky Poppy Seed! I love that you do period cooking…and so perfect for your boyfriend’s group (Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty). I hope you get to try this version of the historic cake. 😀

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  8. That was so fascinating. I am embarrassed to say I had no idea about Mary!!! Although I knew there was always something about her… 🙂 The cake looks amazing, and you are oh so brazen to serve cake without frosting. I applaud and admire you!

    • Why thank you!! P.S. Part of the reason I researched Mary a little over-the-top is because I also had no clue about her history. I know on the no frosting. It is very daring but it just happens to be that kind of cake. 😀

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