recipe image

Mary Lincoln’s White Almond Cake

Photo by Mitch Mandel
  • Serves
    12 to 16
Author Notes

Mary Todd Lincoln was raised in a wealthy Lexington, Kentucky, family and partial to the finer things in life, like this white almond cake. The Todd family requested the recipe from the Lexington caterer who first made it, and it is said that Mary baked the cake for Abraham Lincoln when they courted, after they were married, and when she was First Lady. The recipe is a part of the culinary history of Kentucky and has been printed in Godey’s Lady’s Book, newspapers, and cookbooks.

An avid baker, Mary was said to have purchased 13 pounds of sugar for baking in 1 week of 1849. Unlike Mary, Abe Lincoln was from log-cabin Kentucky frontier roots. A successful and skilled courtroom attorney, Lincoln helped bring an end to slavery and the Civil War. His assassination on April 14, 1865, as he was barely in his second term, shocked the country. This almond cake became a symbol of Lincoln afterward and was found on inaugural and military banquet menus in the 1870s. This recipe is adapted from the book A Culinary History of Kentucky. —Anne Byrn

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

  • Butter and flour for prepping the pan

  • 2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1 cup

    (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 3 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    baking powder

  • 1 cup

    whole milk, at room temperature

  • 1 cup

    (4 ounces) blanched almond slivers, very finely chopped

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • 6

    large egg whites, at room temperature

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan with butter and flour. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pan aside.
  2. Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Set the bowl aside.
  3. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, and sift 2 more times. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar in 3 additions, alternating with the milk. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is just blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and fold in the almonds and vanilla. Set the bowl aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with clean beaters on high speed until stiff peaks form, 4 to 5 minutes. Fold about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, just until combined. Fold the remaining whites into the batter, just until combined. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan, and place the pan in the oven.
  5. Bake the cake until it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 57 to 62 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges, give the pan a gentle shake, and invert the cake onto the rack to cool, right side up, 1 hour. Slice and serve.

Anne Byrn is the author of American Cake (Rodale, 2016), the history of cake in America, with recipes. She lives and bakes Nashville, TN.

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