Saturday, July 3, 2010

Washington Pie for the Fourth of July


I wanted to make a July 4th dessert that was nothing like the clich├ęd concoctions that appear in mainstream womens magazines, predictably featuring an array of blueberries and raspberries arranged *just so* on a tart or ice cream cake.

Hence, I made Washington Pie. A simple and tasty alternative.

Washington Pie, a precursor to  Boston Cream Pie, is really a cake.  And it couldn't be easier to make because unlike most cakes, there's no frosting or filling to prepare separately.  The cake layers are spread with raspberry or apricot jam (hmmm....shouldn't it be cherry?) and the top is dusted with a fine layer of confectioners sugar. (Boston Cream Pie, also a cake, is filled with vanilla custard and topped with chocolate.)

This is a light and delicious cake, and was much appreciated by the ladies of Henry Street Settlement's Home Planning Workshop, led by the amazing Ruth Taube, 86, (below, pretty in pink, in a dress she designed and sewed) who has been teaching sewing, knitting and crocheting to Lower East Side residents for more than 40 years.


The workshop, located in the basement of the Vladeck Houses, a public housing project, hasn't changed much in 50 years.  Inside, ladies (and sometimes men) sit around two tables, or at sewing machines, busy at work on projects, while Ruth goes from person to person, teaching a technique here, solving a problem there, offering all manner of advice, not all of it limited to the needle crafts.  (Instruction and advice are free.) There's laughter, gossip, camaraderie and, almost always, cake or another sweet. I was thrilled my contribution was so well received -- this is a tough audience!



Topping the cake with confectioners sugar is easy if you use a strainer, pictured above, as it allows for an even coating.  This also works beautifully for topping a dessert with cocoa powder.

I found a few recipes for Washington Pie (also called George Washington Pie), but the one I used is from Tested & Tasty Recipes, a 1936 book complied by the Dorcas Class of the East Market Evangelical and Reformed Sunday School in Akron, Ohio.








26 comments:

  1. you had me at no frosting, but lost me on the fruit filling :( the cake is always the best part for me, filling next, frosting last. have you come across any really fab, non-fruit, fillings you'd suggest besides chocolate or the boston cream?

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  2. hmmm....that's a tough one. Do you like custard? Because then you might enjoy something like mocha custard. Or, simply have a one layer cake (tres French) and just cover with a fine dusting of confectioners sugar.

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  3. i liked this one but, just like george washington, i liked the cherry pie even more!!

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  4. Thank You! I have been searching for this recipe. my mother used to make this exact thing for my father's birthday.

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    1. Anonymous: So glad you found it! Enjoy!

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. Washington Pie is a dessert that my paternal grandmother made for many, many years. It's always been a favourite of my dad's and also for myself.

    My mother has been making Washington Pie to carry on the tradition. We can't figure out why, but the last few times she's made it, the middle has been sinking.

    Do you have any suggestions on what the problem could be? Their oven is fairly new (bought four years ago I believe?). And even when baking it at our summer home, it's still giving us that sinking feeling. (bad pun I know). :)

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    1. Virginia -- Love hearing that cakes like this are a family tradition. And love the pun, of course. Not sure why the cake would sink, but Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, says that a sunken center is caused by either a cold oven, undermixing the batter or too much baking powder. I'd get an oven thermometer (cheap and available at the grocery store) to check the oven temperature in both your ovens. And then, make sure the batter is well mixed (but careful not to overmix, as this results in a dry cake). If all else fails, just even off the cake with a serrated knife. Another cake expert, Carole Walter, says the problem is caused by too much baking powder, too much fat or sugar in the recipe or sugar that is too coarse. Geesh, with all that can go wrong, it's a wonder anyone bakes ; )). Thanks for writing and good luck!

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  6. Awesome. Thanks for the tips! I've sent my mom a link to this post for her to take a look.

    I'll let you know how we make out. Hopefully she'll do some test baking soon. ;)

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    1. Thanks, Virginia. I'll keep my fingers crossed!

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  7. My mother made thus every year, it having been a favorite of her grandfather. Just craving it today and did a search. Can't wait to share this with my family!

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    1. Mama -- Glad you found the recipe. I love hearing stories of people baking this recipe for loved ones, especially across generations. Thanks so much for writing!

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  8. Susan, I just love your blog! I do have a question about the Washington Pie. The ingredients list flour, but in the instructions, it is referred to as cake flour. What did you use, and is there a big difference between the two? Thanks.

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    1. Thanks much, Susan. I usually use cake flour which makes for a more tender crumb, but you can certainly use all purpose flour for a perfectly fine result. Cake flour is made from a softer wheat and processed within an inch of its life -- kinda of the opposite of whole wheat. But, it does make for superior cakes. Thanks for writing!

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  9. This cake was very popular in my home when I was a child as it was one of my father's favourtes. It was always served with a thin layer of white vanilla icing on top and a sprinkle of coconut. I had a hankering for this lately and actually made one this past weekend. This cake recipe travelled North into Canada, probably through women's magazines, and was always still called "Washington Pie."

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    1. What a nice story, Isabella. What attracted me to the cake is that it does not require frosting, but it must be delicious with the vanilla icing and coconut. Thanks for writing!

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  10. thank you - my husband just asked for this cake for his birthday

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    1. Wonderful. It's a really delicious cake -- and no need to make frosting!

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  11. Is washington pie named after Washington State, Washington DC, George Washington, or none of the above?

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    1. I have no idea! Google did not provide any answers either.

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  12. I found this recipe in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Cross Creek Cookery, although she failed to mention temperature it should be baked at. And a cream filling is what she has below it for the filling. I am going to try it. :) Then I will compare and try your recipe.

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    1. When it doubt, I bake almost everything at 350 degrees. Please report back on your baking adventures, Brittany.

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    2. I recall eating this as child, but none of the photos I've seen look at all like I remember.
      It was frosting on top with the center a red color rasberry or strawberry not sure and the bottom
      was a crust. Anyone out there with the recipe? Thanks.

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  13. Love your blog and the concept. I have two recipe boxes of my grandmother's that she had typed a majority of the recipe on index cards. I treasure it!

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    1. Thanks so much. And lucky you to be blessed with your grandmother's recipes!

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  14. Love this! my mom has been making this forever, she always uses jam for the middle and icing on top.

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    1. Love the idea of icing this cake! Thanks for writing.

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