Dolley Madison’s Layer Cake

“It is one of my sources of happiness never to desire a knowledge of other people’s business.” — Dolley Madison

(The basics of this recipe are from the White House files in the Presidents’ Cookbook, but this version, including measurements, is from Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts.)

Ingredients (Cake):

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
  • 8 large egg whites
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter four 8-by-2-inch round cake pans, set aside.

Beat egg white in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form; set aside.

In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar. With the mixer running, slowly add milk; mix until well combined. Sift together flour and cornstarch; slowly add to mixer and beat until well combined. Add vanilla and mix well.

Gently fold in reserved egg whites and divide evenly between prepared pans. Bake until cake springs back when lightly touched, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in cake pans on wire racks about 10 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool completely on wire racks.

Place 4 strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or Lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Pour over about 1/2 cup icing, spreading evenly to cover. Repeat process with 2 more layers. Repeat process with two more layers. Place the remaining layer on top of the third layer and cover cake completely with remaining icing.

Caramel Icing

Yield: Makes enough for one 8-inch layer cake

Ingredients

  • 3 cups light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Whisk together sugar, cream and butter in a medium bowl. Set bowl over (but not touching) simmering water, cook until thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove bowl from heat; stir in vanilla. Let cool.

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