Martha Washington’s Chocolate Cakes
Chocolate was a very popular beverage in the 1700s, so it is not surprising that it was also frequently served to guests at the time. Guests of Martha and George Washington took note of being served chocolate while visiting, which was sometimes accompanied by chocolate cakes to be dipped in the rich drink.
These chocolate cakes were very different from the treat that we’re familiar with today. The cakes themselves actually contained no chocolate at all. Their name referred only to their intended purpose of being served alongside chocolate. Additionally, they were closer in texture to what we would think of as a crisp cookie than a moist cake. This consistency allowed the cakes to be dipped in a cup of hot chocolate without falling apart.
A recipe for 18th century chocolate cakes is available in the book Dining with the Washingtons, which presents recipes enjoyed by the Washingtons and their guests in an accessible modern style. This chocolate cake recipe was adapted from The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook published in 1838 by Mary Randolph. In her original recipe, Randolph urged cooks to present the cakes “in rows to checker each other, and serve them to eat with chocolate.”
To make your own chocolate cakes, simply follow the recipe here. This recipe makes five to six dozen cakes. If you’re not hosting quite so many guests, it can be easily scaled down to make smaller batches.
Hand kneading the cake dough emphasizes the historic nature of the simple recipe. The dough is crumbly at first but slowly comes together into a smooth ball as it is worked by hand. Do this process ahead of time, so the dough has time to rest, and roll out the cakes for baking shortly before you plan to serve them. Once the dough is rolled flat, the distinctive rectangular shapes that make the cakes ideal for dipping can be quickly cut with a pizza cutter.
The mild sweet flavor of these cakes pairs perfectly with the complex spicy flavor of American Heritage Historic Chocolate Drink. Serve with cups of hot chocolate as a wonderful alternative to afternoon tea or as a warm dessert to delight your dinner guests.