15 of the First Ladies’ Most Famous Dessert Recipes
If you go down the list of America’s First Ladies, you’ll find plenty of interesting facts and great achievements. For example, Dolley Madison was the only First Lady given an honorary seat on the floor of Congress (by unanimous consent), and she became a national hero of sorts after saving a rare painting of George Washington before British troops torched the White House in 1814. And, to top it all off, she was quite the hostess.
Our First Ladies are flung into the national spotlight as the President’s wife and given the task of hosting world leaders, dignitaries, and delegates—and, as any Southern lady would first think, that means serving up the perfect menu. Luckily, many of our First Ladies already had dessert covered. From Mary Todd Lincoln’s famous White Almond Cake to Laura Bush’s to-die-for Texas Cowboy Cookies, these “First Lady favorite” desserts are ready to be taken from the White House to your kitchen.
Eleanor Roosevelt: Baked Indian Pudding
Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the White House meals appropriately during the 1930's Great Depression era: with frugality and mindfulness. Her favorite dessert to serve was Baked Indian Pudding, also known as hasty pudding. It's a simple baked custard pudding made with few ingredients that can be tailored easily (hence, hasty). Since some recipes include cornmeal, may we suggest our slightly more decadent recipe for Cornbread Pudding with a whiskey-caramel topping?
Mamie Eisenhower: Million Dollar Fudge
During the 1950s and 1960s, this was the go-to fudge recipe in America. Shortly after Mrs. Eisenhower became First Lady in 1953, newspapers started printing the fudge recipe and attributing it as her signature dish. Dubbed "Million Dollar Fudge," it became so strongly associated with her that a copy of the recipe appears in the archives of the Eisenhower Presidential Center.
Mary Lincoln: White Almond Cake
Recipe: Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake
This cake originated in Lexington, Kentucky, where Mary Todd was raised before she married Abraham Lincoln. At the core, it's a classic Southern pound cake made with finely chopped almonds. We've found a variation of her beloved White Almond Cake (which you can find here), but we're including our very own Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake (recipe above)—for those looking for an almond cake with a little extra oomph.
Laura Bush: Texas Cowboy Cookies
Recipe: Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies
Former First Lady Laura Bush is credited with putting these delicious cookies—packed with oats, coconut, pecans, and chocolate chips—on the map. Now known as Cowboy Cookies, these perfect bites won a First Lady cookie bake-off in 2000 between Laura Bush and Tipper Gore, and since then the cookies have been famous.
Sarah Polk: Hickory Nut Cake
Recipe: Marbled Pecan Pound Cake
Sarah Polk's Hickory Nut Cake is of humble origins. Back when hickory trees populated the South, people would gather up the hickory nuts before animals scavenged them away. Then, they'd fold these nuts into pound cake batter for a sweet, crunchy surprise. Since hickory nuts favor pecans, we're revisiting our reader-favorite vintage recipe for Marbled Pecan Pound Cake in tribute to Mrs. Polk.
Abigail Adams: Apple Pandowdy
Recipe: Cherry-Nectarine Pandowdy
The word "dowdy" comes from the Middle English "doude," which means exactly what you're thinking. Shabby, messy, inelegant. In other words, just not very neat. Abigail Adams favored the apple pandowdy, which made use of the abundance of apples in the region. The pastry topping is cut into squares in order to let the stewing fruit bubble up and over. Ever versatile, the pandowdy can be made using many fruits. Try our Cherry-Nectarine Pandowdy, and you'll get why Colonial America loved this dish so much.
Martha Washington: Great Cake
Recipe: Cassandra’s “Light” Fruitcake
Martha Washington's Great Cake is quite the icon. Typically served during the holidays, this masterpiece is akin to a dense holiday fruitcake, but it's finished with simple sugar frosting or cream cheese frosting. (You'll find an authentic recipe by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association here.)
Our "Light" Fruitcake recipe is known to turn the most stubborn of fruitcake haters. Try your hand at this Southern cake, and top it with our fluffy Marscapone Frosting or to-die-for Brown Sugar-Cream Cheese Frosting.
Dolley Madison: Ice Cream
If you thought serving ice cream to world leaders, dignitaries, and delegates visiting the White House is a no-no, think again. In fact, it was Dolley Madison's signature move. As part of her ice cream prowess, one of her favorite flavors to serve was homemade strawberry, which was made in-house with fresh strawberry preserves and homemade vanilla ice cream. But our Fresh Peach Ice Cream is always a good second choice.
Bess Truman: Ozark Pudding
Bess Truman shared her recipe for Ozark Pudding in the second edition of the Congressional Club's cookbook in 1948. (The Congressional Club is a social club for wives of the U.S. Senate and House.) It's like a marriage between pecan pie and a macaroon, but with chopped apples added. As the story goes, a Charleston, South Carolina cook loved it so much that she took the idea home and came up with the regional dish now known as the Huguenot Torte. (You can find that recipe here.) Start with our "utterly deadly" pecan pie, and level up from there.
Lady Bird Johnson: Lemon Cake
Recipe: Lemon-Lime Pound Cake
Lady Bird Johnson—born in Texas as Claudia Alta Taylor—was known for her famous glazed lemon pound cake. It was even served at the wedding of her daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, for the ceremony held at the White House in 1966. We gave her cake a seasonal update by turning it into a lemon-lime masterpiece. (Our Key Lime Pound Cake is an all-time favorite, as well.)
Rosalyn Carter: Peanut Butter Pie
This First Lady hailed from Georgia, and she made sure to show it by making frequent use of Georgia's most beloved crop: peanuts. And it doesn't get more deliciously simple than peanut butter pie. While her signature pie went with a fluffy meringue topping, we topped our peanut butter ice-cream pie with homemade whipped cream. Either way, you're in for a heavenly slice.
Jackie Kennedy: Strawberries Romanoff
Recipe: Strawberries Romanoff
Jackie Kennedy favored French cuisine when she was hosting in the White House, and she preferred a lighter dessert, such as sweet stewed fruits and occasionally crème brûlée. But when Princess Grace of Monaco visited the White House, the First Lady whipped out another simple favorite: Strawberries Romanoff. Simply put, this delicate dessert calls for marinating strawberries in a mixture of orange juice and sugar, then topping the berries with a sweetened whipped cream. If it's good enough for Princess Grace of Monaco, we're sold.
Nancy Reagan: Vienna Chocolate Bars
Following a visit to the Neshoba County Fair (known as Mississippi's Giant Houseparty) during Ronald Reagan's 1980 bid for the presidency, Nancy shared this decadent bar recipe. First, buttery shortbread is baked in a jelly roll pan. Then, fresh raspberry preserves are spread over the crust, followed with a sprinkling of chocolate morsels. Finally, a fluffy meringue filled with finely chopped pecans is spread over the layer of chocolate morsels and baked until beautifully browned.
Barbara Bush: Her Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies
What's special about these "famous" chocolate chip cookies? The secret lies in the recipe. A Texan at heart, Barbara knows to go big or go home. Her recipe calls for almost equal parts of chocolate chips and flour, which means that her cookies are absolutely packed with semisweet chocolate chips, and we aren’t mad about that.
Betty Ford: Strawberry Shortcake
Recipe: Classic Strawberry Shortcake
The word on the street: the Fords were a fit bunch. We're talking health-conscious and athletically minded. So, it's safe to say that dessert didn't frequent the family dinner every evening. Susan Ford—the youngest of the Ford kids—did have one preference, though: strawberry shortcake. And since fruit and calorie-light whipped cream was involved, we're guessing Betty Ford deemed it a healthy enough alternative to chocolate cake.