5 Presidential Desserts Inspired by Dolley Madison

The White House's executive chef may have a few tricks up his sleeve, but no one could quite make presidential desserts like Dolley Madison.

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Dolley Madison (1768-1849), First Lady 1809-1817, c. 1818.
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First Lady Dolley Madison was a skilled chef with a passion for entertaining and—more specifically—desserts. Though now the White House is filled with a staff of talented chefs, during Madison’s time, it was more common for the First Lady to get her hands dirty in the kitchen. Check out some of our favorite Dolley Madison staples, including her much-loved ice cream.

Find more First Ladies’ favorite foods.

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Cinnamon-Sugar Coffee Cake
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Cinnamon Teacakes

Dolley Madison enjoyed a good afternoon tea, and her guests couldn’t get enough once she brought out her cinnamon teacakes. These light and fluffy cakes relied on three of the most trusted baking ingredients in your kitchen: cinnamon, sugar and butter. To replicate Dolley’s classic recipe, make our cinnamon-sugar coffee cake. Bonus points if you serve it with afternoon tea.

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Buttermilk Cake with Caramel Icing
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Layer Cake

You won’t see us turning down a delicious layer cake, and Dolley’s vintage recipe doesn’t disappoint. Her layer cake didn’t rely on complex ingredients, but instead leaned into classic vanilla flavors with a caramel icing. She achieved a delicate texture using whipped egg whites. Replicate her recipe with our buttermilk cake with caramel icing.

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Homemade strawberry ice cream
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Strawberry Ice Cream

If you own an ice cream maker, you can get creamy and delicious homemade ice cream in just a few hours. Back in 1809, it wasn’t so easy. Ice cream had to be churned by hand while stored in a bin of ice and rock salt, a process that could take up to two hours. You can get rustic and do as the Madisons did—or you can cheat just a little and use your ice cream maker to whip up a batch of homemade strawberry ice cream.

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Cinnamon-Orange Honey Butter
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Fairy Butter

You’ve heard of apple butter, maybe even dabbled in herb butter, but have you ever heard of fairy butter? While it sounds like a made up treat that would be served at a child’s fictional tea party, it was a favorite among Dolley Madison’s afternoon teas. Her favorite incorporated hints of orange and sugar—try our cinnamon–orange honey butter recipe for a comparable spread.

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While we tend to think of gingerbread in the form of stiff houses and crunchy men, Dolley Madison’s staple gingerbread was soft, more like a gingerbread cake than what we picture when we think of the dessert. You’ll find our favorite warm flavors like cinnamon, molasses and cloves, but you may be pleasantly surprised by the texture. This gingerbread recipe is pretty close—there aren’t many ingredients, but it’s full of flavor.

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Kate Ellsworth
Kate has been writing about her favorite brands and products for more than 10 years. She's started a few well-intentioned yet short-lived blogs and loves to spend her time perusing the Internet for the best deals. She currently works as an executive editor for a product-testing website, where she oversees lifestyle topics including sleep, pets, health and fitness and crafts.
In her spare time, you can find Kate baking, quilting and hanging out with her husband, Matt, and newborn, Vivienne.