Cooking from the Collections: More sweet treats!

by Smithsonian Digital Library

Welcome to Part II of December's Cooking from the Collections feature! This month, our intrepid recipe testers tried their hand at old fashioned sweets.  The treats included Martha Washington’s recipe for sugar cookies, a boozy 1950’s  rum pudding, and a gingerbread cookie that might have been a favorite of James Smithson.  Who do you think would win a holiday bake-off? The founder of the Smithsonian, our very first First Lady or an aspiring June Cleaver?  Today we present the remaining two recipes. Click over to Friday's post to learn more about James Smithson's gingerbread.

Cooking from the Collections, December 2011All three desserts ready for sampling.


Martha Washington’s Sugar Cookies

Before there was Martha Stewart in the kitchen, there was Martha Washington. Thanks to a transcription by Karen Hess of Martha Washington’s Booke of cookery, anyone can whip up the the original First Family’s favorite treats for the holidays.  Not only does Hess dutifully transcribe Martha Washington’s personal cookbook, she also translates ingredients and cooking methods for modern times.  These basic cookies (callled "cakes" by Martha) were really rather plain, but could easily be spruced up with vanilla or lemon zest or festive royal icing.  If nothing else, they’ll make an excellent conversation starter. Do you think George was a fan of sweets? That might explain the teeth.


Martha Washington's Sugar Cookies


Adapted from Martha Washington’s Booke of cookery, transcribed by Karen Hess. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Makes about 30 cookies.


  •  3 cups of unbleached pastry flour
  • ½ cup of raw granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons rose water
  • 10 tablespoons butter, cold and cut in to small pieces


  1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Line 2-3 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together flour and sugar in large bowl.
  3. Stir in egg, cream and rose water.
  4. Transfer mixture to food processor  and add butter pieces. Pulse just until the mixture forms a solid dough.
  5. Allow the dough to rest.  The directions are a bit fuzzy on this. I put mine in the fridge, so that it would be easy to roll out, for about 15 minutes.
  6. Roll the dough out (I worked in sections and kept the unused part in the fridge) and cut in to shapes. Use a water glass if you’re going for authenticity!
  7. Space the cookies about an inch apart on the pans and bake, about 8-10 minutes, rotating the pans half way through. Remove to wire racks for cooling.

Erin Rushing


Swedish Rum Pudding

This recipe is from Elegant Desserts , published by Culinary Arts Institute, the same folks that brought us The Casserole Cookbook, previously discussed here. Of course I wanted to serve it with lingonberries they are Scandinavian and besides it would also mean a trip to IKEA and it doesn’t get more Swedish than that.  Overall, this dish did turn out. To some the rum maybe overpowering but it had just enough. 


Swedish Rum Pudding


Adapted from the Elegant Dessert pamphlet published by the Culinary Arts Institute 1955.


  • ¼ cup of cold water
  • 2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin
  • 4 egg yokes
  • 2 cups of heavy cream (I used whipping cream)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 3 tablespoons rum
  • lingonberry or raspberry sauce


  1. Set out six custard cups
  2. Pour water into small cup and sprinkle evenly with gelatin. Let gelatin stand about 5 minutes to stoften
  3. Meanwhile blend well in the top of a double boiler the egg yolks, cream, sugar and salt. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly and quickly, until egg yolk mixture coats a silver spoon (Here I used an everyday flatware spoon)
  4. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Immediately stir in gelatin. Stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool stirring occasionally. Add in the rum and stir until thoroughly blended. Pour mixture into the custard cups and set in the refrigerator to chill (about 2 hours).
  5. When ready to serve, unmold desserts by carefully running a knife around inside edges of cups; invert onto serving dishes.
  6. Serve with lingonberries or Raspberry Sauce.

Ninette Dean

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