Lady Baltimore Cake

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It’s truly a unique dessert!

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins.  It's truly a unique dessert!

The Lady Baltimore Cake is a unique cake. It calls for two different “frostings,” neither of which are a traditional frosting like you might think. It also calls for raisins…soaked in sherry! This cake is a classic dessert in the American South – and if you enjoy baking (and I suspect you probably do since this is a recipe blog), it’s definitely worth putting this cake on your list of things to bake.

According to folklore, the Lady Baltimore Cake was created after Owen Wister, a novelist who lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, chose Charleston, SC as the setting for one of his novels.

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It's truly a unique dessert!

In his book, Lady Baltimore, the main character mentioned a cake that she named the Lady Baltimore Cake. She described the cake, but of course there was no actual recipe.

I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore,” I said with extreme formality.  I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore.  Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it?  It’s all soft, and it’s in layers, and it has nuts – but I can’t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much.  Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full, “But, dear me, this is delicious!

from Lady Baltimore by Owen Wister, 1906

Lady Baltimore Cake

So that description gives a rough idea of the cake, but there are very few specifics. Like many iconic recipes, there is no way of knowing where the actual recipe for this cake comes from. Versions of this cake began appearing in newspapers all over the country by late 1906.

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It's truly a unique dessert!

However, the most widely accepted version of this cake was likely created by the owners of Charleston’s Lady Baltimore Tea Room. (The Tea Room predated Wister’s book. He supposedly visited the tea room on a trip to Charleston, and that’s where he got the name for his book. Who knows if this is true – but it sounds plausible.)

This version of the Lady Baltimore Cake comes from Mrs. Whaley’s Charleston Kitchen, a local Charleston cookbook which was first published back in 1999. According to Mrs. Whaley, the recipe that she included in her book came from a family friend. She swore she would not reveal the recipe as long as she lived. However, after the family friend passed away, Mrs. Whaley got permission from her friend’s granddaughter to share the recipe.

If we are willing to ignore the murky history of where this cake comes from, then we can focus on how delicious this cake actually is! As noted above, it’s unique. It features 2 layers of firm white cake. It includes 2 frostings – neither of which is a traditional frosting. And it includes toasted walnuts and raisins soaked in sherry.

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It's truly a unique dessert!

I grew up in Charleston, SC, and I have vague memories of the Lady Baltimore Cake showing up for special occasions. After all, this cake is a labor of love. But it’s a labor I’m willing to make!

One of the “frostings” for this cake is actually more of a thin sugar syrup that gets drizzled over the cakes while they are cooling. The cakes soak up much of the syrup, and as a result you get a super soft, super tender white cake. I could have eaten that cake by itself – no need for more frosting, nuts or fruit. Just hand me the cake!

The other frosting for this cake is actually a variation of the classic “7-minute frosting.” This is a boiled frosting that hardens up once it sets. I was a bit unsure how this frosting would work on this style of cake – but it was fantastic! Seriously.

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It's truly a unique dessert!

And lastly, the sherry-soaked raisins. I’m not a huge fan of sherry in general (I’m more of a bourbon guy), but I have to say that the raisins brought a unique and tasty layer of flavor to this cake. Next time, I might soak the raisins in bourbon…but that’s just me!

I hope you get a chance to make this cake sometime soon. As noted above, it’s a bit of a process to make this cake. In the American South, this cake is typically seen at weddings, birthdays and holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas. I say this cake is appropriate for any day of the year! Happy baking!

Did you make this Lady Baltimore Cake at home? Leave a comment, or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog). I’d love to see your version!

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It's truly a unique dessert!

Lady Baltimore Cake

A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It's truly a unique dessert!
5 from 6 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 555kcal

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3 large egg whites room temperature

For the Soft Icing

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract

For the Hard Icing

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts lightly toasted

Instructions

For the Cake

  • Using a small bowl, add raisins and sherry; let soak for 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Spray (2) 8” round cake pans with nonstick baking spray; set pans aside.
  • Using a large bowl, sift together cake flour, salt and baking powder; set mixture aside.
  • Using a countertop mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy (~2-3 minutes on medium speed).
  • Add half of the flour mixture to the bowl with the butter and sugar; mix until well combined.
  • Add the milk and almond extract; mix until well combined.
  • Add the remaining flour mixture; mix until well combined.
  • Using a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. (Tip: To save time, use an electric mixer!)
  • Fold half of the beaten egg whites into the batter. Repeat with remaining egg whites.
  • Divide batter evenly into 2 prepared cake pans.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out mostly clean. (Note: While the cake is baking, prepare the soft icing.)

For the Soft Icing

  • Using a small saucepan, add sugar and water. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally, just until sugar has fully dissolved.
  • Remove saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla and almond extracts.
  • Once the cakes have baked, let cool for 5 minutes before transferring cakes to a cooling rack. (Tip: Place cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet so that it will catch any runoff in the next step.)
  • Slowly spoon soft icing evenly on top of warm cakes; let cakes cool completely.

For the Hard Icing

  • Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer; set bowl aside.
  • Using a small saucepan, add sugar and water. Place over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until temperature reaches 240°F.
  • With an electric mixer (fitted with whisk attachment) running, pour the sugar mixture in a slow stream over the egg whites.
  • Add cream of tartar, lemon juice and almond extract. Continue beating for 8-10 minutes, or until mixture cools and thickens noticeably. (Note: This icing will begin to harden fairly quickly, so plan on frosting the cake as soon as the icing is ready.)

To Assemble

  • Place one layer of cake on a large plate. Spread ~½ cup of hard icing on top of cake.
  • Drain raisins and sprinkle half of the raisins and half of the chopped walnuts on top of the hard icing.
  • Place second layer of cake on top. Spread remaining hard icing on the top and sides of cake. Sprinkle remaining raisins and chopped walnuts on top. Let icing harden before slicing and serving. (See note)

Notes

Recipe from the kitchen of Mrs. Emily Whaley.
Note: The hard icing may be a bit loose. If necessary, let it cool a bit longer before frosting the cake. As a side note, I chose to continue pouring small amounts of the frosting on top of the cake. Then I used an offset spatula to push the frosting to the edges of the cake. As it dripped down the sides, I used that same offset spatula to smooth the frosting around the edge of the cake.
A Lady Baltimore Cake features white cake topped with 2 frostings, toasted walnuts and sherry-soaked raisins. It's truly a unique dessert!

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21 Comments

  1. Cant wait to make this soon for the cake can i use vegan butter and oat milk and can i skip raisins and sherry as am not a big fan of raisins and i dont drink or use sherry will be making both frostings for me soon i never had lady baltimore cake before perfect for my after office snacks love your recipes as always brightens up my day everyday after work

      1. So the sherry raisins are one of the key flavors in a Lady Baltimore Cake. You could certainly leave them out if you’re not a fan…it’s just that the cake will be something different then! But it’s still a tasty cake, and I hope you enjoy it!!

  2. I love a recipe with a history! I had to Google Lady Baltimore since I hadn’t heard of the book before. You have to admire Mrs Whaley, who came up with a workable recipe from the novel’s description. It was pretty telegraphic, and purposely so, it seems.

    1. It truly is impressive to come up with a recipe based on that description. Honestly, though, that sounds like a fun challenge to me! In the end, this cake was good. Very different than a traditional cake with frosting, but still tasty. Thanks, Frank!

  3. 5 stars
    First of all, raisins soaked in sherry – I am in. Indeed I think it’s almost a crime offence not to soak raisins in some alcohol prior to using in recipes. Secondly, I am not a huge fan of traditional American frosting, so this meringue-style frosting sounds very pleasing to me (Not to mention the second frosting / soak because I love soft and moist cakes.) And it’s also looks so beautiful and elegant. I love these white and light layers.

    1. Haha – I knew you’d be in on the sherry-soaked raisins! Those are just calling your name. I wonder if you can use that same concept in other recipes? This cake is not a traditional American cake by any means, but it’s still pretty tasty. You should give it a try!!

  4. 5 stars
    I have heard of this cake before, but forgot about it! Glad you brought it back to the forefront! It looks so luscious!

  5. 5 stars
    Definitely putting it in my list! Love the clean white colors of the cake as well as its delicate flavours matching it with that tasty toppings and frosting makes a lot of sense. Love it

    1. Yes, I love the clean white cake here – in fact, this might become my go-to recipe for white cake in the future. And the unique “frostings” really add a lot of flavor!!

    1. It truly is a unique (and somewhat unheard of) cake, Karen – it’s definitely not your standard yellow cake with chocolate frosting! (Although I have no problem with a good standard cake either…haha!)

  6. 5 stars
    This is indeed a unique cake with a unique story behind it! So fascinating how foods originate. I’ll have to admit, I’ve never had anything like this cake, at all! I’ll be curious to give it a try. I’m always game to try new things!

    1. Same here, Kathy – I’m always game to try a new recipe…especially when it is something unique. This is definitely a unique cake! It’s nothing like a standard cake with buttercream frosting, but it’s still quite tasty!

  7. 5 stars
    You had me at sherry soaked raisins, David! Ha ha! But yeah I think you would get away with soaking them in bourbon instead. Or dark rum. Or red wine. Hee hee! Delicious looking cake and fascinating history into the background of it too!

    1. Yeah, those sherry-soaked raisins are pretty fun – I could see them being used in a variety of other recipes, too. Red wine raisins? Now that’s a fun idea, too!! This is a tasty cake indeed – very unlike a traditional cake, but still quite tasty!

    1. It’s a fun cake for sure, Marissa! It’s not a standard cake + frosting, but it’s still quite tasty…and it’s got a great story behind it!

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