Friday, August 20, 2010

Andrew Johnson, the Civil War, and the First Queen to Dine at the White House

So did you know that Andrew Johnson was the first president to invite a Queen to dine at the White House? In August of 1866, Queen Emma of the Sandwich Islands (now the state of Hawaii) was greeted by President Johnson in the Red Room of the White House and then treated to an elegant reception in the State Dining Room.

During the Civil War, sugar from the Sandwich Islands had become a major import to the North which had outlawed the use of sugar from Southern plantations. Queen Emma’s visit was part of a world tour designed to encourage favorable trade relations between the Sandwich Islands, the United States and other nations.

Of course, then, as today, sugar is an essential ingredient in virtually all sweet Hawaiian dishes and desserts, including Macademia Nut Cookies, Hawaiian Shortbread Cookies, and, of course, Pineapple Upside Down Cakes! If you're looking for a change of pace when it comes to baking cakes, here is qreat recipe to try from

For the topping

1 cup of firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 can (20 oz) of pineapple slices

For the cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
6 Tbsp cake flour
6 Tbsp of ground almonds (from about 2 oz of whole almonds)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups of sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

Start by making the caramel topping. Take brown sugar and butter and combine and melt in a saucepan on medium heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbly, this should take several minutes. (After sugar melts, don't stir.) Pour mixture into a 10 inch diameter stick-free cake pan with 2 inch high sides. Arrange pineapple slices in a single layer ontop of the caramel mixture.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Whisk the flours, almonds, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar and butter together until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream in 2 additions each, beating well after each addition. Pour cake batter over caramel and pineapple in pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

FOOD FACT: During his second voyage to the Americas in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean. Sugar cane production later influenced the development of many islands in the Pacific Ocean, including Okinawa, Fiji, and Hawaii. Sugar comes from two sources: from sugar beets that grow underground and sugar cane stalks that grow in fields. And did you know that sugar cane stalks can grow more than thirty feet high? That's a lot of sugar!

Credit: Andrew Johnson, oil on canvas, Eliphalet F. Andrews (1880) White House Historical Association (White House Collection)