After it became a crime, Watergate became a cake

After it became a crime, Watergate became a cake

watergate pie

Active time:15 minutes

Total time:45 minutes

Servings:12 to 16 (makes a 9 by 13 inch cake)

Active time:15 minutes

Total time:45 minutes

Servings:12 to 16 (makes a 9 by 13 inch cake)

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Not long ago I channeled Howard Baker and called home to interview my mother.

I wanted to get to the bottom of a dessert she made when I was a teenager growing up in Minnesota — Watergate cake — and started making this year, the 50th anniversary of a Washington landmark break-in that led to the downfall of a president.

What did Dorothy Sietsema know and when did she know?

Mom held me back a little. “I’m not exactly sure when I started,” she says of the sheet cake with the creamy Shamrock Shake green topping and moist, walnut-veined interior. “You can put down the seventies.”

She was more candid about his allure. “I think it looks nice because of its color. I like it because it has nuts in it.” Mom made the Watergate pie for St. Patrick’s Day this year, but in the summer she pulls out the recipe, which she wrote with her own hand. “The whipped cream makes it a lighter dessert, and the light green is reminiscent of the outdoors.” Plus, she adds, “It’s easy to serve and make ahead.”

My mom is the kind of cook who makes pudding from scratch and took the time to make her own version of Hamburger Helper for her kids. But like many women her age, the former public health nurse appreciates the occasional push of the button in the kitchen.

The Watergate Cake, retro as shag carpet and harmless as the Carpenters, it’s all about convenience. The base is a box of white cake mix, a box of instant pistachio pudding mix, 7-Up—remember, this was decades ago in the Midwest—some eggs, walnuts, and vegetable oil. Basically, you open several packs, crack a few eggs, chop some “nut meat” as the recipe goes, and stir it all together. Pop the batter into the oven for 30 minutes, and what’s to stop a cake with a hint of intrigue from rising? The topping is another box of instant pudding mix combined with Cool Whip, which explains the dessert’s durability. Cool Whip is like Aqua Net in its ability to hold – not that the Watergate cake ever lasts long after being served. One slice easily leads to another. For a cake it is surprisingly refreshing.

The Washington Post published a recipe for the cake, similar to my mother’s, in a column called Anne’s Reader Exchange in 1975 and again a year later, along with a news story. “A new Watergate crisis is sweeping the Washington region, but this time only housewives and a few businessmen seem to care,” wrote Alexander Sullivan. “The crisis stems from the growing popularity of a recipe for a concoction called ‘Watergate Cake’, which requires large amounts of powdered pistachio pudding powder.”

At the time, a firm, Royal Pudding, distributed the mix in the Washington area; supermarkets were stripped of the product almost as soon as it hit the shelves, a problem preceded by an accidental pistachio shortage. The writer went on to say that the origin of the cake was not clear, nor was the name, although he suggested the walnuts were “critters” in children’s parlance.

At the time, the owner of Watergate Pastry walked a mile between the breezy dessert and his shop’s selections. “We haven’t invented anything to which we would give such a name,” Harold Giesinger snorted as well as in the paper. “A private source may have put it together.”

Joseph Rodota, author of “The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address” (William Morrow, 2018), says that “the lack of response fits” into the scheme of things. “The bakery, like the hotel, was quite upscale. A cake made with cheap ingredients was off-brand for a hotel known for luxury and privacy.” But it was also part of the “Watergate consumerism” that swept the country at the time, he says, noting that a shop in the complex sold ties with plastic bugs attached to them (Rodota tried the dessert, which the native Californian bought). thinks like “a pistachio version of olive oil cake.”)

Not to be confused with watergate saladWith crushed pineapple and miniature marshmallows along with the pudding mix, Watergate cake is just as susceptible as Rose Mary Woods to manipulation. Some recipes switch nuts, get their fizz from club soda or ginger ale, and include coconut. The batter can take the form of cupcakes, layer cakes and Bundt cakes. The confection, topped with what some recipes call “cover-up icing,” takes on a Christmassy feel with the addition of a maraschino cherry on top of each slice.

Julie Richardson offers a fanciful, labor-intensive version in “Vintage Cakes” (Ten Speed ​​Press, 2012). The cookbook author asks you to make the whole lot: cake, pudding, “impeachment” glaze with mascarpone. Oh yes, the surface is finished with caramelized pistachios.

“I just wanted to try and get into a more natural state,” Richardson says. She never had the version made the old-fashioned way, but she understands its appeal: “You get dessert on the table in no time.” Also “the name is part of our history.”

I like the simplicity of the sheet cake, which keeps well in the fridge (remember: Cool Whip) if you’re not the generous type. “When I have a party,” Mom says, “I send it home with people.”

Sharing is caring. Mom, you’re forgiven.

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ahead: The cake should be assembled and frozen at least 30 minutes before serving.

Storage: Cover lightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

  • Unsalted butter or vegetable oil, for greasing the pan
  • A white cake mix (15.25 ounces / 432 grams), such as Duncan Hines
  • One (3.4-ounce/96 gram) package pistachio instant pudding and pie filling mix, such as Jell-O brand
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) club soda or lime juice, such as Sprite
  • 1/2 cup (1 3/4 ounces/50 grams) coarsely chopped raw walnuts
  • One (9-ounce) container of whipped cream topping, such as Cool Whip
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) whole or skim milk
  • One (3.4-ounce/96 gram) package pistachio instant pudding and pie filling mix, such as Jell-O brand

Make the cake: place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with the butter or vegetable oil.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment – or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, in a large bowl – combine the cake mix, pudding mix, oil, eggs, soda and nuts. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, making sure to scrape everything out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top turns a deep golden color. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool completely for the glaze, about 30 minutes.

Make the topping: Clean the bowl used to make the batter. Then, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment – or if using a hand mixer or whisk, the large bowl – combine the whipped topping, milk and pudding mix. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 2 minutes.

Assemble the cake: Spread the topping on the cooled cake, cover loosely with aluminum foil without touching the surface of the cake (plastic wrap tends to absorb the topping) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. to serve.

Per serving (1 slice about 2 1/2-by-3-inches, with 2-percent milk) based on 16

Calories: 365; Total fat: 21 g; Saturated fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 36mg; Sodium: 416mg; Carbohydrates: 42 g; Dietary fiber: 0 g; sugar: 26 g; Protein: 3 grams

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.

From the mother of food critic Tom Sietsema, Dorothy Sietsema.

Tested by Tom Sietsema; e-mail questions to [email protected]

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