Are you into historic recipes? Me too! Check out this rich chocolate cake that was made for president Franklin Delano Roosevelt by his wife, Eleanor.

FDR's Birthday Cake Recipe: Eleanor Roosevelt's chocolate cake recipe. Click through for this historic recipe!

Full disclosure: This post has nothing to do with politics, but rather my fascination with presidential history and the lives of certain historical figures. Cake is independent of politics.

You can skip ahead to the cake recipe if you want. It’s a no-frills chocolate cake recipe that makes a great birthday cake. I know because I made my own birthday cake this year!

Otherwise, keep reading to find out what inspired this cake recipe.

Why I Made FDR’s Birthday Cake

I’m a bit of a presidential history buff.

Last month, I visited Ulysses S. Grant’s home in Galena, Illinois. In the gift shop, they were selling copies of The First Ladies’ Cookbook, a collection of recipes from each of the First Ladies of the United States.

Being a lover of vintage recipes, presidents and First Ladies, I had to pick up a copy.

One recipe in particular stuck out to me: Franklin’s Birthday Cake, by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

Visiting Hyde Park, New York

Visiting Home Of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, in Hyde Park, New York

Historic recipes give us a glimpse into the past, and in this case, a peek into the lives of two fascinating 20th Century American figures.

Fun fact: Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the first supporters of  home economics movement? One of her goals was to prove that healthy, inexpensive food didn’t have to be bland and flavorless. This was a noble goal in the depression era, and one I can get behind today!

However, she wasn’t known for her culinary skills. Ernest Hemingway was once invited to dinner at the White House, and claimed that the food he was served was some of the worst he had ever eaten. Some of her infamous dishes included:

  • Spaghetti with boiled carrots and white sauce
  • Deviled eggs with tomato sauce
  • Prune whip

Despite all this, her chocolate cake recipe was quite tasty.

 FDR's home in Hyde Park, New York

FDR’s home in Hyde Park, New York

About The Recipe: FDR’s Birthday Cake

  • The cake: This cake is sweet, dense, and not-too-chocolaty. The coffee doesn’t add coffee flavor to the recipe, it just enhances the chocolate flavor.
  • The frosting: The cookbook doesn’t mention frosting, but I thought maple buttercream would be nice. Upstate New York, where the Roosevelts lived, has no shortage of maple producers.
  • The caramelized sugar glaze: Caramelizing sugar is very easy to do, and adds a really unique component to desserts. I drizzled the top of the cake with the glaze, and made a few larger pieces to put on top. The caramelized sugar is almost like a lollipop.. hard and sweet.
  • Single or layered? If I made this recipe again, I might try dividing the batter in half and making a layer cake, with frosting in the middle.

FDR's Birthday Cake Recipe: A vintage chocolate cake recipe that tastes great. Click through for recipe!

FDR's Birthday Cake Recipe: Eleanor Roosevelt's chocolate cake recipe. Click through for this historic recipe!

FDR's Birthday Cake Recipe

Yield: 12 slices
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Watch out: The caramelized sugar can be sharp!


  • 2 sticks (1 cup) room temperature butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup cold black coffee
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) room temperature butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (or half and half)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring (optional)
  • 1/2 white granulated sugar


  1. To make cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt, soda, and cocoa, making sure to get rid of any lumps. Add coffee and butter mixture to the flour mixture, a bit at a time, stirring well. Stir in vinegar and vanilla. Bake in a 9-inch round cake pan coated with non-stick cooking spray and parchment paper. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.
  2. To make maple buttercream frosting: Use a handheld or stand mixer with paddle attachment to beat butter until pale and creamy. Add half of each the powdered sugar, cream, and maple syrup, and continue beating. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar or cream if the frosting, if necessary.
  3. To make caramelized sugar glaze: Heat sugar in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Stir sugar constantly, until it begins to melt and caramelize. Once the sugar is an amber color, remove from heat. Use a spoon to drizzle glaze over the frosted cake. Pour any extra sugar on a parchment paper-lined plate. This will harden as it cools. Break apart and place on top of cake.

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FDR's birthday cake: A recipe from Eleanor Roosevelt. Click through for details!