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In the ’70s, Watergate the scandal, cake and salad had everyone’s attention

Watergate cake is made with pistachio instant pudding
Watergate cake is made with pistachio instant pudding

This summer marks the 45th anniversary of the break-in of the Democratic National Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The scandal and coverup led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The event eventually shook the food world resulting in a shortage of pistachio pudding and even pistachios.

The country was deeply divided in 1972 and there was much unrest and tension. Sound familiar? By 1976 two iconic recipes were mainstreamed into life in the suburbs — Watergate cake and Watergate salad. To this day many a Thanksgiving celebration, potluck or church gathering must include one of these recipes or the attendees will cry treason.

No one really knows how the cake or salad got this name, but we do know that these recipes created as much of a stir as the Watergate scandal itself.

Perhaps you remember grandma or a great aunt always preparing a Watergate delight. The key ingredient is pistachio pudding. When Watergate mania swept the nation (in the kitchen, that is) a box of pistachio pudding could hardly be found.

It was almost impossible to keep the pudding mix on the shelves of grocery stores nationwide.

To this day, marketing gurus and advertising execs still marvel at what causes a recipe to cause such mayhem in the market place. Today those execs are trying just as desperately to discover what makes a recipe go viral on the internet.

It makes one wonder what “the” recipe will be that represents the unrest in our country today. Bipartisan cookies, Trump Tower treats or perhaps Washington Ice martinis may hit the big time.

In the meantime, revisit a version of the recipe that created quite a stir in the ’70s and serve dessert, not debates, to your friends when you gather.

Watergate Bundt cake

Makes 1 Bundt cake

Nonstick baking spray with flour

1 (3.4-ounce) box pistachio instant pudding mix

1 (15.25 to 18-ounce) white cake mix

3 large eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup club soda or sparkling water

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons milk

Chopped pistachios or pecans, toasted, for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Spray a 10-cup Bundt pan with nonstick baking spray with flour. Remove 2 tablespoons of the instant pudding mix and set aside for use in the glaze.

In a large bowl, using a hand-held mixer on low speed, beat together the cake mix, remaining pudding mix, eggs, vegetable oil and club soda. Scrape down the sides of the bowl well and continue to beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Stir in chopped pecans.

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the cake on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Invert the cake on to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons reserved pudding mix and milk until smooth. Pour glaze evenly over the cake. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios, if desired.

Tip: If desired, add 1 to 2 drops green food coloring to glaze.

Toasting pecans or pistachios intensifies the flavor. To toast either nut, spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° F. for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted.

Roxanne Wyss is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is “Delicious Dump Cakes.” Other recent books include “Slow Cooker Desserts, Oh So Easy, Oh So Delicious” and “The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After.” She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com .

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