Watergate Cake is a classic recipe that’s been an American staple for decades. As a matter of fact, the pistachio-flavored Watergate Cake is said to have garnered its name from its 1974 origin, which was around the time of the famous scandal with President Nixon. People enjoying the new cake recipe (said to have first been made in Maryland) claimed it was full of nuts and "covered up" with icing. It’s certainly a name that sticks in the memory.
This Watergate Cake recipe is from Jaime Bachtell-Shelbert, a holistic dietitian and recipe developer whose blog Wholly Nourished has a ton of fun and inspiring food content. "I wanted to create a cake reminiscent of the classic watergate salad my mom used to make in the summers growing up," she says. "The whipped topping is basically the same as the salad, and it makes the best ‘frosting.’"
Continue reading to see how to make your own perfect, classic Watergate Cake for the ultimate dessert after any meal you serve. It’s really a pistachio lover’s dream come true, and your guests will absolutely love it. Plus, you can have a little fun letting your guests in on the history behind this sweet cake.
Gather the ingredients to prepare Watergate Cake
To get started, you’ll want to make sure you have all of the ingredients you need on hand to successfully bake this delicious pistachio Watergate Cake. For this recipe, you’ll need a box of white cake mix, ¾ cup of vegetable oil (or canola oil), 1 cup of lemon lime soda (such as Sprite), three large eggs, two 3.4-ounce boxes of pistachio pudding (divided), 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (divided into ½ cups), 1 cup of pecans (divided into ½ cups), a 2.6-ounce container of Dream Whip, and a cup of cold milk. You’ll also need two 8-inch round cake pans and some butter or cooking spray to grease the pans.
Keep in mind that a lot of baking recipes suggest room temperature eggs. For this recipe, according to Bachtell-Shelbert, "It’s not imperative that they are room temperature. It does help them whip up better at room temperature but not a deal breaker with a boxed mix especially here."
You might not have all of these items to put this cake together this time around. But fear not — once it becomes a family favorite, these are easy staples to keep in your pantry so you can whip this up anytime you desire. Because great desserts should always be a priority.
Combine the cake mix, oil, soda, eggs, and one box of pudding mix
Before you start mixing anything together, preheat the oven to 325 F. While the oven is preheating, grease the two 8-inch round cake pans so they’re ready to go when the cake batter is mixed up.
Next, you are ready to combine the cake mix, vegetable oil, soda, eggs, and just one box of the pistachio pudding mix in a large bowl. Then, use a hand mixer mix set on low speed to beat everything together for 30 seconds. After that part is complete, switch the mixer to a medium-high setting, and beat everything together for an additional one to two minutes. This is going to make your cake light and fluffy … and oh-so delicious.
Fold in the coconut flakes and pecans
After mixing the batter according to the previous step, use a spatula to gently fold in ½ cup of the coconut flakes and ½ cup of the pecans. There is no need to vigorously stir the nuts and coconut flakes, because you want them to stay intact, if possible.
While pistachio pudding mix has a delightfully nutty flavor, the pecans are essentially the main nut that goes into this cake. But since they’re in the batter and later served on top with the whipped frosting, they’re the reason why this cake got its reputation as being filled with nuts. Plus, they add to the deliciousness of this special dessert — and you can’t beat that added crunch!
Bake the Watergate Cake
Now, this will start to look like a true pistachio lover’s dream. The Watergate Cake batter is ready to go into the oven and bake. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Place the pans side-by-side on a center rack in the oven. Then, you are going to bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of one of the cakes.
When they are done baking, take them out of the oven and cool the cakes on a wire rack. This will ensure that the cakes cool evenly. Use a knife to loosen the cakes from the sides of each pan before turning them over to remove them from the pans before frosting. Make absolutely sure they are completely cool before you remove them.
Prepare the frosting for your Watergate Cake
One of the most appealing attributes of this recipe is the lavish, scrumptious-looking flavored frosting, so this step is an integral part of your dessert.
While the cakes are cooling, you can whip up the Dream Whip-inspired frosting that will be the (literal) "icing on the cake." Combine the boxed Dream Whip topping mix with 1 cup of cold milk in a large bowl. Beat this mixture on high speed for three to four minutes, or until you see that soft peaks form. Add the remaining box of pistachio pudding mix to the Dream Whip mixture, and beat the frosting with a hand mixer again until it is very light and fluffy.
If it seems like less icing than you’d normally have for a two-layer cake, it’s because for traditional Watergate Cakes are only "frosted on top and between layers," per Bachtell-Shelbert. You’re not going to need any frosting to go around the side of your two layer cake.
Frost the Watergate Cake
Now is the fun finishing touch part. To do this, place one of the cake layers on a fun serving platter or cake stand. Spread half of the whipped frosting topping on this bottom cake layer. Sprinkle that layer of frosting with half of the remaining coconut flakes and pecans.
Next, you’re going to carefully place the second cake layer on top of the first frosted cake layer. Frost the second layer with the remaining whipped frosting topping. Then, sprinkle the rest of the coconut flakes and pecans evenly over the cake. Now, you are finally finished, and you can sit back and admire this beautiful masterpiece that you created. We know it will be super tempting, but don’t dig in just yet — wait for your guests to arrive so they can see how amazing your dessert turned out.
Hopefully you will have some leftovers, but that is debatable. If you do and need to store the extra pieces, Bachtell-Shelbert says, "This cake keeps best stored in the fridge because of the whipped topping." So fingers crossed you can use this final step to have some sweetness to enjoy the next day.