★★★★★

Watergate Cake

Watergate Cake brings together pistachio, coconut, and pudding in a delicious layer cake! A light whipped frosting and pecans on top make it hard to stop at just one slice.

Looking for a cupcake version of this vintage cake? Try my Watergate Cupcakes recipe. Or give our pistachio bundt cake recipe a try next!

Watergate cake with pistachio pudding, coconut, and pecans on cake platter.

What is Watergate Cake

If you have any of those old-school church or neighborhood cookbooks, I can bet you there will find at least one recipe for Watergate Cake.

Watergate Cake is about as classic as it gets. There are probably a million variations within each family, but the general elements are white cake mix, pistachio pudding mix, 7Up, coconut and pecans.

You may be familiar with this Watergate Salad recipe…seriously amazing!

Why this Recipe is the Best

Every family has their version of a Watergate Cake recipe, and this is ours.

  • The great thing about Watergate Cake, though, is that it starts with a white cake mix, so it’s pretty quick and easy to make.
  • Adding pistachio pudding mix and lemon-lime soda makes it extra light and moist, and the chopped pecans and coconut add texture and flavor.
  • The original frosting recipe uses Dream Whip (a shelf-stable version of Cool Whip) as the base and is flavored with more pistachio pudding mix to get that classic Watergate Cake green color and flavor. It’s light and fluffy and super easy to make.

If you love my Watergate Cake recipe and are looking for some other senior citizen-style recipes, check out Dad’s Bread Pudding, Pineapple Coconut Cupcakes or Shortbread Cookies.

Ingredient Notes

Ingredients needed to make pistachio cake.
  • Cake Mix. a package of dry white cake mix. In a pinch, a yellow cake mix will work, but the green pistachio color may not be as vibrant.
  • Cool Whip. The original watergate cake recipe that’s been passed down to me called for DREAM WHIP. You can totally swap out the cool whip and use that instead. OR, make homemade whipped cream and add the pudding mix to that.
  • Pistachio Pudding. You will need the Instant Pudding Mix for this recipe. It’s added to both the cake and the frosting for amazing pistachio flavor.
  • Coconut. Sweetened shredded coconut is best. If you prefer, you can add toasted coconut to the outside of the cake, instead of untoasted.
  • Pecans. I like to toast the pecans that we use for this cake, but it’s not necessary.

Tips and Tricks

Step by step photos showing how to make watergate cake.
  • Refrigerate. Keep Watergate Cake chilled for best results. You can also freeze this cake by wrapping individual slices in a plastic wrap, then sliding them into a freezer bag.
  • Toasted coconut variation. Adding coconut to the cake adds so much moisture. But, some people don’t like it ON TOP of the cake. If that’s you, try toasting the coconut for a sweet candy crunch instead.
  • Best whipped topping. Before adding the Cool whip, beat the pudding mix with milk until thickened. This gives the frosting the best light and creamy consistency.

Recipe FAQs

Can I make this as a sheet cake in a 9 x 13 pan?

I’ve got you covered with this Watergate Sheet Cake Recipe! It has all the delicious taste of this one but baked in a single layer.

Can you freeze Watergate cake?

Yes, I recommend baking and freezing the cake layers unfrosted. Double wrap in foil or freezer bags and store for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before frosting.

What can I use instead of Cool whip for the frosting?

You can substitute the Cool whip and for Dream Whip. Just add the pudding mix, milk and beat. Homemade Whipped Cream can be used in this recipe too!

Slice of watergate cake with a fork taking a bite.

More Easy Cake Recipes

Yield: 12 servings

Watergate Cake

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Chill Time 2 hours
Total Time 3 hours 10 minutes

Watergate Cake brings together pistachio, coconut, and pudding in a delicious layer cake! A light whipped frosting and pecans on top make it hard to stop at just one slice.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 box (18.25 ounce) white cake mix
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 package (3 ounce) instant pistachio pudding mix
  • 1 cup lemon lime soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (toasted optional)
  • ½ cup sweetened, shredded coconut

For the Frosting

  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 1 package (3 ounce) instant pistachio pudding
  • 8 ounce Cool Whip, thawed
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (toasted optional)
  • ½ cup sweetened, shredded coconut

Instructions

  1. In large mixer bowl at medium speed, add cake mix, oil, pudding, eggs, and soda. Fold in chopped pecans and coconut.
  2. Pour into greased & floured 9-inch round baking pans and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.
  3. For the frosting, combine pudding mix & milk until slightly thickened (about 2 minutes). Slowly, fold in the Cool Whip until combined. Spread on first layer of cake. Top with second cake layer and cover cake completely in frosting.
  4. Press pecans and coconut into cake and refrigerate two hours or more. Serve cold!

Notes

  • Cake Mix- can't find the 18oz size? This works with 15 oz too.
  • Cool Whip. The original recipe called for Dream Whip. If desired, use 2 envelopes with milk. Beat until fluffly, then add in pudding mix.
  • Refrigerate. Keep Watergate Cake chilled for best results. You can also freeze this cake by wrapping individual slices in a plastic wrap, then sliding them into a freezer bag.
  • Toasted coconut variation. Adding coconut to the cake adds so much moisture. But, some people don't like it ON TOP of the cake. If that's you, try toasting the coconut for a sweet candy crunch instead.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1 slice

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 348Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 49mgSodium: 102mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 2gSugar: 10gProtein: 4g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

It may be vintage but this Watergate Cake recipe never goes out of style!

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About Aimee

Aimee is a dessert lover (specifically rice krispie treats), workout enthusiast, self-taught foodie, and recipe creator.

Learn more about Aimee.

Affiliate Disclosure:**There may be affiliate links in this post! By clicking on them, or purchasing recommended items I may receive a small compensation. However, I only recommend products I love! Thank you for supporting Shugary Sweets! See my disclosure policy for more info**

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Posted on February 14, 2022

Comments & Reviews

  1. Dear, Sweet Aimee, Thank you for publishing a recipe that is so easy to print. I am going to make this cake this weekend. Now, I just turned 89 and while I have heard of and made Watergate Salad, this is the first time I have heard of Watergate Cake. Does it ever look and sound delicious!! I guess it is because I am so young!!

    I just remarried after my husband of 58 years passed away. My new husband and I just made a driving trip from Vermont to Florida and several other side trips.
    Just think of all the time you have left. I do not feel old. If you keep thinking young. Thank you again,

  2. This brings back memories of my grandma. I once asked her why it was called a Watergate cake, and her reply was “Because it’s full of nuts.”. Guess that explains it pretty well. Lol

  3. This cake looks so good. Love pistachios. Will definitely have to make this someday. I’m hoping I can leave out the coconut & that it doesn’t alter the cake in any way. As for this aging thing, it beats the alternative. I’m in my 70’s & feel about the same way as I did in my 40’s. I wish the outside could reflect how I feel on the inside. I’m very energetic & can move as fast as my kids. I’m grateful for every day & plan on living until 100 – maybe more. So Happy Birthday, Aimee, & remember – age is only a number. You certainly don’t look “old” or anywhere close to an “almost” senior citizen. I’M a senior citizen! LOL

  4. Hey, we share a birthday!  Don’t feel so bad about 39.  I just joined the 50’s club! ugh  Happy birthday!!!

  5. Aimee, You are a spring chicken! Repeat, a spring chicken. I should know. I turn 59 in February. Every year is another blessing from the Lord. That’s how I look at it. Happy Birthday and enjoy your day, Lisa

  6. Though this recipe was put out a couple years ago, I just have to add my 2 cents re the name.  My aunt (in-law), introduced it to me when I was in my  20’s.  It was shortly after the Watergate fiasco during the Nixon administration.  She said that is why it was given it’s name.  I distinctly remember how delish this cake was, and I made it when I was a stay at home mom.  Have not made it in years.  You can’t always find pistachio pudding in the grocery stores, so I do stock up with a few boxes when I see it on the shelves.  Uh, If you are a senior at 39 and 40, then I am older than dirt.  When I hit 50 I told everyone I was a Jr. Senior citizen in training.  LOL

  7. This cake did not originate at the Watergate. No, nor did Watergate Salad, another 1970s dish with pistachio pudding mix. So…why Watergate? Let’s go to The Food Timeline:
    “A new Watergate crisis is sweeping the Washington area, but this time only homemakers and a few business men seem to care… The crisis stems from the growing popularity of a recipe for a concoction called “Watergate Cake,” which demands large quantities of powdered pistachio pudding mix, both in the layer cake and in its light green icing. Apparently, only one firm, Royal Pudding, a division of Standard Brands, Inc., distributes pistachio pudding in the Washington area. Supermarkets haven’t been able to get enough to cope with the demands, which began around Thanksgiving time and was very heavy at Christmas. Store shelves have been regularly stripped of the mix the same day it is displayed…If the sales spurt is not directly attributable to the popularity of Watergate Cake… “The we don’t know why this product has suddenly taken off. It’s been just phenomenal…” Barry Scher, a spokesman for Giant Foods, placed the blame not only on the recipe, but also on a coincidental shortage of pistachio nuts. “That was about five months ago, the spokesman said, “And as it ended, this recipe began circulating around. We were bombarded. We hate to admit it, but we just can’t keep the mix on the shelf. The onset of Watergate cake mania–and the resulting effort to close the supply-demand gap –has tested old friendships and challenged the ingenuity and competitive instincts of many a Washington-area homemaking… No one, meanwhile, seems able to pinpoint the origin of this Watergate, the recipe for which has appeared in a number of newspapers, including the Washington Post. Nor can anyone explain how the cake got its name or why pistachio is the main flavoring. One current explanation leans on the presence of crushed walnuts in the cake–“bugs” in the parlance of kids. Like the Giant spokesman, Harold Giesinger, proprietor of the Watergate Pastry shop, had no thoughts on where the recipe originated– except that it was not with his bakery. “We haven’t invented anything to which we’d attach a name like that,” he said. Nor, he added, does his shop rely on pistachio as a key ingredient in any of its products. “A private source may have put it together, ” he said of the recipe. Wherever Watergate Cake started, the pudding firm would like more more problems like it. Gagan suspects some people have been buying more pistachio pudding mix than they’ll ever use, simply because it’s hard to get…Further relief is in sight. Another manufacturer, General Foods, scanning the Watergate-assisted pistachio market, has decided to jump in. Its version is expected to hit the supermarket shelves in March…”
    —“A Watergate Cake Mania,” Alexander Sullivan, Washington Post, February 26, 1976 (p. B2)

  8. I want to try the Watergate cake recipe, I want to know if I can use butter instead of oil? This is my first time on your Webb page and you are os funny and your page is so good.

  9. I am new to this website. My sister shared your “pumpkin blossom cookie” recipe with me on FB this AM. Talk about “senior citizen”, I am one! LOL. Watergate salad is one of our favorites so I am anxious to try you cake! My bday is July 20th and I am 64 yrs. As my two daughters grew older (one is soon to be 41 and the other 39) I always said, “The older my girls get the younger I feel! I just wish my body felt the same way!”
    Blessings to you and many thanks for sharing and Blessing others with your shugary sweets! Oh, P.S. I love homemade cakes too and I have found that box mixes can also be delicious especially when you switch them up with applesauce instead of oil, add pudding mixes, and use Madagascar vanilla bean extract! It is expensive but well worth it! I have even switched up my frostings with pudding mixes. 🙂 Thank you! Be well!

  10. I never knew it was an “old people” cake. We just called it St Patrick’s day cake. Cake is cake and this, plus pumpkin spice cake, is one of my favorites.

  11. I’m very excited to make this cake. The Watergate salad I grew up eating has crushed pineapple in it. Do you think that would work out well with the cake batter? If it’s drained very well? Or maybe it would be too much? Thank you!

  12. I can’t have dairy (bad allergy) so Dream Whip and Cool Whip are not products I can use. Would regular frosting with the pudding added work? I know it won’t be as light. Or maybe a 7-minute frosting?

  13. I’m actually 47 and have never heard of this cake. It looks awesome! And don’t worry….your 40’s will be the best yet. If I had to pick an age to be for the rest of eternity, I would pick my age. Or at least the 43-47 range.

  14. I’m right behind you in age (37 in Feb). A girl I knew decided that 30 was old and asked me how it felt. I had a newborn at home, worked full time at a hospital, hubby was working two states away and overseeing the building of our house. I actually forgot my birthday that year.

    As for this cake, it and my grandma’s walnut glory cake (which is just too fussy for me to handle with small kids around) have always been my favorites.

  15. Perhaps someone already asked this question, but I couldn’t take the time to read all of the comments, since most of them weren’t related to the cake recipe, anyways. That being said, is there any way to make up the difference of the (now) smaller size of cake mixes, since they’re not 18.25 oz. anymore. I also read (somewhere) that they also changed the ‘formula’ a bit. Many ladies have reported that the ‘new’ cake mixes don’t rise well, and they’re soggy in the middle – even when they follow the baking instructiins on the package. Will the new size of cake mix work in your lovely cake recipe, since I’m very anxious to make this cake for an upcoming special event. (BTW, Happy Birthday!)

    1. I have made this cake recently with the new cake mix sizes and no issues. Maybe some recipes are affected, but not all? Good question!!

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