It seems as though every cookbook that has a good dessert section has a recipe for Lane Cake, and they’re all different.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that in looking for the really-real, really-original recipe, I had contacted the gentleman who wrote the Encyclopedia of Alabama entry for Lane cake (he said he thought he had been given something close) as well as talking with Melissa Gray who has another close-but-not-quite recipe for it in her new book All Cakes Considered. It was one of those just-almost-impossible-to-find-the-original things.
Well, I found it…finally. Reprinted in a 1960s newspaper article, run by the Associated Press. They wrote:
Here’s where we set the record straight about one of the most famous cakes in American culinary history.We’re talking about Lane Cake, that glorious invention, four layers deep, stacked with spirited filling and covered with soft white frosting.This cake has been attributed to others than its rightful creator, and its formula has often been desecrated.
…then they go on to say that they know the recipe they are about to give is the original because they have a copy of Emma Rylander Lane’s book (published in 1898), which was loaned to the writer by Mrs. Lane’s granddaughter.
Not sure why I was so insistent on finding the original, other than just knowing that there are so many variations, I wanted to know exactly what the Lane Cake was that all our great-grandmothers (and their mothers) were making.
Plus of course, there’s the part in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ when Aunt Alexandra, who knows “What Is Best For The Family” comes to stay with Atticus, Jem, and Scout for the summer (she “had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was born in the objective case; she was an incurable gossip.”). To welcome her, Scout said that Miss Maudie Atkinson “baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight”.
In Lane cake, shinny is your choice of either bourbon or brandy in the filling.
Also: Emma Rylander Lane says this cake is better made a day or two before you plan on serving it, so if you’d like to plan ahead…
Following is the original listing of ingredients. Now, I have to say this because I’m very protective of copyright (my own and others): what is protected by law is the literary description of how to make a recipe, not a simple listing of a recipe ingredients or formula (all that here). So the list of ingredients is 100% original and the description is all mine. Okay, now that all that’s out of the way, here’s *the* Lane Cake!
Ingredients for the cake:
3-1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp double-acting baking powder
1/16 tsp salt
1 c. butter at room temperature
2 c. sugar
2 tsp vanilla
8 egg whites
1 c. milk
Ingredients for the filling:
8 egg yolks
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter at room temperature
1 c. seedless raisins, finely chopped
1/3 c. bourbon or brandy
1 tsp vanilla
Ingredients for boiled icing:
(the reader is instructed to make and use the standard recipe for boiled white icing – here’s the one I use:)
2 c. sugar
1 c. water
3 egg whites at room temperature
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla
***Use a candy thermometer to make the icing***
Directions for the cake:
Preheat the oven to 375*.
Prepare pans. You can bake these in four cake pans, or do like I did and bake them in two square 8″x8″ pans (and then cut those two cakes into four layers). I just cut a sheet of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan, then there are no worries about it sticking.
I like baking this in two cakes and cutting those in half to make four layers so that you have that good cut surface to better soak up all the filling…
In the Kitchenaid, cream together the butter and sugar until light:
Keep the machine running on low and add the egg whites (keep the yolks in a separate bowl, since you’ll be using them in the filling). Add vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beginning and ending with dry ingredients, alternate adding to the Kitchenaid (on low speed) some of the flour mixture then the milk, then more flour, then more milk until it is all in the bowl.
Pour into pans and bake until done at 375*. Start checking at 20 minutes; mine were done at between 30-35 minutes.
Let the cakes cool (using wire racks for this is good). Once they’re cool, make the filling. This is also the part where if you baked two cakes rather than four, you can go ahead and cut them in half horizontally so you have the four layers to work with.
Make the filling:
Beat the egg yolks in a cold saucepan, then mix in the butter and sugar. Turn the heat on medium and keep stirring until the mixture is warm and nice and thick:
Add the raisins, either bourbon or brandy, and the vanilla.
If you’re thinking that you’d like to add more than 1/3 cup of alcohol to the filling, that’s fine. I made this cake to the letter and we thought it could have taken more, but that’s completely up to you.
Let the filling cool a bit, then begin spreading over the cake layers. The top layer doesn’t get a layer of filling since this cake gets icing all over.
If you made two cakes and cut them into a total of four layers, turn each of the bottom three layers so that the cut side – the interior of the cake (the white part) – is facing up. In this pic, I’ve poured the filling and am about to spread it evenly all over this layer (btw, I kept the raisins whole but cut them up if you like):
The top layer of the cake needs to go on so that the brown, uncut side is up. This keeps all those crumbs from the underneath from getting in the icing:
Since Emma Rylander Lane said that the cake is better made a day or two before enjoying, I wrapped it with Saran and put the cake, with no icing, in the refrigerator.
Directions for boiled icing:
Let the cake come to room temperature when you’re ready to put on the icing.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water, and cook on high until the mixture reaches 240* on the candy thermometer:
Meanwhile, in the Kitchenaid, whip together the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until it reaches the stiff peaks stage. That is, when you lift the whisk up out of the whites, there are peaks that stand up straight:
When the mixture reaches 240*, take the saucepan off the heat and add the vanilla. Let it cool for a couple of minutes. Turn the Kitchenaid on low speed and slowly and *very carefully* pour the hot sugar mixture into the stiff-peaks egg white mixture. Once all the hot sugar is in the Kitchenaid bowl and well incorporated, increase the speed to medium for a minute and then increase to high until the mixture is back to being nice and fluffy – about four or five minutes:
It starts to look like melted marshmallows almost – and that’s what this icing tastes like somewhat:
It’s ready – spread the icing all over the cake. Use a slightly wet paper towel to clean up the edges at the bottom:
Once the cake has the icing on it, it’s ready to be served. I was serving this cake later in the evening, so I placed it in the refrigerator for a little while. It’s suggested that the cake come to room temperature before serving:
Now this is *not* a beautiful picture but just goes to show how thoroughly it was enjoyed!
In all the Lane Cake variations out there, some people add pecans and some even add cherries and coconut flakes to the filling. I think it’s great like this but the addition of pecans does sound nice. If you have a Lane Cake story, I’d love to hear!