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Lane Cake, Recipe and History of a County Fair Winner
Please Rate this Recipe for Lane Cake
Traditional Southern Layer Cake
Lane Cake has been a Southern tradition for over a hundred years, since it was first featured in a cookbook in 1898. Emma Lane won a first prize ribbon when she baked her family's favorite cake and entered it in a county fair in Columbus, Georgia. After winning the prize, she called her creation "Prize Cake" and went on to include it in a collection of her recipes, Some Good Things to Eat.
Later, the cake became generally known across the South as Lane Cake, in honor of Emma. In the old South, like its cousin Hummingbird Cake, it was served at fancy parties at plantations and is still served today for birthdays, holidays and other special occasions.
What makes the cake different than just a plain old sponge cake is the addition of a filling of fruit and whiskey. The cake is made a day or two before serving to give the flavors of the filling time to meld together and to develop its "wow factor".
This cake is well known for its alcohol content. Mrs. Lane's recipe describes adding a wine glass full of brandy or whiskey to the fruit. Today, it is common practice to use 1/3 cup of alcohol in the filling. A particularly good recipe is the North Carolina version with the addition of blackberry brandy in place of the whiskey. Some teetotalers prefer using grape juice in place of the "demon" alcohol, especially if the cake is being served at a children's party.
How it Became Famous
Over the years, it has taken its place in the literary world. It was mentioned several times in author Harper Lee's best selling novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In one chapter, a gift of a Lane Cake was given to Aunt Alexandra by Miss Maudie Atkinson. In the book, the young female narrator named Scout has this to say about the cake gift: "Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight". (Shinny was a slang term for whiskey during that time period in the South)
Harper Lee, an Alabama native, was a fan of the baked treat and made other references in the book about the whiskey laden cake. Miss Maudie baked a cake for Mr. Avery who was recuperating from an illness. She refers to having to wait for an opportunity to bake the cake when Stephanie Crawford couldn't see the recipe:
"Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford is not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie has been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming."— Miss Maudie from the novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird"
President Jimmy Carter made a reference to Lane Cake in his memoir Christmas in Plains. He wrote, "I guess it would be more accurate to say that Mama never liked to cook, and welcomed my father into the kitchen whenever he was willing. He was always the one who prepared battercakes or waffles for breakfast, and he would even make a couple of Lane cakes for Christmas. Since this cake recipe required a strong dose of bourbon, it was just for the adult relatives, doctors, nurses, and other friends who would be invited to our house for eggnog."
Christmas Lane Cake Using Square Cake Pans
Changes in the Original Recipe
It is still a popular layer cake, however, it has undergone many changes since Mrs. Lane's original recipe, mostly in the filling ingredients. Many bakers use other fruit in the recipe instead of the raisins. Coconut, pineapple and pecans are popular additions. In North Carolina, chopped apples and cinnamon are used along with raisins and apple brandy makes a good addition to the fruit.
This cake is so versatile and can change with the seasons. For example, a delicious Christmas Lane Cake includes candied red and green cherries, orange peel and figs. It can be made to look more formal by using square cake pans instead of round.
Recipes for this cake vary from kitchen to kitchen and state to state. Part of the charm is making your own creation with ingredients that your family likes or are popular for the season.
- 3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
- 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 8 egg whites
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put wax paper in the bottom only of 4 9-inch cake pans.
- Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, mixing well until light and fluffy.
- Combine the dry ingredients with the creamed ingredients gradually while adding milk as you go. Mix together well and add vanilla while mixing.
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks and save the yolks for use in the filling. Beat egg whites with electric mixer in a separate glass bowl until soft peaks form. Gently add the beaten egg whites to the cake batter. Be careful not to over mix (see tips below). Batter will be smooth but look slightly granular.
- Divide the batter evenly into the 4 pans. Bake in 375 degree oven until the edges shrink slightly away from the side of the pans and cake tester or toothpick inserted in center of each layer comes out clean -- approximately 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Turn the layers out of pans onto wire cooling racks; remove the wax paper and turn the layers right side up; cool completely.
Recipe for Filling
- 8 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 cup bourbon or brandy (or other alcohol of choice) or grape juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
In a bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add sugar and butter to the egg yolks and continue to mix well. Put in a 2 quart saucepan and cook over medium heat; stirring constantly until thick (this might take as long as 15 to 20 minutes to get thick).
When thickened, remove from heat. Stir in raisins, pecans, bourbon and vanilla.
Cool slightly. Spread generously between each cake layer.
How to Make the Frosting
You can use your favorite frosting recipe for this cake or the Seven Minute Frosting recommended here. Some people frost just the sides of the cake and put the filling mixture on top with just a rim of frosting around the edge to keep the filling in place on top. (see picture)
Seven Minute Frosting
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 6 large egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Set a heatproof glass bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. Put in bowl the sugar, corn syrup, 1/4 cup water and egg whites. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer (about 2 minutes).
Remove bowl from the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture on high speed until glossy (about 5 minutes). Beat in the vanilla.
Immediately frost the sides and top of the cake.
Example of Soft Peak Egg Whites
Have you ever eaten Lane Cake?
Tips for Baking Success for This Recipe
You will find that Lane Cake is well worth the time and effort in preparation. Here are a few tips that will insure that you receive rave reviews when serving your cake:
- It is best to make a day or two before serving so the flavors can meld together.
- Store the cake in the refrigerator after making but remove and bring to room temperature before serving.
- Always use a glass bowl when beating egg whites.
- When beating the egg whites, don't over beat them. You want the peaks to be soft when you raise up the beaters. See picture.
- When adding the egg whites to the batter, gently fold them in. Be careful not to crush the air bubbles. The air bubbles make the cake light and fluffy. Without the air bubbles in the egg whites the cake will still taste good but will be dense instead of fluffy.
- Don't be afraid to use different fruits or liquers in the filling. Make your own creation!
© 2013 Thelma Raker Coffone