Alabama Chanin’s first-ever sewing workshop took place in 2008 alongside a seminar on Southern cooking, organized and presented by our friend and collaborator, Angie Mosier. While the sewing participants stitched and chatted, the food preparers fried up some chicken, steamed collard greens and made pot likker, then baked the most delicious Lane Cake. At each meal, Angie explained the history of each dish and its significance within Southern culture. This is where I first learned the details behind one of Alabama’s culinary specialties, the Lane Cake.
Lane Cake was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, as her entry into a county fair baking competition in Columbus, Georgia. She originally called the recipe, “Prize Cake,” but eventually leant her name to the dessert for all posterity. She self-published a cookbook called Some Good Things to Eat in 1898 and included the recipe as one of her featured desserts. Lane Cake is a white, layered sponge cake (originally designed for 4 layers) iced with a frosting that includes coconut, raisins, pecans, and bourbon. It is often found in the South at receptions, holiday dinners, or wedding showers. Chef Scott Peacock writes in The Gift of Southern Cooking that he was served a Lane Cake every year on his birthday.
I don’t remember the first time I ate Lane Cake, but I do remember the first time I read about one. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch described her neighbor Maude Atkinson’s (aka Miss Maudie) Lane Cake as being “so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” In other words, Miss Maudie didn’t skimp on the bourbon.
Miss Maudie’s Lane Cake is a source of pride, so much so that even when her house is partially burned (and she finds herself staying with a rival Lane Cake baker), she continues baking them. Says Miss Maudie, “Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him [Mr. Avery] a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s 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.” Scout demurs that the conservative Miss Stephanie would have the temperament to follow Maudie’s decadent recipe. “I reflected that if Miss Maudie broke down and gave it to her, Miss Stephanie couldn’t follow it anyway. Miss Maudie had once let me see it; among other things, the recipe called for one large cup of sugar.”
At the end of our first sewing and cooking workshop, every participant was given a handmade booklet that included recipes for all of the dishes served that weekend. On her recipe for Lane Cake, Angie notes that the cake can be made ahead of time and “actually improves with two or three days time. Must be the bourbon…”
For the cake:
Rich Butter Cake
Makes enough batter to fill two 8” or 9” round cake pans (this recipe can be doubled).
At room temperature:
6 large egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour (sifted)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened (do not substitute margarine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.
In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the milk, and vanilla. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix for 30 seconds on low speed. Add the softened butter and remaining milk. Mix on low speed until moist, and increase to medium speed (high for hand-held mixers) for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and begin adding the egg mixture gradually, in small batches, beating after each addition for 15-20 seconds.
Pour the batter into greased and floured pans until half full each. Smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
For the filling:
12 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 grated coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup bourbon
Melt the butter. In a saucepan, stir together the egg yolks and the sugar until blended and then stir in the melted butter. Stir the mixture until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the pecans, raisins, and coconut, then the vanilla and bourbon. Allow the mixture to cool a little before filling the frosting the cake with the mixture.
Note: At The Factory Café, we layer and serve Mini Lane (Drive) Cakes in Weck jars, topped with homemade whipped cream. You will find that a small portion of this rich cake is the perfect sweet treat to end a meal.