Monday, June 13, 2011

Party Like It's 1898

From the moment I saw the Lane Cake in this month's issue of Saveur magazine, I knew I had to make it.  The cake is steeped in both history and a fair amount of bourbon, and I was intrigued.

According to the article that accompanied the recipe, this cake won first prize at the Columbus, Georgia county fair and the recipe was thereafter published by its creator Emma Rylander Lane in her self-published cookbook Good Things to Eat in 1898.  It also made a cameo appearance in one of my all-time favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Go here for the full article by Nick Malgieri.

The cake is a rich vanilla with a filling of bourbon soaked pecans, raisins and coconut, all topped off with a marshmallow-y icing.


Between the cake, filling and icing, you'll use a dozen eggs, a lot of butter, and even more sugar.  This cake is some serious good eating, from a time before we all started worrying about heart-smart this and saturated fat that.

This cake will make you fat.  Sorry about that.

But I think you should just throw caution to the wind and party like it's 1898.  After all, you only live once.  And you can always eat salad tomorrow.

Lane Cake
Recipe from the June/July 2011 issue of Saveur magazine, which was based on Emma Rylander Lane's recipe in Some Good Things to Eat, self-published in 1898.

Thomas Keller has written the mistake many home chefs make is they prepare a recipe one time and then move on to something else.  His point is the first time through you are only introduced to the recipe, but it requires repetition to master it.  Like the first pancake theory. 

The next time I make this cake (oh, yes, definitely a next time for this one) I will be able to better discern instructions like "cook until the mixture thickens to the consistency of loose pudding."  You KNOW that line threw me, and I cooked the filling too long.  My filling was more like German chocolate cake topping.  Delicious, sure, but not what was supposed to be on the inside of this cake.

The recipe noted this cake tastes better after it sits a day or two and the flavors are able to meld.  I tested this theory by having some at breakfast today, and it was indeed even better than last night when it was freshly baked.  I should probably have some tomorrow, too, in the spirit of accurate blogging, to see if "day or two" is, in fact, correct.

16 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pans (or use Pam for Baking)
3½ cups cake flour
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk
½ tsp. cream of tartar
8 egg whites

1 cup sugar
8 egg yolks
½ cup bourbon or brandy
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup grated coconut
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1½ cups sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
¼ tsp. kosher salt
4 egg whites

1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 3″-deep 9″ cake pans; set aside.  Note:  I use Pam for Baking, which works great and is a LOT less messy.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat butter, 1⅔ cups sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk in 3 batches until just combined, to make a batter. In a large bowl, whisk together cream of tartar and egg whites until soft peaks form; slowly add remaining sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Add to cake batter and fold until combined.

Divide batter between prepared cake pans and smooth tops; bake until done (golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean) about 40 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes, unmold, and cool completely on a wire rack. Using a long, serrated knife, halve both cakes horizontally to create 4 layers in all; set aside.

2. Make the filling: Whisk together sugar and yolks in a 4-qt. saucepan; whisk in bourbon and butter, and heat over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook until mixture thickens to the consistency of loose pudding, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool completely. Stir in raisins, pecans, coconut, and vanilla; set aside.

3. Make the icing: Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer; place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water so that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Cook, whisking often, until the sugar dissolves and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the egg whites reads 140°. Place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and whisk the mixture on medium-high until tripled in volume and stiff peaks form. While the icing whips, place 1 cake layer on a cake stand and top with ⅓ filling; repeat with remaining cake layers and filling, leaving top layer uncovered. When icing is ready, spread it over the top and sides of the cake until the cake is evenly covered, creating swirls, if you like. Chill before serving.

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