One of Alabama’s more famous culinary specialties, the Lane Cake was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton AL. It was first called Prize Cake, after her entry in the state fair brought home first place. Later, the name changed to reflect her ownership. Her recipe is a type of white sponge cake made with egg whites and consists of four layers that are filled with a mixture of the egg yolks, butter, sugar, raisins, and whiskey. The cake is frosted with a boiled, fluffy white confection of water, sugar, and whipped egg whites. The cake is typically served in the South at birthdays, wedding anniversaries and holidays. The recipe was first printed in Lane’s cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, which she self-published in 1898.
from the Encyclopedia of Alabama: In Alabama, and throughout the South, the presentation of an elegant, scratch-made, laborious Lane cake is a sign that a noteworthy life event is about to be celebrated. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Alabama native Harper Lee, character Maudie Atkinson bakes a Lane cake to welcome Aunt Alexandra when she comes to live with the Finch family. Noting the cake’s alcoholic kick, the character Scout remarks, “Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” Shinny is a slang term for liquor.
The recipe I use and the one in my self-published cookbook, Grits to Guacamole, is one from my hometown and one my family fancied. I have not had it in over 30 some-odd years since I left Greenville and I thought it was high time I brought this memory back around. The recipe is from one of my Grandmothers baking friends, Alma Lowery who made the darnedest best cakes ever. This is one of those cakes that is better after a few days and up to a week, if you can wait that long. Enjoy!
Alma’s Lane Cake
I modified her recipe just a bit, to make it loaded with shinny.
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup milk
8 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
3 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup bourbon or smooth whiskey (not in Alma’s recipe)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
10 egg yolks (Alma’s recipe calls for 8, but you’ll see)
1 cup white raisins, chopped
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans)
1 cup lightly toasted coconut (not in Alma’s recipe)
3/4 cup bourbon or smooth whiskey
Alma’s recipe called for a cooked egg white frosting, this is one also in my cookbook
2 egg whites
1 cup Karo white syrup
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cake: Cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Fold in the milk and half of the egg whites along with 1 1/2 cups of flour and the baking powder. Beat on medium until creamy and add remaining egg whites, flour and vanilla. Reserve bourbon to use after baking the layers.
Prepare 3 cake tins (shiny silver metal works best she says) by buttering the bottom, line with parchment paper (Alma’s notes used brown paper bags) and butter the paper and dust with flour. Pour batter into the pans evenly, tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles and bake in a preheated 350 oven for about 30 minutes. (20 minutes if using 4 pans) If you have to use two racks, use the middle and lower rotating the pans about half way through baking. The cake is done when the top springs back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Let cake cool in pans for about 5 minutes and invert on wire racks to cool completely.
Spoon the bourbon over the tops of each layer allowing it to soak in.
Filling: Cream the butter with the sugar and then add the egg yolks beating until thoroughly mixed. Cook in a double boiler over simmering water stirring often until mixture is thick to coat a spoon and drops away in clumps (this tested to be around 160 degrees F). Remove the pan from the simmering water and stir in the remaining ingredients. Stir until cool enough to frost the cake tops. Use the filling between layers and on top of the sacked cake. Let set while you make the icing.
Icing: Beat egg whites until they stand a peak yet still glossy. Mix the remaining ingredients in a deep saucepan and bring to a rolling boil; cook for 1 minute. With the mixer going, gradually add the boiled mixture in a steady stream into the egg whites beating constantly. Beat until it is of frosting consistency. Spread icing around the sides and on top of the Lane Cake if desired concealing the top filling.
Note: Some folks add candied cherries to the filling making somewhat a Christmas cake, but it is not in Alma’s nor Mrs. Lane’s recipe. I also made mine four layers in keeping with the original appearance of Mrs. Lane’s version.