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What is a Lane Cake?

A standard Lane cake recipe includes raisins.
A good whiskey is a requirement for lane cake.
Pecans are used in Lane cake.
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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 June 2014
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A Lane cake is a quintessential Southern dessert. This cake has been around at least since the late 1800s, when Emma Rylander Lane, of Clayton, Alabama, won first prize with it at the Alabama State Fair. This cake appeared in her cookbook in 1898, when it was called “Prize Cake.” However, the origins of this type of cake are probably older than Mrs. Lane’s recipe.

Southerners, as a rule, are fond of coconut and fruit, and it is a rare Southerner who doesn’t have a sweet tooth. The Lane cake, with its filling of coconut, candied cherries and raisins, was probably popular in the South as early as the 1830s, when such items became more readily available.

Most older Lane cake recipes include a recipe for a vanilla or white cake. With the advances in cake mixes, however, a cook can use a favorite mix cake, baked in two, 9-inch layers. Yellow cake is also a good choice, since it is usually moist.

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An ambitious cook may want to try splitting the cooled layers, so the cake will have four layers, but this is optional. What is not optional is the use of good liquor for the cake and filling. Brandy or bourbon are the best choices, and the liquor should be “smooth.” About one-half cup (120 ml) of the liquor should be spooned onto the layers and allowed to soak in. One-half cup will soak both layers. The other half-cup goes into the filling. Many cooks agree that Wild Turkey or Jack Daniels are the best liquors for a Lane cake. A true whiskey can be too bitter or harsh for the cake, so a bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey, like Jack Daniels, are better choices. The layers should be soaked after they are split.

When the cake layers have been cooled, split and soaked, it’s time to make the filling. Some cooks prefer a double boiler for this, but a cast-iron skillet is this author’s choice. Since a Lane cake filling has some candy-like qualities, the cook should always use a wooden spoon for stirring, so as not to impart a metallic flavor to the filling. A standard cake filling calls for six to eight egg yolks, two sticks butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup raisins, 1 cup grated coconut, 1 cup chopped pecans, 1/2 cup candied cherries, chopped, and 1/2 half cup bourbon.

In an iron skillet over medium-low heat, melt butter to lukewarm. Add sugar. Stir until blended. Add egg yolks and stir well. Make sure butter/sugar mixture is not too hot — otherwise, eggs will curdle. A cook may want add a bit of the batter to the eggs first, and then add them to the mixture. Add fruit, coconut and pecans. Cook on medium to medium-low heat 15 to 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles and turns white and syrupy. The filling should be almost candy-like. Add the bourbon slowly, stirring constantly, and cook another 1-2 minutes. This recipe will fill and ice two or three layers.

Some cooks finish a Lane cake by filling the layers with the coconut mixture, and then frosting the whole thing with a white, seven-minute frosting. Some cooks frost the whole cake with the filling and some fill the layers and spread the filling over the top. Any of these methods is acceptable and one is as “authentic” as another.

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anon280467
Post 13

"If the cake is covered with white icing, it becomes a Lady Baltimore cake."

This is not true. A Lady Baltimore is different in several ways, one of which is that a Lady Baltimore has a fig filling.

Also, a Lane cake doesn't have to be alcoholic, and many sources will tell you that ladies who didn't want to put alcohol in it put fruit juice (usually apple, cherry, or grape) in it. My grandmother, (born 1897) cooked hers that way. The Lane Cake from Southern Living has orange juice in it.

You don't see many cakes that cook fillings and icings anymore. I guess the younger folks think it's too hard.

Does anyone remember an old cake (Southern, maybe?) called a Lemon Cheese Cake that had a frosting cooked with a lot of egg yolks in it like a Lane Cake? It wasn't like a cheesecake today with cream cheese in it; the "cheese" was this cooked icing. Anyone?

anon192348
Post 12

@anon129902: Glad you found the recipe! It really is a scrumptious cake, and worth the effort. I still have to disagree with the posters who pooh-pooh the idea of using a good cake mix. If you have the time, making the cake part from scratch is fine, but that filling takes a while and a lot of stirring and babysitting. I'd rather just have the cake over and done with. If I were making it from scratch, I'd still use a yellow cake recipe, for the same reasons I gave Danie: they just turn out better. White cakes get dry so quickly! Two minutes too long and you've got sandpaper. Yellow cakes are much, much more forgiving, and in my opinion, richer and more flavorful.

In any event, I still strongly advocate 1/2 cup booze in the filling, and soaking the layers in another 1/2 cup. And buy the good stuff. Blended whiskey, club whiskey, Scotch or anything like that will ruin the cake. Turkey, Jack, Jim Beam, Dickel --use a good bourbon or Tennessee whiskey like Mr. Jack's recipe -- my personal favorite. If you have any Gentleman Jack on hand, I imagine that would be divine! Ideally, you should be able to smell the booze when you take off the cake cover (evil chuckle). It shouldn't turn the cake or filling bitter, but it should be noticeable. Something has to cut that sweet filling, and that's the whiskey's job.

That's also why I never use a seven-minute frosting on a Lane Cake. That is just entirely *too* sweet, and you can't taste the filling or cake for all the frosting. If I work that hard on the filling, I want to be able to taste it!

anon129902
Post 11

Thank God for the internet. I am 54 and I remember this cake as a child in Philadelphia. We had it every Christmas. I never really liked it as a child but my taste have changed. It is truly a blessing to have this recipe once again. It brings back so many fond memories. As for the fruit, my Grandmother and Mother used dates and raisins.

anon106252
Post 10

Hi again, Danie. That cake recipe sounds a little weird to me, although because it's a white cake, not a yellow cake, the cooking time and temp may be a little different. If I were you and a novice baker, I might try a yellow cake recipe, just because you don't want to have to fool with beating egg whites, which is a pain in the neck. Either yellow or white is just as authentic, and yellow cakes tend to turn out better for novices.

That icing, now. That's a seven-minute, white divinity frosting, and they are not for the faint of heart. The spinning a thread is a candy-making term and refers to when you pull the wooden spoon from the pot, you should get an unbroken thread of syrup at least 10 inches long before it breaks. We're talking using a candy thermometer, here, and hoping for a non-humid day. If you're in the South, you know how rare that is this time of year. A frosting like the one in the recipe can go very wrong very quickly. I would either look for another, easier seven-minute frosting recipe, or just go without and have the cake with the filling. That white frosting makes a *very* sweet cake. Makes my teeth ache to think about it. LOL. The cake is just as authentic without it. The filling is plenty sweet on its own, and I'd use more than a teaspoon of liquor in it. And you definitely need to spoon 1/2 cup of whisky over the cooled layers before you spread the filling over them. Yes, a boozy cake is a better cake. Heh.

The recipe I used is from my grandmother and great-grandmother. They both preferred yellow cake, were fine Christian ladies and used the whisky.

Hope this helps. Any more questions, just ask and I'll do my best to answer them.

anon106241
Post 9

It's Danie again.

My mom warned me it's not a easy cake to make, so I figure I'll give it a couple of tries over the next month to see if I can make a decent one, kind of a trial and error type thing.

This is my recipe. It might have been helpful to have posted it to begin with, but I didn't really know if anyone would answer me, so thank you very much.

The recipe has a few things marked out and my gran has written in notes so I'll see if I can make it in some order and maybe you can tell me if it makes sense and point out anything I really should know before I start trying.

Mostly I'd like to know about the icing "it spins a thread 10 inches or longer." What is a thread that the recipe is talking about?

Atlanta Lane Cake

Cake -

1 cup butter or margarine

2 cups sugar

3 1/4 cups shifted cake flour

2 teaspoons double acting baking powder

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Filling -

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup sugar

8 egg yolks

1 teaspoon brandy or rum

1 cup seeded raisins

1 cup chopped pecans

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Shift together the dry ingredients and add alternately with milk and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in egg whites. Pour into 3 8inch paper-lined cake pans. (The cooking temp is marked out and my gran wrote this, and it's sort of faded so it's what I think it says) 375-F for 25 to 30 minutes in a moderate oven.

Filling: Cream butter and sugar. Add beaten egg yolks and cook over hot water until think, 15-20 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cool. Spread between layers of cake. If feeling is not stiff enough after cooking, reheat over direct heat and stir until thick.

Icing

2 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup dark corn syrup

2/3 cup water

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla

Dissolve sugar, salt and syrup in the water. Heat. Beat egg whites until foamy. When syrup reached boiling point, pour 3 tablespoons into egg whites. Continue beating eggs until stiff but not dry. Boil syrup mixture to 240-f or until it spins a thread, at least 10 inches long, then pour over egg whites, beating until frosting begins to lose it's gloss and begins to hold it's shape. Add vanilla. Spread over cake.

If the frosting becomes hard, add a drop or two of hot water to the mixture. This frosting does not form a crust which cracks when cutting the cake.

Again, thank you so much for any help you can give me, I'm really excited to try this out, I've really gotten into the baking I've done so far and if I can pull this cake off in the next month I'll be over the moon. --

Danie

anon106238
Post 8

Hi Danie. I'm pretty sure we're talking about the same cake, since you found it in an Atlanta cookbook. If you'll notice in the first paragraph, I say the recipe for the Lane Cake, per se, appeared in that cookbook in 1898, but was probably popular for years before.

A Lane Cake is a fairly ambitious undertaking. It doesn't really matter whether you do four layers or three. Four layers means you baked two and split them in half. This is not the easiest thing in the world to do. You might want to call in some help for that, if you want the four layers. Otherwise, just use a cake recipe that makes three layers.

One poster said the filling was a custard, and that may be true in a Lady Baltimore cake, but not for the Lane Cake. The filling does not use milk. This recipe makes a filling that is more candy-like, in that it is thick and rich, but it's more of a sugar base, not a cream base, as custard is.

Just make sure you use a smooth whisky, not something like a blended whisky, rye or scotch. They will give the cake an unpleasant flavor. I recommend Jack Daniel's, Wild Turkey, Southern Comfort, or George Dickel.

Also, make sure you don't bake the layers too long. Even though you're soaking them in the whisky, a dry Lane Cake is no good.

Good luck, and happy birthday to your great-grandmother! If you have any more questions, ask away. I'll be keeping tabs on the posts. --From the author.

anon106235
Post 7

Okay, I'm a little mixed up, I found a recipe for "Atlanta Lane Cake" in a book published back in 1892 which is a few years before this and other articles say it was first published. It's a old Slovak-American Cook Book and the only big difference between the above recipe and the one in my book, that I can see, is the amount of layers, you say four above but my books says three.

I'm 17 and really new to baking so I don't really know much. But am I talking about the same cake as you are? I'm trying to make a Lane cake for my great grandmother's birthday. She'll be 104 next month. My mom said she used to make them all the time, and I thought it'd be a neat thing to do and found this recipe in this book but now I'm confused because I've been trying to see what tips I could find online.

Any help would be great. --Danie

anon56921
Post 6

If you want to read about the origins of the Lane Cake, go to the Encyclopedia of Alabama. Great little article on it.

anon54157
Post 5

If the cake is covered with white icing, it becomes a Lady Baltimore cake. Faced with making my first lane cake filling and no double boiler (as called for in my grandmother's recipe,) I turned to my microwave.

The filling is basically a custard with the fruit and whiskey added. I also added a tablespoon of cornstarch, because that helps it set up better. You need to keep watching and stirring, but the microwave does a great job with no chance of the custard curdling! Oh, and my grandmother used no cherries -- they were harder to come by in World War II!

anon51624
Post 4

Thanks! My grandmother used to make this cake, and I do remember it. My 88-year-old father is going to get one for his birthday in a couple of weeks. He has repeatedly asked us for it, but no one had the recipe!

DonnaLee
Post 3

This is a truly wonderful, rich cake, quite elegant in appearance, definitely in a league of its own. Labor intensive, but worth it for special occasions. Using a boxed cake mix would be an insult to this cake, so if you're going to do it, take the time and do it right.

anon6919
Post 2

Don't neglect making your own cake. I disagree that "new mixes" are just as good. Balderdash! Also don't forget the chopped pecans in the filling. The best wiskey to use is definitely a Kentucky or Tennessee wiskey. Note that my Grandmother used Rye wiskey sometimes in her Aunt Lotties Lane Cake.

anon5957
Post 1

RE: Lane Cake

The Recipe Mom and I use was published in Better Homes and Gardens in 1951. we have modified it some.

Try assembling the fruit and nuts for the filling a few days ahead of baking the cake. add 1/4 c bourbon and let set, if after 24 hours no drops are visible in bottom of container, add another 1/4 c. Then next day or so proceed with recipe as written but ignore any already added bourbon.

Try with 8" pans and you will get 5 layers, quite impressive.

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