Did Lane Cake originate in Alabama?

Q: Did lane cake, a type of sponge cake with a fruit and whiskey filling, originate in Alabama?

A: Yes. The cake was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton in Barbour County. According to an article in the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the recipe was first printed in their 1898 self-published cookbook, Some Good Things to Eat.

The article states that, according to chef and culinary scientist Neil Ravenna, Lane first publicized her cake recipe at a county fair in Columbus, Georgia, when she entered her cake in a baking contest and won first prize there.

“She originally called the cake the prize cake, but an acquaintance convinced her to give the dessert her own name,” the article reads.

Lane used the cake recipe as the basis for other cakes in her book, some with orange or lemon cream.

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“The Lane cake has undergone countless changes and twists over the years,” reads the article. “Coconut, dried fruit and nuts are common additions to the filling described in the original recipe. Home bakers who want to do without whiskey or schnapps in the original recipe have replaced it with grape juice, especially for children’s birthday parties. Another common variation is to glaze the entire cake with the filling mix. The Lane cake is often confused with the Lady Baltimore cake, another fruit-filled, alcohol-laced dessert with a different pedigree.”

The article states that in Alabama and throughout the South, the presentation of an elegant, homemade, effortless “Lane cake is a sign that a remarkable life event is about to be celebrated,” the article states.

In the Alabama novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the character Maudie Atkinson bakes a Lane cake to welcome Aunt Alexandra when she lives with the Finch family. Noting the alcoholic kick of the cake, the character Scout remarks, “Miss Maudie made a Lane cake that was so full of shinny it made me cramp.” Shinny is a slang term for spirits.

Below is Lane’s original recipe, according to alabamaheritage.com:

2 teaspoons baking powder

Sift the flour and baking powder three times, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, gradually adding the milk and flour alternately until all is used, beginning and ending with the flour. Finally, fold in the well-beaten egg white and vanilla. Bake in four layers, using medium cake pans, with a layer of ungreased brown paper on the bottom of each pan.

Filling – Whisk together 8 egg yolks, 1 large cup sugar, and 1/2 cup butter. Pour into a small, deep casserole and cook on the stovetop until fairly thick, stirring constantly or it will certainly burn. When done and still hot, add 1 cup deseeded and finely chopped raisins, a wine glass of good whiskey or brandy, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Spread thickly between the layers and the ice cream. It is much better to do it a day or two before using it.

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