Joni Woolf: The famous Lane Cake
Published 11:50 am Saturday, February 23, 2019
Certain that I had written about the renowned cake with Americus connections, I searched my files, back to 2015. I found no trace. The cake arrived in my awareness long before I ever tried to bake it. My friend Lynn Stovall Cass had baked it once, at a Christmas event in Macon, and told me about a relative (perhaps a great-great aunt?) who had created the recipe in 1898, entered it in a county fair contest in Columbus, and won first prize. She named her cake “Prize Cake” and included it in a collection of her recipes. The cake later become known as the Lane Cake, in her honor.
When I moved here from Macon, I became friends with Sarah Jo McKay Roush (Lynn Cass’s aunt) and she instructed me about the Lane Cake, noting that many later recipes added things not in the original version, and that they were definitely NOT the Lane Cake. Sarah Jo’s version (almost identical to the one I found on the internet) is in Calvary Episcopal Church’s cookbook, Food and Faith. Several years ago, I decided to venture out and try this cake of renown, so I made it and took to it a covered dish luncheon at Calvary. Usually at these events, there will be three or four cakes, a couple of pies or cobblers and an assortment of cookies. Not this Sunday: Zona Buchen and I stood waiting for other desserts to appear. But church was over and it was time to do something. That Sunday we learned about cutting a cake in a pattern that gave us 40 slices — some large, some small, but still enough of a sampling that all who wanted a taste, got it. We laughed about it and moved on. But I have not made one since.
I plan to correct that this weekend. I have decided it’s time to make another Lane Cake. I am not a purist about many things, but Sarah Jo haunts me: I might like to add pecans, or pineapple, or candied cherries, but she is whispering in my ear: only raisins. The recipe calls for a “wine glass full of brandy or whiskey.” Later recipes refined that amount to 1/3 of a cup. I think I’ll go with the 1/3 cup. One of my wine glasses might provide twice that amount.
Here’s the recipe, as it was passed on by Sarah Jo. Reading other cookbooks, I have found all sorts of variations, but I think I’ll stick with what Sarah Jo swore was the original. I fear she is looking over my shoulder.
Lane Cake, layers
8 egg whites * (beaten stiff)
1 cup butter
1 cup sweet milk
2 cups sifted sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sift the flour and baking powder together 3 times; cream butter and sugar until perfectly light. Add to butter mixture alternately, a little at a time, the milk and flour, until all are used, beginning and ending with the flour. Last, beat in the well-whipped egg whites and vanilla. Bake in 4 layers, using 8-inch sized cake tins with 1 layer of ungreased brown paper in the bottom of each tin. (I use parchment paper instead.) Bake at 350 degrees F., 25 to 30 minutes.
8 egg yolks *
1 rounded cup sugar
½ cup butter
1 cup seeded raisins (finely clipped)
1 wine glass (4 oz.) good whiskey or brandy)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat well together 8 egg yolks, 1 rounded cup of sugar and ½ cup butter. Pour into a small, deep saucepan and cook on top of stove until quite thick, stirring all the time or it will be sure to burn. When done and while still hot, put in 1 cup of finely clipped raisins, 4 ounces good whiskey or brandy and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Spread thickly between the cake layers. Ice the cake with your favorite white icing. It is much better made a day or two before serving. — Sarah Jo McKay Roush
* The cookbook mistakenly entered 9 instead of 8. Eight is the correct number of eggs.
I used the predictable, always-perfect, 7-minute egg white frosting when I made this several years ago. Some might prefer a butter cream frosting, but I like egg whites and sugar. In some versions I have seen, a small amount of the raisin filling was reserved for the center of the top layer, and the white frosting then added around it and down the sides. Like most recipes, this one can be altered to specific tastes. In this case, I just decided to be faithful to the cake — and to Sarah Jo.
Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org