Friday, December 28, 2012

Yuletide Treat

When my Mom was a child the family would gather at one of the aunt's homes and the dessert highlight at Christmas was plum pudding with hard sauce. When I was little we always had lots of cookies, but the highlight of Christmas dinner was the Lane Cake. Lane Cake is a layer cake with a plain white cake for the layers and a rich, fruity, bourbon-laced filling and frosting between the layers and on the top and sides.

We used to start making the Lane Cake the day after Thanksgiving to give the concoction time for the bourbon to mellow and mingle with all those dried and candied fruits. Coconut was fresh and grated by hand. The raisins were put through the meat grinder and came out in long black snakes. The candied cherries were bright red and green and had to be cut up by hand...a sticky business. Pecans were chopped, too. It was a good thing that we had lots of willing hands to help out with all the prep. Mom baked the cake layers and I think Dad assigned us the different prep tasks. The most difficult part was getting the filling just right. Cook it for too short a time and it would slide down the sides and cook it for too long and it turned grainy. You served it in thin slices since it was so rich.

When I had children of my own I made Lane Cake once to carry on the tradition, but found that I was the only one who enjoyed it, so it really wasn't worth all the work. I found that gingerbread, both as cookies and as houses, was what my family wanted for Christmas...and cookies, too.

Last spring when I was working on the Classic Comfort Foods Cookbook I found out that my niece Mandy had become the family Lane Cake maker and that she had changed the recipe a bit, especially by using dried natural cherries instead of the candied ones. The family had also discovered that the cake was fine if you only made it a week ahead of Christmas and also that you could just put the filling between the layers and on the top (but not the sides) which made the consistency of the filling less of an issue.

This year we were thrilled to have Mandy's sister T with us for Christmas. I was thrilled that she made and brought a Lane Cake. I even had the pleasure of being consulted by phone on baking tips the day she made it. It was perfect...moist and flavorful and just a bit boozy. Gorgeous to look at, too, like T herself. We took our portion home and had it with some hot cocoa. It brought back sweet childhood memories for me. Thank you T!  Maybe next year we can bake the cake together?

XO Elle

Lane Cake
from Classic Comfort Foods

Prepare 4 cake pans by greasing them and lining them with waxed paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

1 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3¼ cups flour, sifted
3½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
8 egg whites

Cream butter; add sugar and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to butter mixture. In separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft, glossy points, but not dry. Fold egg whites into batter until incorporated. Divide into the 4 prepared pans. Bake 2 pans to each rack, for 15-20 minutes in preheated oven. Cool 3-5 minutes, loosen edges, and turn out to cool. Remove waxed paper and turn right side up carefully. Set aside while preparing the filling/frosting.

1½ cups seedless raisins
12 egg yolks
1¾ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter
½ cup bourbon whisky
½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
½ cup red and green candied cherries, quartered - or try modern version (Mandy’s) below
1½ cups coconut, shredded (fresh or frozen)

Cover raisins with hot water, let stand to plump. Drain and dry. Chop or grind (Note: Dad used to grind the raisins in a meat grinder, but they can be chopped with a knife, too.) Put egg yolks in top of double boiler; beat slightly. Add sugar, salt and butter. Put over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved, butter melts, and mixture thickens. Do not overcook. Mixture should be almost translucent and should mound when small amount is dropped on waxed paper. Remove from heat; add bourbon. Beat 1 minute with a beater. At this point, mixture can be transferred to a bowl. Fold in nuts, cherries, coconut and raisins. Cool. Spread between layers and on top of cake. (Sides optional) Wrap cake in plastic wrap and mellow one month (or less, about one week, for less stale cake). Serve in thin slices. Serves 20-24.

Niece Mandy’s Modern Lane Cake: “I made the cake the same as the recipe directs; I just did the cakes in 2 batches of 2 pans. 8” this year and 9” last year.

For the filling/frosting, I did a few things differently:

Rather than using 1½ cups raisins and ½ cup candied cherries, I did about 1 ¼ cups dried Traverse City cherries (I’m biased) and ¾ cup other dried fruits (this year was just raisins, but last year I also used currents). I also soak all of these in a combination of freshly-boiled water and a few splashes of bourbon. Just enough liquid to cover the fruit. I then ground about half the fruit and very coarsely chopped the rest, leaving a few whole.

When at the step of combining the eggs, sugar, salt, and butter on top of the double boiler (or bowl over boiling water, like what I used), note that it will take about 30-45 minutes to thicken.”


  1. Oh, WOW! This looks like of like... huh. I think I've seen something like this, but it's a version of fruitcake I've never had. Looks tasty!

    We've had guests and chaos over here - we STILL intend to see you soon!

  2. Tanita, It is a kind of fruitcake and very much the kind I like. Too bad that it is probably all gone :(
    We have also been busy and I have FINALLY finished the class, so let's get together! Any time free in January?

  3. wow looks amazing.Never seen a cake like this before and that icing sounds delicious.
    Love how it brought back so many happy memories for you

  4. Great fun to make festive memories (sometimes you don't even have to like the result but it has to just be there because it belongs)
    This morning I was on the phone with a friend and we came upon the subject of our own early Christmas memories and what our children would remember from what we do. She traditionally places baby Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve, I remembered the Christmas breakfast table with the stollen where my Mom always put three candles in... (*grins* yeah I don't know why either but they had to be there because my sis and I just knew it wasnt Christmas without).

  5. Next Sister Down12:20 PM

    I remember being thrilled to read about a character making a lane cake in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Nobody I knew had ever heard of lane cake, and here it was, in a work of literature! The fact that the cake in the book was made for a festive occasion that was not Christmas was a little disconcerting at first, but that was overshadowed by the delightful knowledge that lane cake was not something concocted by a food writer for a magazine but part of a real culture and tradition.

    I well remember the annual day of the making of the lane cake when we were kids. It was a long, complicated process. There was the cake, which was made from scratch and included beating and folding in of egg whites, always a slightly nerve-wracking prospect. The filling/topping was made in many steps, and many hands were needed--or at least pressed into use--because of the need to grind up the raisins and chop those sticky candied cherries and the tedious grating of the coconut, which we grated right down to the nub of each piece, to the point that our knuckles would get rubbed against the grater and sometimes bleed. But the reward for grating the coconut was getting to eat the piece that had been grated to the point of being too small to grate any further.

    Whenever people would sneer or joke about holiday fruitcake, I would say that they only felt that way because they'd never had *this* type of fruitcake.

  6. That is such a gorgeous cake.
    Your story is so beautiful, shows again how much the traditions of food hold us together in so many ways.
    It looks rich and moist and just perfect ... wish I had a slice.

  7. Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year Elle!

  8. Happy New Year Elle!

    Lovely cake!

  9. Oooh the cake looks wonderful - the texture of the layers looks light and moist while the filling sounds scrumptious although as one who does not like candied fruit, the dried fruit sounds better. But for all the rest, sounds just perfect as it is. Kids don't like it? More for us, I say!