February 4th, 2013
Harper Lee: Hey, Boo
The Cake That Made Maycomb Famous: The Lane Cake



BY TOM McNAMARA

The Lane Cake is a Southern tradition in these here United States, especially come Christmastime. The story goes that Emma Rylander Lane, of Clayton, Alabama, won first prize with it at the county fair in Columbus, Georgia. She called it “Prize Cake” when she self-published a cookbook, Some Good Things To Eat, in 1898.

This recipe (below) is by way of Emma Rylander Law, Mrs. Lane’s granddaughter, and was published in an article by Cecily Brownstone for the Associated Press on Dec. 19, 1967.

Lane Cake comes up several times in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Miss Maudie Atkinson — the Finches’ neighbor — is known all over the fictitious town of Maycomb for her famous Lane Cakes. The secret to Miss Maudie’s recipe seems to be the bourbon, probably more than the 1 to 3 cups that Mrs. Lane suggests in her recipe. Just ask Scout Finch: “Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.”

You know the saying, You can’t keep a good woman down? Well, Miss Maudie is that sort of woman. Even after her house is half-burned down — causing her to take refuge in the home a rival Lane Cake maker — she keeps on baking: “Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week — he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

LANE CAKE RECIPE

- CAKE –
3 ¼ cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 – 16 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 egg whites
1 cup milk

*On wax paper sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add egg whites, in four additions, beating thoroughly after each addition.

Fold in flour mixture alternately with milk; begin and end with dry ingredients. Batter should be smooth but look slightly granular.

Turn into 4 ungreased 9-inch round layer-cake pans lined on the bottom with wax paper.

Bake in a 375-degree oven until edges shrink slightly from sides of pans and tops spring back when gently pressed with finger, or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean — about 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes.

Turn out on wire racks; remove wax paper; turn right side up; cool completely.

Put layers together (on a cake plate) with Lane Cake Filling, stacking carefully; do not spread filling over top. Cover top and sides with swirls of Boiled White Frosting.
Cover with a tent of foil or a cake cover; or cover tightly in a large deep bowl in tin box. Store in a cool place; if refrigerated, allow to stand at room temperature for half a day before serving because cake texture is best when cake is not served chilled

- FILLING -
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
1 – 3 cup bourbon or brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla

*In a 2-quart saucepan, beat the egg yolks well; beat in sugar and butter. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until quite thick. Remove from heat; stir in raisins, bourbon and vanilla. Cool slightly; use as directed.

- BOILED WHITE FROSTING -
(from a standard recipe)

SOURCE: Associated Press, 1967

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