Friday, October 5, 2012

Lane Cake--A Southern Classic













In To Kill a Mockingbird, there's a character named Miss Maudie Atkinson who's famous for her "lane cake." What makes them so good? Apparently, they're very "shinny," in other words, loaded with liquor.

I had never heard of a lane cake until I was watching an episode of Cook's Country with Anthony one night and they were making it. The reason to eat the cake is its filling, a dense custard filled with dried fruit and spiked with bourbon. It looks like dog food, but tastes much, much better.

The cake itself is made using what Cook's Country calls the "reverse creaming method," but which I learned in cooking school as the "high ratio method." I've also seen it described as the "two-step" method. Basically, you whisk together your dry ingredients, and then cut in cold butter, as you would for a pie dough. The flour coats all the butter, which prevents the batter from getting over-gluteiny and tough like a loaf of bread. Then you add your liquid ingredients all at once, at the end. Finally, you fold in beaten egg whites to give the cake lift and air.

When the cake is finished, it gets covered in a smooth beaten-egg white frosting, like a marshmallow cream. It's all very light and fluffy, in contrast to the rich, sweet, and chewy filling, which I suppose you could load up with as much bourbon as you think your friends can stand.

Lane Cake
(adapted from Cook's Country)

Cake
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter,
cut into 12 pieces and softened

Filling
5 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Salt
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup pecans
3/4 cup golden raisins
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
1. MIX BATTER Adjust oven rack to middle position and
heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch
cake pans. Whisk milk, egg whites, and vanilla in large
liquid measuring cup. With electric mixer on low speed, 
mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt until 
combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat 
until only pea-size pieces remain. Pour in half 
of milk mixture and increase speed to medium-high. 
Beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Slowly 
add remaining milk mixture and beat until 
incorporated, about 30 seconds.

2. BAKE CAKES Scrape equal amounts of batter 
into prepared pans and bake until toothpick 
inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 
minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, 
then turn out onto wire rack. Cool completely, at
least 1 hour. (Cooled cakes can be wrapped 
in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature 
for 2 days.)

3. MAKE FILLING Whisk bourbon, cream, 
cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth. Process 
coconut in food processor until finely ground. 
Add pecans and raisins and pulse until coarsely 
ground. Melt butter in large skillet over 
medium-low heat. Add processed coconut 
mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until 
golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. 
Stir in bourbon mixture and bring to boil. Off 
heat, add condensed milk and vanilla. Transfer to 
medium bowl and cool to room temperature,
about 30 minutes. (Filling can be refrigerated 
for 2 days. Bring filling to room temperature
before using.)

4. WHIP FROSTING With electric mixer 
fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites 
and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until 
frothy, about 30 seconds. With
mixer running, slowly add sugar and whip until 
soft peaks form, about 2 minutes; set aside. 
Bring corn syrup to boil in small saucepan 
over medium-high heat and cook until
large bubbles appear around perimeter of pan, 
about 1 minute. With mixer running, slowly 
pour hot syrup into whites (avoid pouring 
syrup onto beaters or it will splash).
Add vanilla and beat until mixture has 
cooled and is very thick and glossy, 3 to 
5 minutes.

5. ASSEMBLE CAKE Place 1 cake round on serving
platter. Spread filling over cake, then top with second 
cake round. Spread frosting evenly over top and 
sides of cake. Serve. (Cake can be refrigerated, 
covered, for 2 days. Bring to room temperature 
before serving.) 

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