Maycomb welcomed Aunt Alexandra. Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane Cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight; Miss Stephanie Crawford had long visits with Aunt Alexandra, consisting mostly of Miss Stephanie shaking her head and saying, "Uh, uh, uh". Miss Rachel next door had Aunty over for coffee in the afternoons, and Mr. Nathan Radley went so far as to come up in the front yard and say he was glad to see her.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, Chapter 13
To Kill a Mockingbird was my favourite book as a teenager. I read it every summer for a good few years in the baking Australian sun, feeling that Jem, Scout and Dill might well be just down the road. The overwhelming heat and dust have such an intense impact on the story itself, and the attitudes of so many of the characters; something that I could absolutely sympathise with. But despite the heat (and unlike my sister and I, who survived each January on a diet of raspberry ice-blocks), Maycomb residents are still baking cakes.
The classic Southern Lane Cake pops up a couple of times in the book, generally as a welcome, and almost certainly to allow the baker to show off their baking finesse. Miss Maudie tells Scout that Miss Stephanie, who has been after her recipe for thirty years, will never learn her secrets. Sadly, this holds true for us too, so I've had to look at recipes from various sources - and add a few tweaks of my own.
Just a final note - this is a cake large enough to rival the Bruce Bogtrotter cake from a couple of months back. It's also the most time consuming on the blog so far. It's well worth it for a party or celebration (I surprised my friend Anna with it recently when she opened an art exhibition), but probably not one to tackle one evening after work.
360g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
250g unsalted butter
450g caster sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
8 egg whites
8 egg yolks
225g caster sugar
150g dried sour cherries
100g chopped pecans
250mL rum, bourbon or brandy
1tsp vanilla extract
340g caster sugar
1/4tsp cream of tartar
2 egg whites
1.5tsp vanilla extract
4 x 18cm sandwich tins, or a springform tin if you don't have sandwich tins
Electric hand whisk (or electric mixer)
Serrated knife (if you're cutting the cakes in half)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease the sandwich tins before lining the base of each with greaseproof paper.
2. To make the cakes, cream the butter and sugar with the electric hand whisk until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat again. Add the egg whites into the mixture two at a time, beating thoroughly each time. Sift baking powder, flour and salt together. Fold the flour into the mixture in stages, alternating the additions with the milk. Begin and end these additions with the dry ingredients. The final batter should be smooth but slightly granular.
NB. I baked this cake while visiting family, so didn't have my normal kitchen equipment (though was very excited to use a stand mixer). One thing I was missing were my sandwich tins; I improvised by using a springform cake tin. To ensure both cakes rose equally well, I made the batter in two halves, cooked in the same pan each time, and sliced the cakes horizontally through the middle with a serrated knife once they were cool.
3. Pour the batter into the sandwich tins and level off the top. Bake for 20 minutes (25 if you're baking them in a springform tin) until the edges shrink back from the sides and the top springs back when pressed lightly. Cool the cakes on a wire rack.
4. While the cakes are cooling, you can get started on the filling. Using an electric hand whisk, beat the egg yolks in a saucepan with the sugar and softened butter. Cook on the stovetop over a moderate heat until the mixture thickens (it will take 10-15 minutes), ensuring you stir constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula. Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the cherries, pecans and rum. Leave the mixture to cool in the fridge.
5. Once your mixture and cakes are cool, assemble the cake, with a generous helping of the filling between each layer. The filling is quite runny, and as I baked this on an exceedingly warm spring day (though nothing compared to the blistering heat of Maycomb in summer) I returned the cake to the fridge after each layer. Once the layers are all in place, store the cake in the fridge until you're ready to ice it.
6. To make the icing, put a saucepan of water on to boil. Place the sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water and egg whites in the heatproof bowl. Beat for one minute with the electric mixer. Place the bowl over the saucepan of water and beat on high speed for seven minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
7. Ice the cake with the marshmallow frosting, using the palette knife to ensure a smooth-ish finish. The marshmallow should spread easily, but will set once in place, so don't try and sneak a taste before you serve it!