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Making Stack Cake

This modern take on a traditional Appalachian stack cake is best eaten within a few hours of being made. The original version (which I intend to make as soon as I can source a little sorghum) needs to “cure” for about a week, since the layers are cookie-like and need time to soften. Here the layers are lighter and fluffier. Combined with a seasonal fresh-fruit filling — in this case strawberries — the results is an exceptionally wicked but not too filling dessert, perfect for a warm weather cookout or afternoon picnic. So let’s get to it. Start by assembling your ingredients and preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. First step: sift the flour, spices and leavening together.

Next, cream the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. You can do this by hand if you prefer.

Once that’s done, beat in the eggs one at a time. If this is starting to look like The Muffin Method to a lot of you, it’s because it is.

Scrape…

Add the next egg…and so on.

With that portion of the batter complete, stir in the flour mixture and buttermilk on low. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little clumpy at this point. It’s not unusual for a rich batter that suddenly has a good amount of water (i.e. egg whites) added to it.

A third of the flour…half the buttermilk…a third of the flour…you know this drill…keep going until everything is in. A few streaks of flour are OK, you don’t want to over mix.

OK, panning time. Spoon about 9 ounces of the batter into a parchment-lined layer pan, spreading it as evenly as you can. Get a little weird about this step since there are six layers and the cake is easier to build when the layers are more even.

Bake each one about 15 minutes until they’re just set. You don’t want the edges to brown too much.

To de-pan, place a rack on top of the payers while they’re still warm…

And flip…

Boom.

Let the pan cool down for about five minutes before you re-use it for the next round of layers. Unless you have half a dozen cake layer pans, in which case you should probably start blogging yourself as you’re clearly a pro. Keep the layers on towels, covered, until you’re ready to use them. Alternately they can be frozen, but make sure to put parchment between them when you stack them, or they’ll stick together.

Now then: to build. I generally build a simple cake like this right on my board, laying down a parchment cake circle first. Like so:

Just add on whatever fruit filling you have prepared. Jam is also acceptable. Thick as it is, it won’t soak into the cake as much either, which means you can make the stack cake up to a day ahead of time. But since there really is no substitute for a homemade fresh fruit filling, I strongly recommend going that route. Spoon on about half a cup or so and spread it around.

You’ll want to get it all the way our to the edges, since a little dripping is part of the aesthetic of this sort of rustic cake. You also want to preview some of those large fresh fruit chunks for your audience, no? Spread and stack, spread and stack…oops that top layer may have a little too much. Oh well…keep on going…

Remember, as you stack, to check the level of each layer. If the cake is getting lopsided, gently rotate the layer on the top so that the thick side — and all the layers will be at least little thicker on one side than the other — is not on top of the thick side of the layer below it. Another thing you want to be sire to avoid is heaping too much filling in the middle of each layer so the cake forms a hump in the center. You’ll notice that when you’re finished building, despite any filling drips or slight unevenness in the layers, that a flap-topped cake nonetheless screams out: this cake was made by someone who knew what she was doing. Oh yes, looking very good.

When you get to the end, you can apply a little powdered sugar, though a plain top is perfectly good, as well as a little more in keeping with the spirit of a stack cake. But then I generally tend towards gilding the lily.

Slice and eat!

Joan adds: I was surprised at how flat and even the finished product was, and I think it was due to our being careful about the filling. I highly recommend using a chunky fruit filling for this cake instead of jam. The help when you’re building it. You can throw a few chunks into sagging and lopsided places to make it more even!

2 thoughts on “Making Stack Cake”

  1. You know that phenomenon wherein you’ve never heard of something and then all of a sudden you read about it everywhere? Stack cake. I read about it on a food forum a couple of weeks ago and was quite taken by it. (They probably read your posts.) I had never heard of this cake or its history. And I thought, why isn’t it in the Richard Sax book? He covers everything American. So I got my book off the shelf, and there it is in black and white. Somehow I had never seen it. This definitely goes on the Things To Make list, but it will have to wait until small crowds can gather again. That’s a big cake!

    I cannot look at this cake without thinking of Dobostorte. I don’t see how there can possibly be a historical or culinary connection between the two, but the similarity is staring me in the face. Dobostorte is like the rich refined cousin to the stack cake, obviously the poor member of the family. But you’re the history buff. Any way to trace a path between these two gems?

    1. Hey Chana!

      I wrote up a little history in the posts that preceded this one. Others have tried to make that connection, but as far as I know there is no link between stack cake and Dobos torte has ever been made convincingly (but I agree with you that the resemblance is striking). I think simple practicality led to this, but you never know. I’m planning to make the real dealio sometime soon (lard, sorghum, dried apples and all). Meantime I’ll keep looking around!

      – Joe

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