Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lane Cake Layers

I made the Lane Cake for a Mardi Gras themed potluck dinner. Now, I confess, Lane Cake has little or nothing to do with Mardi Gras. It is from Alabama, which, hey, is the state next to Louisiana. On the other hand  the New York Times Heritage Cookbook had no recipe for King Cake, which is that fat, gaudy confection with little crowns or coins in it, for sale at Whole Foods and other emporia before Mardi Gras.
It turns out that Lane Cake has a long and respectable history as a Southern dessert, first appearing at the Columbus County Fair in Columbus, Ga. in 1898. It is named for its creator, Ms. Emma Rylander Lane. Lane Cake also appears in To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the greatest books about the American South ever written.
 I never pass up an opportunity to cross a recipe off my list, so at 6:30 Saturday morning, I was downstairs, waiting for the butter to soften for my Lane Cake layers and cleaning up the kitchen.
Lane Cake is a white layer cake. The only step that is a little unusual in the cannon of cake baking is the baker incorporates 8 beaten egg whites into the batter. Prior to adding the egg whites, the batter has the consistency of, say, ... the red clay of the Texas Hill Country. It adheres to the beaters and climbs up the stem of the beaters until the mixer makes a tired, groaning noise that makes the cook fear for its life. The life of the mixer, not the life of the cook, that is.
Since I couldn't figure out how this unbatterlike batter would be transformed into a cake, I poured 1/4 cup of milk into the bowl, scraped the stuff off the beaters and tried again. The result was more like batter. Then, I remembered the egg whites.
One small piece of advice. If you are separating more than two or three eggs, I advise the three bowl method. One large bowl for all the egg whites, and two small bowls, one for the yolks, and one for the white of the egg you are currently separating. Assuming there is no egg yolk in the white, you dump that into the big bowl and move on. If there is egg yolk in one white, you can chuck it, and not have wasted 3 or 5 or 7 perfectly good egg whites.
The addition of the eight beaten egg whites resulted in a soft, shiny batter that poured easily into the pans.
It came out 25 minutes later, tasty looking a golden brown. I removed the cake from the cake pans a few minutes later and put the cakes on wire racks to cool.
While the layers were cooling, Bob and I took all the old florescent mercury containing light bulbs that had been secreted all over the kitchen and basement and the old TV and drove up to Northeast DC to recycle them. A triumph for the environment, as well as for cake.

Lane Cake

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/4 cups flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
8 egg whites, beaten until stiff but not dry.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease and flour three nine-inch layer pans.
3. Beat the butter and sugar together until very light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt twice.
4. Stir the flour mixture alternately with the milk into the batter. Stir in one-quarter of the egg whites. Fold in remaining egg whites until just mixed. Spoon into the prepared pans and bake twenty to twenty-five minutes. Cool in the pans for ten minutes , then turn out onto racks for further cooking.

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