A Lane cake is a quintessential Southern dessert. This cake has been around at least since the late 1800s, when Emma Rylander Lane, of Clayton, Alabama, won first prize with it at the Alabama State Fair. This cake appeared in her cookbook in 1898, when it was called “Prize Cake.” However, the origins of this type of cake are probably older than Mrs. Lane’s recipe.
Southerners, as a rule, are fond of coconut and fruit, and it is a rare Southerner who doesn’t have a sweet tooth. The Lane cake, with its filling of coconut, candied cherries and raisins, was probably popular in the South as early as the 1830s, when such items became more readily available.
Most older Lane cake recipes include a recipe for a vanilla or white cake. With the advances in cake mixes, however, a cook can use a favorite mix cake, baked in two, 9-inch layers. Yellow cake is also a good choice, since it is usually moist.
An ambitious cook may want to try splitting the cooled layers, so the cake will have four layers, but this is optional. What is not optional is the use of good liquor for the cake and filling. Brandy or bourbon are the best choices, and the liquor should be “smooth.” About one-half cup (120 ml) of the liquor should be spooned onto the layers and allowed to soak in. One-half cup will soak both layers. The other half-cup goes into the filling. Many cooks agree that Wild Turkey or Jack Daniels are the best liquors for a Lane cake. A true whiskey can be too bitter or harsh for the cake, so a bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey, like Jack Daniels, are better choices. The layers should be soaked after they are split.
When the cake layers have been cooled, split and soaked, it’s time to make the filling. Some cooks prefer a double boiler for this, but a cast-iron skillet is this author’s choice. Since a Lane cake filling has some candy-like qualities, the cook should always use a wooden spoon for stirring, so as not to impart a metallic flavor to the filling. A standard cake filling calls for six to eight egg yolks, two sticks butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup raisins, 1 cup grated coconut, 1 cup chopped pecans, 1/2 cup candied cherries, chopped, and 1/2 half cup bourbon.
In an iron skillet over medium-low heat, melt butter to lukewarm. Add sugar. Stir until blended. Add egg yolks and stir well. Make sure butter/sugar mixture is not too hot — otherwise, eggs will curdle. A cook may want add a bit of the batter to the eggs first, and then add them to the mixture. Add fruit, coconut and pecans. Cook on medium to medium-low heat 15 to 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles and turns white and syrupy. The filling should be almost candy-like. Add the bourbon slowly, stirring constantly, and cook another 1-2 minutes. This recipe will fill and ice two or three layers.
Some cooks finish a Lane cake by filling the layers with the coconut mixture, and then frosting the whole thing with a white, seven-minute frosting. Some cooks frost the whole cake with the filling and some fill the layers and spread the filling over the top. Any of these methods is acceptable and one is as “authentic” as another.