Apple Stack cake is the quintessential Tennessee dessert that brings smiles to old times. I’ve collected four recipes that vary, I would like to challenge you to try each one and let me know your favorite recipe.
First, read the history newspaper article about three of the recipes. The forth recipe is from another source.
Layers of love: Apple stack cakes come to the table with family memories attached
Apple stack cake is a traditional Southern Appalachian food whose purpose has changed over the years.
“The story goes that the cakes were served as wedding cakes,” said Norma Idom, a volunteer re-enactor at the Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“There have been several books published (about Appalachia history) that tell how each guest would bring a cake layer and the hostess would stack the cakes up using dried apples as the filling. The more layers the cake had, the more popular the bride,” she said.
Today these cakes are rarely served at weddings but remain a holiday tradition in many homes.
“My apple stack cake recipe is from my former mother-in-law, the late Sara Carmon. She made it at Christmas time. After I got the recipe I began making it for Thanksgiving,” said Mary Lou White Jordan, Etowah.
It’s a practice the family has followed for 30 years.
Jordan said the recipe makes a five-layer stack cake, but she has seen them prepared with as many as eight layers.
“It’s not difficult to make, it’s just a little time-consuming,” she said.
She dries her own apples, then when ready to use, cooks them with a little water until the consistency is right. Then she adds applesauce and apple butter to the filling mixture. After she has assembled the cake she lets it sit overnight, which she said is the key to a moist cake.
But be forewarned. The cake is deceivingly heavy.
“I dropped the first one I made because I wasn’t expecting it to be so heavy,” she said.
The family tradition continues this year as Jordan is making one to take to her son’s home in Nashville.
“I take one to my son Craig’s house every year for Thanksgiving. If I didn’t he would think that maybe I didn’t love him anymore,” she said jokingly.
Melanie Hyams, Knoxville, said her grandmother, the late Janette Elizabeth Hatmaker, was well-known for her apple stack cake recipe.
The cake became very popular with her customers at H&H Restaurant, which she owned.
“She was known for her apple stack cakes, fried pies and other things. During lunchtime there would be people lined up outside waiting to get in that worked at Standard Knitting Mill,” she said.
Hyams said the success of her pie hinged on the filling.
“One of the things that made her apple stack cake so great was she made her own applesauce. Apparently she added spices like nutmeg and that kind of thing to the filling,” she said.
The three-generation recipe for an eight-layer apple stack cake originated with Hatmaker’s mother, Hyams’ great-grandmother.
She said she has few memories of her grandmother but has many fond memories of her Aunt Helen Hodges (Hatmaker’s daughter), who would bring the cake to holiday functions.
“I remember growing up that we would have one every year. I’m figuring she made those cakes for at least 50 or 60 years,” she said.
Her request for the recipe resulted in Hyams and her Aunt Helen spending a day in the kitchen together.
“She said, ‘I can’t just write it down for you. I’ve got to come over and show you how to do it,’ ” she said.
Hyams took “copious notes” during the session “because I didn’t want to leave any detail to chance.”
She transferred the notes to a computer diskette that she no longer has the ability to open.
“I typed it all up and even sent a copy to my brother. Nobody seems to know what they did with their copy,” she said.
She’s found a business that will transfer the information and is contemplating her first attempt at the recipe, perhaps in time for Christmas.
Florence Mitchell, Powell, learned to make apple stack cake from her mother-in-law, the late Jamie Foster Mitchell. She usually makes a six-layer cake but has made an eight-layer cake before.
The filling she uses depends on how much time she has.
“I usually dry my own apples and then cook them. But using apple butter is good, too,” she said.
She remembers the cakes being referred to as “poor man’s cake” because they were made with common pantry ingredients.
“A lot of people like biscuits and apple butter, and it’s just about what it tastes like. It’s delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner,” she said.
If you don’t have time to make your own cake, Susan Corum recommends the apple stack cake from South Knoxville’s Village Bakery.
She said it reminds her husband, Michael, of his grandmother’s stack cake.
“He likes it because the apple filling really tastes like apples. The layers are light and flaky on the edges but fluffy inside. A lot of stack cakes tend to be kind of dry. This is a really nice mix,” she said.
Tina Shelton, manager of Village Bakery, 6202 Chapman Highway, said the bakery has offered the cake for at least 30 years, 20 of which she has managed.
She uses a family recipe.
“We make five layers with a filling of cooked apples mixed with applesauce and apple butter,” she said.
The cake retails for $19.95, and advance ordering is requested.
“We keep a few extra on hand during the holidays,” she said.
The recipes featured below include Jordan and Mitchell’s family recipes and a recipe developed for White Lily Flour.
Mary Lou White Jordan’s apple stack cake
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup molasses
1-2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 quart dried apples, packed tightly, or 6 large apples (Granny Smith and Winesaps), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup applesauce
1 cup apple butter
1/4 cup molasses mix
Cream sugar and shortening together. Add egg and beat well. Stir in 1/2 cup molasses; set aside. Sift dry ingredients together starting with 1 cup of flour. Incorporate buttermilk, alternating between wet and dry ingredients, adding additional flour as needed until stiff dough is formed. (Dough should not be sticky.) Knead on floured surface about five minutes and divide dough equally into five portions. Grease and flour five 9-inch pans. Pat each portion of dough into bottom of pan. Bake at 350 degrees on middle rack for about 10 minutes. Layer will be about 1/4-inch thick. Remove from pan and let cool on baking rack.
Place dried or fresh apples in pot and cover with water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are soft, approximately 10-15 minutes. Drain juice and then mash apples until the consistency of mashed potatoes, leaving smaller pieces of apple intact. Add applesauce, apple butter and molasses. Set aside and let mixture cool. To assemble, place cake on plate, spread with apple mixture and repeat, topping with final layer of cake. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days before serving. Cake is best if it sits for a couple of days before serving.
Florence Mitchell’s apple stack cake
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening (butter or margarine may be substituted)
3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup milk (more if needed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
Apple filling (recipe below)
Mix ingredients together as you would for biscuits. Knead on floured board. Divide into 5 or 6 portions (small layers are best). Pat each into 9-inch cake pans (Mitchell uses a 10-inch iron skillet) that has been greased and floured. Bake at 350 degrees until light brown, about 10-15 minutes.
3 quarts dried apples
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups water
Place ingredients in pot and cook over medium heat 45-60 minutes, or until apples are consistency of apple butter. Let cool. To assemble, place one cake layer onto plate; spread with apple mixture. Repeat process until topped with final layer of cake.
Appalachia apple stack cake
5 1/4 cups White Lily plain all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 packed cups brown sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
Apple filling (recipe below)
Confectioners’ sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease and flour 9-inch cake pans. Reuse pans as needed.
Combine flour, soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. Cream brown sugar and shortening 2-3 minutes, then beat in eggs and vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour until just combined. Divide dough into seven ( 3/4 cup) portions.
Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack. Stack with hot apple filling between layers. Cake is best if you can let it stand 24 hours before serving. If desired, sift confectioners’ sugar over top of cake before serving.
5 cups water
1 pound dried apples
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bring water to boil in Dutch oven. Chop dried apples, using a food processor if you have one. Add apples to water. Cook uncovered over medium heat until all water is absorbed, 20-25 minutes. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
Now the fourth recipe–
This Tennessee Stack Cake recipe rewards patient cooks, as it must sit for an entire day before being served. Allowing the Tennessee Stack Cake to sit is vital, as it allows the oversized sugar cookies in the recipe to soak up moisture from the homemade apple butter and become tender and cakelike.
Serves 10 to 12
Be sure to let the cake set at least 24 hours, as the moisture from the filling transforms the texture of the cookie-like layers into a tender apple-flavored cake.
- 3 (6 ounce) bags dried apples
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- 1. For the filling: Bring apples and water to cover to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until apples are completely softened, about 10 minutes. Drain apples and let cool until just warm, about 15 minutes. Puree apples in food processor until smooth. Transfer to bowl and stir in sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
- 2. For the layers: Adjust oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in large measuring cup.
- 3. With electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and remaining flour mixture. Give bowl a final scrape. (Dough will be thick.)
- 4. Divide dough into 8 equal portions. Working with 2 portions at a time, roll each out into 10-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Using 9-inch cake pan as template, trim away excess dough to form two perfectly round 9-inch disks. Transfer disks to prepared baking sheets and bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating and switching baking sheets halfway through baking time. Transfer disks to rack and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Repeat with remaining dough. (Layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)
- 5. Place 1 layer on serving plate and spread with 1 cup filling. Repeat 6 times. Top with final layer, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until layers soften, at least 24 hours or up to 2 days. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.