Layer cakes are absolutely essential to Southern culture. It is completely acceptable and quite common, actually, for more than one layer cake to appear on dessert tables at holiday gatherings, baby showers, church suppers…you get the idea! One of the more discrete Southern classics is the distinctive Lane Cake. Also referred to as Prize Cake or Alabama Lane Cake, this unique treat has quite an interesting history!
In 1904 Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, introduced the now classic treat bearing her name in her 1898 cookbook, A Few Good Things to Eat. This self-published cookbook refers to the cake as “Prize Cake,” because it was awarded first prize at a baking contest at a county fair in Columbus, Georgia.
For years, Lane Cake was baked primarily in kitchens of Southerners residing only in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. These are the states considered the Deep South. But over time, revisions of the recipe appeared in cookbooks across the country. This treat reached the peak of popularity in 1960, when it was mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird.
This dessert is a white sponge cake with a bourbon and dried fruit filling reminiscent of fruitcake and a cooked white frosting. If you want to try your hand at making this dessert, I have linked a fabulous recipe here.
This cake’s traditional filling can be dark and overly sweet, so our test kitchen team worked to create a filling that was brighter in both color and flavor. A fantastic tip when making any cake, is to brush each layer with simple syrup. This will ensure that your layers don’t dry out! The recipe above does not include this, so I am also posting a recipe for Bourbon Simple Syrup below from the Lane Cake recipe in the Bake from Scratch Volume 3 cookbook. Simply brush the syrup onto warm cake layers twice!
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (120 grams) water
- ½ cup (120 grams) bourbon
- In a small saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes; remove from heat. Let cool completely. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
I have to imagine that Lane Cake was born out of experimentation with ingredients that Emma Rylander Lane was already familiar with and loved to eat herself.