If you were invited to a wedding in the Appalachian mountains, you might be asked to bring a cake layer. For generations, a wedding cake has been constructed from these spice cake layers and filled with a thick and fragrant apple butter made from dried apples put up from the fall harvest. The more layers to the cake – 12 to 16, perhaps – the more popular the bride, or so the story goes. Stack cakes may contain other fillings, often lemon or coconut, but the original was and still is apple. Not calling for fancy and expensive ingredients, stack cakes use what people have on hand – modest baking staples like sorghum, flour, and vegetable shortening, and you could bake the cake in a cast iron skillet. Or you can use 9-inch round cake pans. The secret to a great stack cake is to bake it a day in advance and cover it so that the apple filling slowly seeps into the cake. To save time, use apple butter, such as the Old Mill Apple Butter, instead of making the filling.
15 to 16 ounces dried unsulphured apple rings (4 to 5 packed cups)
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups water
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sorghum or molasses
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup low-fat buttermilk, at room temperature
Powdered sugar or sweetened whipped cream
1. For the filling, place the apples in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg over the apples. Pour in the water, which should half-cover the apples. Bring the mixture to a boil, and once boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer, covered, for about 1 hour, or until the apples are soft and the mixture has thickened. Add a bit more water if needed. Remove the apples from the heat and let them cool. When cool, place them in thirds in a food processor and pulse until smooth but some chunks of apple remain. Or mash the apples by hand with a potato masher. You will have about 5 heaping cups of apples to spread between 6 cake layers. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, for the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of six 9-inch round pans. Smear a bit of vegetable shortening on the bottom of the pans to hold the parchment in place, and set the pans aside.
3. Place the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine, and set the mixture aside. In another large bowl, place the shortening, sugar, and sorghum. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, and beating until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. The batter will be thick, more like a cookie dough. Use a strong rubber spatula, if needed, to facilitate mixing.
4. Divide the batter into 6 equal parts. Each part will be about 10 ounces. Spread the batter out into the pans, using the rubber spatula or a flexible metal spatula. Place 2 to 3 pans in the oven at a time, depending on the size of your oven. Bake until the cakes are a light golden color and spring back when lightly pressed in the center, 14 to 16 minutes. Remove the pans to a wire rack to cool 3 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn out the warm layers onto the rack. Immediately spread 1 heaping cup of apple filling over the top of the warm layer. Top with a second layer, spread on filling, top with a third, and so on. Repeat the process for the rest of the batter until you end with the 6th layer on top.
5. Place the cake in a cake saver or under a cake dome for 1 to 2 days before serving. Before serving, sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar or pile on whipped cream.
– Used with permission from Anne Byrn, author of American Cake. This recipe appears in American Cake (Rodale Books, 2016).
Start with fresh apples and an iron skillet and you wind up with an irresistible cobbler!
Old Mill Apple Skillet Cobbler
Makes 8 to 12 servings
2 9-inch pie crusts (see recipe below)
8 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/3-inch thick
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll the pie pastry out to two 9-inch rounds. (Or use two pre-made crusts.)
Place one of the pastry rounds in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Pile the apples into the skillet evenly. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup sugar over the top. Sprinkle on the cinnamon. Distribute the cold pieces of butter across the top.
Cut the remaining round of pie pastry into 1-inch strips. Lay 4 to 5 strips across the top of the apples, leaving a couple inches in between each one. With the remaining strips weave them in an over-and-under fashion to create a lattice pattern. Pinch the edges of the lattice strips to seal them to the bottom crust. Tuck any excess crust under to finish the edges. If desired, scallop the edges or press the edges down with the tines of a fork to create a finished look.
Brush the egg on top of the pie crust. Sprinkle the top of the crust with the tablespoon of sugar. Place the cobbler in the oven.
Bake the cobbler 10 minutes, until golden brown, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is bubbly and the apples are soft, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cover the cobbler lightly with foil if it starts to get too brown. Remove from the oven, and let it rest for 30 minutes. Spoon warm into serving bowls and serve with vanilla ice cream.
Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Cut the shortening into small pieces and distribute over the flour. Cut into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Sprinkle water over the mixture and stir with a fork until the mixture holds together. If still crumbly, add a little more water. Divide into two balls and place each on a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper. Press down on the balls to flatten, wrap securely, and chill 1 hour.
When ready to roll, place the dough rounds on a lightly floured board and roll to 1/8-inch thickness.
When summer blackberries and blueberries arrive in the mountains, well, it’s a signal that summer is really here. If you didn’t know from the heat and the lines in front of the Creamery, you surely know summer is here when berries come into season.
Berries used to grow wild in vacant lots and along fences, and you had to brave the chiggers to wander into those weeds to pluck wild blackberries. You can still find them, but most of the berries we are eating here in the Smokies are grown by local farmers.
A great way to use them is this easy pie called a crisp. No crust is needed. You just pile the fruit and sugar into a baking dish or iron skillet, and then top with a crumbly mixture of oats, flour, sugar, and butter. It bakes up into a heavenly rite of summer passage – something to enjoy with vanilla ice cream.
An old-fashioned favorite, using fresh berries and fruits of the season.
1 teaspoon soft butter for greasing the skillet
4 cups fresh blackberries
3 cups sliced fresh peaches
⅓ cup sugar
1½ cups light brown sugar
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 cup Old Mill Thick Table Rolled Oats
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rub a 12-inch cast iron skillet with the butter. Toss the fruit with the sugar to combine, and turn the fruit into the skillet. Set aside.
Make the topping: Place the brown sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl and stir. Scatter the butter over the top and cut into the dry ingredients with two dinner knifes until it forms coarse crumbs. Fold in the oats. With your hands, crumble this mixture over the top of the fruit. Place the pan in the oven.
Bake until the topping is golden brown, and the fruit mixture is bubbly, about 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
The first week of spring here in the Smoky Mountains brought us a couple of snowy days, but now that the weather’s warming up, we’re all coming down with severe cases of spring fever. And one of the best cures we know of is cake! So for our last entry for March – which is also National Flour Month – we offer you our Blueberry and Lemon Cornmeal Cake. Lightened with ricotta cheese and brightened with fresh berries and lemon juice, the batter features not only our freshly ground cornmeal, but also Old Mill’s all-purpose Plain Flour. It makes a simple but stunning addition to an Easter buffet or any other spring or summer occasion. Come autumn, you can easily turn this versatile recipe into a holiday cake by substituting fresh cranberries for the blueberries, similar to our Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake we offer online. This cake also freezes well, so if you like to do all your baking at one time and give home-baked items to friends and family, this will be a hit!
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter, and place the pan on a baking sheet and set aside.
Place the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Set aside.
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy, 30 seconds. Add the sugar, and beat on medium until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each egg is incorporated, about 20 seconds each. Add the maple syrup, oil, and the grated lemon zest and juice. Blend on medium speed until well combined, 45 seconds.
Turn about a third of the dry ingredients into the batter and blend on low until just incorporated. Add half of the ricotta cheese and blend. Add another third of dry ingredients and blend, then add the rest of the ricotta, and finally the rest of the dry ingredients, blending just to incorporate. Fold 1 1/2 cups of the blueberries into the batter, and blend on low speed to break up the berries a bit, about 30 seconds. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the remaining cup of blueberries on top of the batter, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Place the baking sheet with springform pan in the oven.
Bake until the cake is well browned, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 to 20 minutes. After 1 hour, gently cover the top of the cake with foil to protect it from over-browning. Remove the cake from the oven, and let the cake cool in the pan 20 to 25 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, and unfasten the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely before slicing, about 1 hour. Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream.