When I was nine-years-old my dad took to calling me “Scout.” I was fiercely tom-boyish, with a mushroom-cut, slightly buck teeth, and a such a good throwing arm it made my dad laugh and say “Mercy!”. I wore the same pair of overalls with a “Baseball is Life” t-shirt almost every day and my knees and hands were constantly bruised and dirty.
That fall, my best friends and I discovered what we were sure was a haunted house in the neighborhood. We visited it every day after school, peeking in the windows and leaving messages on notebook paper in invisible ink on the porch. Back at Christie or Meg’s house we would listen to Green Day’s “Dookie” on repeat and paint our nails with turquoise Hard Candy nail polish and talk for hours about what we were sure we had seen behind those yellowing lace curtains. At night, when my dad got home from work, he would ruffle my hair and say “Hey, Scout! Did you see Boo Radley today?”.
Around that time my dad left his worn-out copy of To Kill a Mockingbird on my pillow. The connection that I felt to Scout, with her mischievous, rough-and-tumble exterior and deeply empathetic interior, remains to this day one of the most intense I’ve ever had. I fell so deeply in love with the quiet and fiercely moral Jem that I scribbled his name in my notebook on more than one occasion and wished that he was as real as I felt he was.
I started bugging my mom relentlessly to find a recipe for Miss Maudie’s famous lane cake, a cake, Scout says, “so loaded with shinny it made me tight” (211). I had no idea what this meant but the words alone sounded good enough to eat and I was certain it was the best cake on earth. These days, with the internet, it takes less than three seconds to find any recipe you could ever imagine, but back in 1995 it would have required much more effort and I soon forgot all about Miss Maudie’s cake.
A relic of my six-year-old self hanging in my kitchen.
Years later, two years ago to be exact, I was working as a baker at a Southern comfort-food restaurant in Brooklyn. One day, looking at the prep list, I saw “BAKE/ASSEMBLE LANE CAKE” written in large bold Sharpee. I nearly fainted with joy. “A lane cake?!” I said, “Like Miss Maudie’s?!” No one knew what I was talking about so I set about making the sky-high confection with its thick layers of impossibly airy white cake and intoxicating gooey filling. The cake was everything I dreamt it would be and more.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Oscar-winning film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, and just last week (April 13) was the birthday of the late great Edna Lewis, who brought this cake alive in her iconic “The Gift of Southern Cooking.” Celebrate both of these wonderful events and make this cake!
Miss Maudie’s Lane Cake
Makes 1 9-inch 3-layer cake
Adapted from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
- 3 1/2 cups cake four
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup room temperature half-and half (whole milk will work too)
- 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
- whites of 8 large eggs, room temp (reserve your yolks for the filling!)
- 2 cups sugar
Cream butter in a mixer fit with a paddle attachment and slowly add sugar. In a separate bowl mix together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt and run through a sifter two to three times (I know it’s a pain but I’m convinced it makes a difference). Add the vanilla to the milk. Alternate adding your sifted dry ingredients and the milk to the butter mixture in about three batches. Mix until well-combined being careful not to over-mix. Remove this batter from the mixing bowl and set it aside. Clean out your mixing bowl and put the whites into the mixer. Whip with whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add about a cup of the whites to the very thick batter and mix it to make it looser, then continue to add the whites, carefully folding them in until completely combined. Pour batter into three well-greased 9-inch nonstick cake pans (you can line it with greased parchment paper if you don’t have a non-stick pan but if you do have one I found it was unnecessary with this batter). Don’t worry if it looks like your cake pans aren’t full enough, this cake rises a lot. Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Invert onto cooling racks.
- 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- Yolks of 12 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups of sugar
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
- 1 1/2 cups dried cherries chopped (traditionally raisins are used, you can use any dried fruit you prefer)
- 1 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Melt butter and set aside to cool. In a separate saucepan mix together egg yolks and sugar (don’t do this step too much in advance, if yolks and sugar sit together for too long they do a funny thing called “burning” and create these icky strands of protein). Once your butter is cooled add it to the yolk/sugar mixture and over medium low heat cook the mixture, whisking constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (this took about 7 minutes for me). Mix in the coconut, pecans and cherries and cook for a minute or two more until all of the dry ingredients are well-coated with the yolks. Remove from the heat and add your bourbon, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine and let cool to room temperature before spreading on your cooled cakes.
Stabilized Cinnamon Whipped Cream
- 16 ounces cold whipping cream
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons (1 packet) powdered unflavored gelatin, softened in 2 Tablespoons water
- powdered sugar to taste
Soften your gelatin in water. Begin whipping the cream with the cinnamon, vanilla and powdered sugar (tasting it to see if it’s the right sweetness for you). While the cream whipped heat your softened gelatin, either in the microwave or a saucepan, until it is liquid. With the whisk still going, slowly add the liquid gelatin into the whipping cream and continue to whip until still peaks form. I frosted this cake yesterday in a 90 degree kitchen and the whipped cream held up almost perfectly–what’s left in the fridge is still fully stable and didn’t melt.
Once your cake layers are fully cooled place the bottom layer on your cake stand. Scoop 1/3 of the filling onto the cake–continue this process on the remaining 2 layers. Frost with whipped cream frosting and serve.