To Kill A Mockingbird Lane Cake

by Cara Nicoletti on April 18, 2012

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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.

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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?”.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Miss Maudie’s Lane Cake
Makes 1 9-inch 3-layer cake
Adapted from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock

Ingredients:

  • 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

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Directions:

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.

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Filling Ingredients:

  • 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

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Directions:

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.

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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

Directions:

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.

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Assembly:

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.

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Leave a Comment

Toomanyronis April 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I always make the mistake of reading your blog before I have eaten lunch. Today was no exception.

This looks… insanely delicious.

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silverfinofhope April 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Oh my goodness. At first glance I thought it was like an applestack cake, and now I see that hot damn it is so much more.

And you know? I had forgotten all about the lane cake. You make me want to read my favorite books again…thank you so much. xo

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Better Know A Book April 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Beautiful photos and recipe. And just in time for the movie’s 50th anniversary!

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susan corson April 18, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Lordy Lordy! That looks way too good for a girl on a diet!! Beautiful as always. Keep the yummybooks coming!

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baconbiscuit212 April 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Fantastic! Isn’t that funny how things like that come full circle? Also, why am I not surprised that the cake was from an Edna Lewis recipe. that woman was incredible!

And I love that you kept your drawing from when you were six!

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thegallivant April 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

This is probably one of my favorite posts yet-not just because To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my absolute favorite favorite books but because as a total Easterner I too had had no idea what a Lane cake was….thanks for clearing that up! I will definitely try to make this at home.

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The Elegant Hedgehog April 18, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Let’s pretend that today is April 13th, and that this is Miss Edna’s birthday cake. She would have loved this towering beauty, as I do. You have magic hands, I mean it.

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{Adventuresindinner} April 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Gorgeous, gorgeous cake! I like Scout a lot better than ‘toad’. That was my tom-boy moniker form my Da

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yummybooks May 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm

“Toad” is adorable! I’m called “Doos” almost exclusively by my family. Not sure where it came from but it lead to a lot of poop jokes at my expense if anyone overheard :-/

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Marcy April 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm

My favorite book..and now my favorite post. i had no idea that there was even a cake mentioned in it. That’s why you’re you. It is seriously the most delicious looking cake I have ever seen.

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mari April 18, 2012 at 11:35 pm

What can I say? I think YOU’RE one of the coolest cookies on the planet. I mean come on. A cake inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird? Yum. I’ve been in a creative slump lately but ooooh, this might give me one of the little nudges I need to get back in the game. xo, m

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India April 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Love this. The frosting detail is gorgeous!! MAKE ME A CAKE SOON PLEASE.

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katskusina April 27, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Hi,

To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book I bought using the money I earned from working part time (teenage years). I loved it and I still do. I’ve already given away that copy and I’m painstakingly looking for hardbound print in bookstores.

That book introduced the South and law (i studied pre-law) to me. Although I relate closer to Jem than Scout. I’m still not ready to re-make Ms. Maudie’s lane cake but for sure I’d refer to your recipe once I am.

This one looks so good I want to cry. (Sorry, I’m a drama queen sometimes).

I’ll drop by again.

Love,
-Cath

PS. I was tempted to post an empty page (channeling Scout’s mischievousness). I’m glad I stopped myself.

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yummybooks May 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Thank you for stopping in, Cath! I’m constantly on the look-out for old copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, too! There’s a ton on ebay but they can go for as much as $12,500! Still, it’s worth checking every once in a while. Thanks again, I hope you’ll be back!

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jessicabenjestorf December 7, 2012 at 11:28 pm

This looks so stunning. Really beautiful job with this cake. I will try to re-create!

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Thomas P. December 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm

This looks like the perfect holiday cake! I look forward to trying it.

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Lila Laviolette August 16, 2013 at 12:16 am

I enjoyed reading your blog on this special cake! Since I live in the same (small) town that Emma Rylander Lane lived in (Clayton, Alabama). I thought it was high time I made this cake myself.
Its best made with a good bourbon….. and should smell like booze! The older women folk let this cake sit covered on their porch for a week or so. They put a splash of whiskey on it every other day (airing it out) before they consider it ready to eat!
I often ride past the home that Mrs. Lane lived and baked in (a beautiful ginger-bready Victorian) and think to myself…..how ironic that she’s buried (1856-1904) by the famous whiskey tombstone!
Kind regards, Lila
p.s. Your drawing is fabulous!

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Cara Nicoletti August 17, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Lila, I absolutely LOVE this comment! How wonderful that you live so close to such a fun piece of baking history. I’ve heard of this technique of adding liquor gradually to black fruit cakes and it always intrigued me. I’ll have to try it next time I make this cake (which is often–it’s so good!)
So glad you stopped by!

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Daniel Massi May 27, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Thanks for sharing this recipe! I will probably have it made for me, but To Kill A Mockingbird is my favorite book and I wondered if Harper Lee had put us on to something to go discover for ourselves as part of the deep south I call home.

I too lived in New York and often had a cupcake at Magnolia’s bakery in the village. That was in 2002. Who knew what a phenomena the cupcake would become and I THINK it all started there. And I lived in Mobile, AL and took my early edition of To Kill A Mockingbird to Monroeville on a quest to get Harper (Neil, as she is know there) Lee to sign it. I found the house and should of put two and two together when I rang the bell and the little brass plate said A. Lee. Her sister, attorney Alice Lee, at the age of like 92 (it was 2005 or so) answered the door and let me know her sister was in New York where she lives part of the year. Due to her eye sight and shaky hands she really didn’t sign books anymore anyway. It wasn’t until about 10 miles out of town that I thought…I should of got Alice to sign the book! It was a simple home and I wanted to clean the gutters.

Daniel Massi

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Marylinn Kelly February 3, 2015 at 9:59 pm

So fabulous and, yes, yummy (looking, sounding). Now I know what a Lane cake is. And you blog is genius. xo

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Camille Fabre July 30, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Hello Cara,

Excellent blog mixing my two passions as well, reading and cooking.
If you like French writers (and seems you do as I see Victor Hugo on your list), I recommend L’assommoir written by Emile Zola, which is free to download. One of the most famous scene is the description of a very fine lunch (check chapter 7). The book is a French literature masterpiece and a classic we have to read during our high school studies.

I will continue to browse this blog with great interest. Thanks for putting so much effort, work and talent into it.

Cheers,
Camille

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