Monday, March 24, 2014

An “Antique” Cake

In early Appalachia,  families attending a wedding would contribute one layer to the wedding cake as their gift. In those times flour was expensive, thus just one layer was brought. The layers would be stacked and filled by the bride’s family with apple butter, apple preserves or dried and cooked apples. The number of layers would supposedly determine the popularity of the couple.

It has been said that the cake recipe was brought by James Harrod, the original settler of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, from his home in Pennsylvania. This flavorful cake with its pancake-like layers and spicy-sweet filling has been called “pioneer cake” and “washday cake”, and there are many recipes for it.

I recall a day when I was young that my mother, an aunt and I started to make this cake. Mom developed a severe migraine and went to bed. My aunt and I finished the cake – we worked well together, and it turned out great!

We love this cake with its gingerbread flavors and dense texture. The last one I baked had 8 layers and was served at our family reunion, where it did bring back some good memories.



1 cup solid vegetable shortening
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Cream shortening, molasses and sugar. Beat in eggs, and beat well. Mix dry ingredients and add alternately with buttermilk, beating well. Divide dough into 8 portions. Pat into lightly greased 9” cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until cake tests done. Layers will not be high and full of air, but flatter and more dense than traditional cake layers. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Dried Apple Filling:

8 cups dried apples
5 1/3 cups water
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix apples, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Stir in sugar and spices. Mash apples slightly to the texture you like. I like the filling a little chunky. 

Spread about 1/3 to 1/2 cup filling between layers, leaving the top plain. Wrap the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate – the flavor is better if baked the day before you need it. The cake layers will soak up the apple flavor and be moist and delicious!

Sprinkle the top layer with powdered sugar before serving. Store in the refrigerator.


1)You can find dried apples in the grocery store, but they are rather expensive. I have a food dehydrator that works great for the apples. If you don’t have one, you can thinly slice the apples (any variety, but a mixture works well for good flavor), dip them in a little lemon juice and place them on a cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven till dry. They should not be brittle, but pliable.  This would probably take several hours. Long ago the apples were laid outside on tables with cheesecloth over them until they were dry and leathery.

2) I didn't have enough cake pans, of course, so I bought foil cake pans, and they worked great. I was able to bake 4 at a time.
“The most dangerous food is wedding cake.”
(James Thurber)

“How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?”
(Paul Sweeney)

This cake does take a bit of patience, but it is SO worth it!
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

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