My grandmother made stack cakes every year at Christmas when I was little. She was an excellent cook and baker but wasn’t blessed with enough patience to teach her daughters and granddaughters how to make them.
She never measured anything. Cakes, biscuits, and pies were all made by sight and touch. She held salt in her hand to know how much to add. She rarely guessed wrong.
Unfortunately, she shooed us from the kitchen if we asked too many questions about how to make something. We tried to observe quietly but it was difficult to learn how to cook that way.
When she died, I feared that her wonderful recipe was gone forever. I tried to make it from memory and came fairly close on the apple filling but not the cake layers. I remembered them being thin, like a big soft cookie.
Both my sister and I found the recipe while visiting the Smokies.
For the apple filling between layers:
Arrange a pound of dried tart apples in a large kettle. Cover the apples with boiling water to soften. This make take a few hours or allow to sit overnight. I drained this water but I’m not sure it’s necessary.
Add enough water to almost cover the apples and cook over medium low heat about an hour or until tender. Drain almost all the water from the cooked apples and then mash. I kept about a cup of water in the pot with the fruit.
Add a cup of brown sugar, ¾ cup sugar, 3 teaspoons cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground cloves, ½ teaspoon allspice, and stir well.
To make six cake layers:
Sift 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour into a medium bowl. Add a cup of sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix together.
Beat two eggs in separate bowl and add to flour mixture. Then add a ½ cup soft butter, a cup of buttermilk, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla.
Mix into a soft dough and divide it into 6 parts. Spread about a ¼ cup of flour over a surface to roll out each layer. (The layers are so thin that I rolled it to about half the size needed, placed the dough into a cake pan prepared with cooking spray, and used my fingers to pat it to the sides.)
The instructions suggested baking in a 450-degree oven but I baked at 425 until lightly brown, about 11 to 12 minutes.
Spread each layer with the apple filling except the top layer. Cover and store at least half a day before serving.
My grandmother wrapped her cake in plastic wrap. Then she covered them with towels and stored them in a cool place about two days before slicing. I did the same in her honor.
My guests enjoyed the cake. It felt good to carry on my grandmother’s tradition.
-Sandra Merville Hart
The Tates. Hillbilly Cookin, C & F Sales, Inc., 1968.