Recipe by Andrea Hall
This eight-layer cake, an Appalachian specialty, is known by various names, including apple stack cake, pioneer stack cake, and washday stack cake. The last name refers to how the cookie-like layers were often baked on washday and then layered with apple butter and left to sit for a day or two before being served. As the cake sits, the cookie-like layers soak up moisture from the apple butter and soften, becoming tender and cake-like in the process.
Andrea's recipe certainly won us over, but so did the story that accompanied her entry. "I remember my grandmother — 'Mom-Mom'—saying that there was always stack cake on the dining room table when she was growing up. She was born in 1917 into a family of ten in Lone Mountain, Tennessee, a very beautiful rural area south of Cumberland Gap. Baking day was Saturday, and dried apple rings were brought down from the attic, where they were hung every fall, reserved mainly for use in this special cake. Once baked, everything was placed on the dining room table to cool, then covered with a clean tablecloth to keep the flies off until items were put away Sunday morning. Mom-Mom remembers how they loved to go downstairs in the morning and see the large hump under the cloth where the stack cake lay! The anticipation was heightened by the fact that the cake could not be eaten until after Sunday dinner, and all day the scent of spiced apples and baked sugar cookies lingered throughout the house."
Serves 10 to 12
3 (6-ounce) bags dried apples
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
1. For the filling: Bring the apples and water to cover to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer until the apples are completely softened, about 10 minutes. Drain the apples and let cool until just warm, about 15 minutes. Puree the apples in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. (The filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
2. For the layers: Adjust two oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in a large measuring cup.
3. With an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in two batches, beating after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed until combined. (The dough will be thick.)
4. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Working with 2 portions at a time, on a lightly floured surface, roll each out into a 10-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 9-inch cake pan as a template, trim away the excess dough to form 2 perfectly round 9-inch disks. Transfer the disks to the prepared baking sheets and bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Transfer the disks to a rack and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Repeat with the remaining dough. (The layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)
5. To assemble the cake: Place one layer on a serving plate and spread with 1 cup filling. Repeat 6 times. Top with the final layer, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until the layers soften, at least 24 hours or up to 2 days. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve. (The fully assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
Notes from the Test Kitchen
Be sure to let the cake sit at least 24 hours, as the moisture from the filling transforms the texture of the cookie-like layers into a tender apple-flavored cake. This cake takes a while to create but each step is simple and the dough rounds that form each layer are sturdy and easy to handle. Using a cake pan as a template will make this part of the process foolproof and give you an evenly shaped cake.