Best quote from Christmas Day: “Mom, you are the only person in the world who can get away with giving food as a Christmas present. But, boy, am I glad you did!”
I know food isn’t really an unusual gift, but it is most often given to people you just need a remembrance for, not as a major gift. Of course, I often ignore the rules and make it up as I go along.
I made peanut butter fudge for one son, and pumpkin bread for the other. Each one got a full recipe to himself with the option to make some “under the table” trades with each other. (See what I did there? 😛 )Both were thrilled.
I also made food for one of my best friends. He is notoriously hard to buy for, but six days before Christmas he finally dropped a hint of something he would really like.
More specifically, Alabama Lane Cake.
Apparently his mom reminded him that his grandmother used to make a Lane Cake for the holidays when he was a little boy and he had completely forgotten it. He went on and on about how good it was, so obviously I had to make one for his Christmas gift.
This cake is not for the faint of heart or weak of alcohol tolerance. (It has almost a pint of bourbon in it and no, most of it doesn’t cook out.) It has LOTS of ingredients. Dried fruit. Raisins. Coconut. Pecans. Eggs…lots of eggs. It took most of an afternoon to make it, not because it was that difficult, but because it took a while to let the various elements cool before putting it together.
One of the main points that he made about the cake was that it had LOTS of whiskey in it. When I first started searching for a recipe, I kept seeing cakes that had a 1/2 cup of bourbon in the filling and that was it. Hmmm… Hardly qualifies for LOTS.
Eventually, I found a recipe on a blog called Love & Flour which included bourbon in the cake, in the filling, and in the icing. Now we’re talking!
By now, you all know that I rarely follow a recipe exactly, but because there are so many ingredients and because I hadn’t actually tasted this before, I actually followed the recipe.
Start by putting 4 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a bowl and whisking it together. Set the bowl aside.
Cream 2 sticks of butter (1 cup) and 2 cups of sugar with a mixer for about 3-5 minutes. The butter and sugar will be light and fluffy. Add 2 tablespoons of bourbon (I used Jim Beam. It’s an okay quality bourbon, but not super expensive.) and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Keep beating with the mixer.
Put 3/4 cup of milk in a measuring cup. Add part of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture, followed by part of the milk. Keep alternating the flour and milk into the mixture, but be sure to end with flour to keep the batter from curdling. (Be sure to turn the mixer down on a lower setting when adding the flour or you will end up wearing most of it!)
In a separate bowl, beat 10 egg whites to stiff peaks. Be sure to set the egg yolks aside to use in the filling. (I only have one bowl for my mixer, so I transferred the batter to a different bowl and then used the original bowl for the egg whites. You can use a hand mixer, but be sure you have a bowl big enough to handle 10 eggs.) Once the egg whites make stiff peaks, fold them into the batter gently and gradually.
The original recipe calls for cooking the cake in 3 greased and floured 8-inch cake pans. My good cake pans are 9-inch, so I decided to live dangerously and use them anyway. I think this was a good decision because the 9-inch rounds are a little more stable. They are a bit thinner than 8-inch rounds, but that turned out okay, too. This cake is so big, I can’t imagine it being taller!
I also used parchment liners in the pans before greasing and flouring the pans. I used the butter papers to grease the sides of the pans and some on the parchment, then floured as usual.
Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the layers look golden and spring back when you touch them lightly in the middle.
Let the layers cool completely before building the cake.
Now for the filling!
Go ahead and make the filling while the cakes are baking, so they can cool at the same time.
Chop 2 cups of pecans and toast them in the oven until they are aromatic.
Chop 1 1/2 cups of assorted dried fruit. (I used dried cranberries and dried pineapple.)
Toast 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut until just turning brown.
Chop 1/2 cup of candied cherries.
Melt 1 1/2 sticks of butter (3/4 cup) in a medium sized saucepan. Once it is melted, take it off the heat and use a wire whisk to mix in 1 3/4 cups of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 10 egg yolks. Put the saucepan back over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, to 180 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Remove the mixture from the heat again and add the pecans, dried fruit, candied cherries, and coconut. Also add 1 cup golden raisins, 1 cup of bourbon, and 1/3 cup of orange juice. Stir until everything is well mixed, then set aside to cool. (I put mine in the fridge.)
You can prepare the icing just before using it or you can make it while everything is cooling and put it in the fridge while you are waiting to use it.
In a large mixing bowl, beat 2 sticks of butter (1 cup) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt until light and creamy. Gradually add 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar, alternating with 1/4 cup of bourbon. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Gradually add 1/4 cup of half-and-half. Keep beating until the icing is light and creamy.
Check to see if your cakes and filling are completely cool. If they are, it is time for assembly!
Put the bottom layer on a cake plate and top with filling. Spread it to within 1/2″ of the edge of the cake. If you like, you can pipe a line of frosting around the edge to help hold the filling in place. But if the filling is cold, and you don’t push it all the way to the edge, you shouldn’t have a problem. (You can pile a nice, thick layer on there, but make sure it is level before you place the second layer.)
Repeat with the second and third layers. (Yes, you do put filling on the top, instead of icing. This was my one change to the recipe.)
Spread the frosting around the outside of the cake. I found that spreading a thin layer of icing all the way around the cake first, then going back with additional icing over that, kept crumbs and bits of filling from mixing into the icing.
Garnish with whole candied cherries on top.
Most people recommend letting the cake sit for at least a day before cutting it, to let the flavors fully combine. I have heard you can let it sit for up to a week. (I will let you know. The one I made is currently wrapped and in the freezer waiting for New Year’s Eve.)
This is probably one of the prettiest cakes I have ever made. Definitely worth it to make one. But you might want to check IDs before sharing it with anyone!
Update: This cake was a hit at our New Year’s Eve party! It was moist and tender and yummy and gorgeous. If you decide to wrap and freeze it, let it freeze for a couple of hours with no wrapping, then cover it with two or three layers of plastic wrap. That lets the icing freeze so the plastic wrap doesn’t stick to it and ruin the way it looks.