The following excerpt is taken from The Southerner’s Cookbook: Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories by David DiBenedetto and the editors of Garden & Gun. The new cookbook, which goes on sale October 27, is by the same editors of 2013’s New York Times Bestselling The Southerner’s Handbook.
Appalachian Apple Stack Cake is communal cooking at its finest. Originally, each layer was baked at home by individual cooks, likely in cast-iron skillets, then brought together and assembled for church suppers and gatherings. Instead of the spongy cakes we’re used to today, these layers are more like cookies — firmer, so they slowly soften beneath liberal applications of apple butter and cooked apples. This recipe stays mostly true to those principles. Instead of individually baking the layers one skillet at a time, though, use a cake pan to trace a pattern on parchment paper and trim circles of rolled dough to fit. Bake two layers simultaneously (more if you have a convection oven). The edges of the cake layers won’t be as perfectly neat as if you’d baked them in skillets or cake pans, but that’s all right. This is a rustic cake.
Applejack Stack Cake
Serves 12 to 16 people
For the Filling:
3 pounds assorted apples, peeled and cut into half-inch wedges
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple cider
1/4 cup applejack, apple brandy, or bourbon
1 1/2 cups apple butter
For the Cake:
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
For the Glaze:
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup reserved apple cider mixture (from the filling)
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the Filling:
1. Put the apples, brown sugar, cider, and applejack in a large saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, about 20 minutes.
3. Drain the apples and reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid. Set aside.
For the Cake:
1. Position the racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Coat two baking sheets with cooking spray.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
4. In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla.
5. In large bowl, with an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the molasses, beating until incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated. Gradually add the buttermilk (the mixture will look curdled); add the flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms — it should look like cookie dough.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl, pat into a round, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
7. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions, about 8 and 1/2 ounces each. On parchment paper, roll portions of dough into circles about 1/4 inch thick. Use an 8-inch cake pan as a guide to trim into uniform 8-inch circles.
8. Bake one circle on each prepared sheet until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.
9. Transfer the circles to cooling racks and let cool completely. The cakes will harden and set as they cool. Repeat with remaining dough.
10. Re-roll scraps to form a seventh layer.
11. Place the first layer on a serving plate and spread with 1/4 cup of the apple butter.
12. Arrange 1/6 of the cooled cooked apples on top of apple butter and top with another layer of cake. Repeat with the remaining filling and cake layers, ending with a cake layer on top.
13. Wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the layers soften, at least 12 hours and up to 2 days.
For the Glaze:
1. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, reserved apple cider mixture, and the molasses.
2. Bring to a low boil over medium/high heat and cook until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until smooth. Let cool for 5 minutes, then pour the glaze over the top of the cake.
4. Slice and serve, or store the cake, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Pro Tip: You only need 1/4 cup of the reserved apple cider mixture to make the glaze. That’ll leave about another cup or so of liquid left over, depending on how much water the apples released, which makes for an elegantly simple cocktail just waiting to happen. Pour some of the cooled cooked cider mixture into a highball glass with a dash of bitters, a squeeze of lemon, and a jigger of bourbon and serve over ice.