There are certain foods that anchor us, their scents and tastes intrinsically tied to our memories. They may evoke a special person, or a certain event or time in our lives.
For me, there's no one recipe that is more strongly evocative of this than Apple Stack Cake.
It's a specialty my grandmother made throughout my childhood. She would bake it for special occasions throughout the year -- you could always count on one at Christmas -- but for me, this will always be a birthday cake. For as long as I can remember, this was the cake I would ask my granny to bake for my birthday.
And since my birthday is in the fall, this cake, with its heady aroma of apples, has always evoked autumn for me.
Last year, when Granny asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I asked her just to write down some of her favorite recipes. When she handed me the paper-clipped stack of recipe cards on Christmas, I knew without looking what two of them would be. One was for her signature chocolate gravy, which we wrote about on The Bitten Word last spring. The other was her Apple Stack Cake.
Granny passed away last month, two weeks before my birthday. After going home to Tennessee for her funeral, I knew I wanted to try making the Apple Stack Cake myself for the first time.
So I spent a quiet afternoon on a recent rainy Saturday baking this cake, and loving the scents that filled the kitchen, and the memories of birthdays, autumns and my grandmother that filled my heart.
This cake is delicious, but it's not at all fancy. If you're in a crunch, you can make it with essentially two ingredients: a yellow cake mix and some apple butter. (Yeah, a yellow cake mix. Like I said, not fancy -- and who am I to mess with this recipe?)
But it's well worth your time to make the apple spread yourself. It doesn't take all that long, and the spices you add really make the cake special.
It's incredibly simple to make: You can prepare the apple spread while you're baking the cake layers. The more layers you add, the better it will taste (and the more apple spread you'll need).
The only hard part is waiting to eat it. Letting this cake sit for a day or so before you cut into it is key. The layers of cake soak up the delicious apple spread, making the whole thing amazingly moist and tasty. In fact, the longer you wait, the better this cake seems to get.
Bake an Apple Stack Cake and share it with people you love. Indulge yourself in good memories, and create some new ones.
Granny Ragland's Apple Stack Cake
This recipe ought to make a cake with four layers and enough apple butter for the whole thing. If you want to add layers, add another cake mix and make more spread. (That might be a good idea anyway -- this apple spread makes a delicious topping for toast or English muffins.)
1 box yellow cake mix (which probably will call for a couple eggs and some oil)
For the apple spread (You may also substitute apple butter):
4 cups cooked, dried apples
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp sugar
Bake the cake according to its directions. Split the batter into a couple cake pans -- or more, based on how many layers you want.
On the stove, cook the apples in 2 cups of water until they are soft. Using a food processor or by hand, mash to the consistency of apple butter. Add cinnamon, cloves, allspice and sugar. Mix well, adding water if necessary to make the apple butter spreadable. Let cool completely.
Once the cake layers have cooled completely, slice in half lengthwise to get thin layers of cake. Spread the apple mixture between each layer and on the top and sides. If time allows, let the cake sit for 24 hours -- slice and serve.