Stack Cake is a rustic multi-layered cake filled with flavorful apple butter. The cake layers are thin and crisp like a cookie when the cake is assembled. The apple butter filling is lightly sweetened with brown sugar and flavored with apple pie spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. It must be made a full 24 hours before serving to give the filling time to soak into the thin, crisp cake layers making them soft and flavorful.
Stack Cake is an Appalachian tradition that dates back to Kentucky’s early settler history. Supposedly it was first introduced to early settlers by James Harrod, the founder of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. It is said that he brought the cake from his home state of Pennsylvania to Kentucky. Residents of Tennessee disagree with this claim saying that their Tennessee Stack Cake was the original.
My limited research reveals numerous variations on this simple dessert and even more claims to its origin. What is agreed upon is that it should be filled with apple and it was popular as a wedding cake.
According to folk wisdom neighbors would each bring a layer of the cake to the bride’s family who would fill the donated layers with apple butter made from their own sundried apples. The more layers the cake boasted the more popular the bride is said to have been. I question this folklore as presented because the cake could not have been eaten on the day it was filled and stack. All stack cake recipes call for the cake to be set aside for a full 24 hours before slicing and eating. The filling needs time to soak into the layers to make them soft and flavorful.
Stack Cake is still popular in Appalachia but is not as well known in other regions. It is a cake that is simple, nostalgic, and perfect for entertaining. Since it must be made at least 24 hours ahead of time the cook is free to concentrate on the meal on party day.
My favorite version of this regional cake came from a greasy recipe box purchased in a junk store. I do not know whose grandma made this great cake but she obviously made it often. Parts of the card were impossible to read so I filled in the blanks by referring to multiple online recipes. I used my own home dried apples for the filling but purchased dried apples work well also.
Apple Stack Cake
6 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 whole eggs, large
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Cup unsalted butter
16 ounces dried apples
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Filling: Place the dried apples and water just to cover in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the apples are completely soft. This will take 15-20 minutes. Drain the apples, saving the liquid, and let cool until barely warm.
Puree the cooked apples in a food processor or blender until smooth. If needed use the drained liquid 1 teaspoon at a time to make a smooth, think puree. Pour pureed apples into a medium sized mixing bowl.
In a small bowl thoroughly mix together the brown sugar and spices. When thoroughly mixed stir into cooling apples and continue mixing until sugar is completely dissolved.
The filling may be refrigerated in an airtight for up to 2 days.)
Adjust the oven racks to the upper middle and lower middles positions and preheat the oven to 350° F.
If you have a 9” springform pan then use the bottom disk as a form for baking the layers. Prepare the disk for baking by spraying with nonstick spray and lining with parchment paper. Set aside. If you do not own a spring form pan see note below for an alternate method.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl.
Lightly whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla together in a large measuring cup.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat that sugar and butter together at medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the buttermilk mixture in 2, mixing the batter only as much as necessary to blend the ingredients. The dough will be thick like cookie dough.
Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Press each portion into a greased and parchment paper lined 9 inch spring form pan round. Bake each disk in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Let cookie layers cool for 3-5 minutes before lifting off springform pan bottom and let cool completely on wire racks. Let pan cool and repeat until all eight disks are baked. *
Layers can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.
To assemble Stack Cake place one cake layer on a cake platter and spread with ¾ cup of the apple filling. Repeat 6 times. If the cake appears to be unstable as you stack the layers then press top layer gently to stabilize the cake layers. Top the stack with the final cake layer, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the layers soften at least 24 hours but up to 48 hours.
*If you do not have springform pans then grease or line with parchment paper two baking sheets. Roll a portion of the dough into a 10-inch circle about inch thick. Use a 9 inch cake pan as a template to cut out a perfectly round 9 inch disk. Transfer disk to a prepared baking sheet and repeat the process onto the second baking sheet. Bake 10 -12 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and left to right halfway through baking. Let disks cool 3-5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Let baking sheets cool and repeat until all eight disks are baked.