Kentucky Apple Stack Cake--Traditional Version
I can't say enough about the deliciousness and simple beauty of this historic cake, which has its roots in nineteenth-century Appalachia. In those days, it served as a sort of potluck wedding cake: Members of the community would contribute layers, which were held together with a spread of mashed dried apples, applesauce, or apple butter.
The dish is extremely easy to make, since the dough resembles that of giant sugar cookies, baked in pans and stacked. Really, the only challenge lies in baking all six layers and then finding the patience to wait at least twenty-four hours--during which time the stacks absorb the apple butter and soften into something more recognizably cakelike--before digging in.
Apple Notes: You can use store-bought or homemade apple butter in this cake, though naturally I prefer the Overnight Apple Butter. For store-bought, I recommend Eden brand, which is sold in most Whole Foods stores.
Make-ahead tip: You can prep the cake through step 3 up to a day before baking.
Note: This cake has six layers, each baked individually. If you have a large oven and a large pan collection, you can bake them all at once. Otherwise, I've written the recipe based on the assumption that you'll be using three pans and baking the layers in two phases (you can also use two pans and bake in three phases).
Equipment: At least 2 standard 9-inch cake pans, preferably 3 (see Note); offset spatula
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack to the middle position. Butter and flour the cake pans (see Note). In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a hand-held mixer), cream the sugar, brown sugar, and butter together at medium speed until quite fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla.
2. Add a third of the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and mix just to combine at medium-low speed. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and mix just to combine. Repeat, adding another third of the flour mixture, then the remaining buttermilk mixture, then the remaining flour mixture.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead four times to bring it all together, then roll into an even cylinder about 18 inches long. Cut the cylinder into six equal parts (each 3 inches long), then press each part into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to a day.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough to a 10-inch circle (use a light sprinkling of flour if it begins to stick). Using a cake pan as your guide, trim the dough into a perfect 9-inch circle, then lay it in a pan to bake. Repeat with two more pieces of dough. Bake all three, rotating the pans halfway through, until the layers are lightly golden and just beginning to pull away from the sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove the layers and set aside.When the pans are cool, butter and flour them once more and repeat the rolling, cutting, and baking with the other three dough rounds.
5. Assemble the cake: Choose your prettiest, smoothest "top" layer and set it aside. Choose your bottom layer and use an offset spatula to spread 1/2 cup apple butter over the top, all the way to the edges. Top with another cake layer and another 1/2 cup topping. Repeat three more times, then top with the prettiest layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours, then sprinkle the top with confectioners' sugar, cut into thin slices, and serve.
Reprinted from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Traverso. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Photographs by Squire Fox. Copyright © 2011 by Squire Fox.
Chef Dan Barber, author of The Third Plate, says we need a food system that is both delicious and sustainable. "It's about the system that supports a whole ecology," he says.