History of Apple Stack Cake

Photo Provided by TheBittenWord.com on Flickr.

Now I’ve seen a lot of posts about apple stack cake. It’s been a mainstay on Appalachian tables since God was a boy, but I’ve not seen a specific history of the dish until now. Today’s guest blogger, Dave Tabler, shares the origins of this popular dessert along with a recipe that will leave your mouth watering and your feet running to the kitchen.

Dave leads the excellent blog Appalachian History, which features stories, quotes and anecdotes from Appalachia, with an emphasis on the Depression era.

You can also see me taste apple stack cake for the very first time in a segment from the show Daytime Blue Ridge.

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The dried apple stack cake is one of the most popular southern Appalachian cakes— no surprise considering apples are found aplenty in the mountains. Culturally it’s akin to the classic European torte. It looks like a stack of thick pancakes, with apple preserves, dried apples or apple butter spread between each layer. At holidays and weddings, early mountain settlers traditionally served stack cake in lieu of more fancy, and costly, cakes. Neighbors, according to folk wisdom, would each bring a layer of the cake to the bride’s family, which they spread with apple filling as they arrived. It was said that the number of cake layers the bride got determined how popular she was.

Kentucky lays claim to originating the dessert via Kentucky pioneer washday cake. “Some food historians say that James Harrod, the colonist and farmer who founded Harrodsburg in 1774, brought the stack cake to Kentucky from his home in Pennsylvania,” observes Mark F. Sohn in Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes. “While Harrod may have brought the first stack cake to Kentucky, the cake could not have been common until more than 100 years later when flour became readily available.” Tennessee proudly points to Tennessee stack cake as the first, but in fact variations of the cake abound throughout the region.

The cake is many layered, low in fat, and not sweet. It’s made with layers of stiff cookie like dough flavored with ginger and sorghum and spread with a spiced apple filling. When served, the cake is tall, heavy, and moist.

Stack Cake Recipe

Courtesy of Sheri Castle and Our State
Makes 12 to 16 servings

Dried Apple Filling

  • 1 pound (4 to 5 packed cups) dried unsulphured apples
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
  • 4 to 5 cups water, divided

Cake Layers

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup sorghum molasses
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

CLICK TO SEE THE FULL RECIPE


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69 Comments

  • Betty Davis

    I have never heard of the stack cake before today. Thanks for posting the receipe. I plan to try this soon. My mother is 86 and we were raised in So. IL and my mom was also raised in Ark. for a short time. Can’t wait to talk with her and ask if she’s heard of this interesting cake.

  • Anonymous

    This was always a tradition at Christmas at grammas house

  • Leota

    Some of my grandmother’s ancestors came from Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina. The traditional cake part of her recipe was similar to the one given. It was not as moist because she used less buttermilk and less sugar (about 3/4 cup) the mixture was stiff and shaped into large rounds like cookies then baked on a round “hoe cake” baker in the oven. When cool the cookies were ready to assemble with the dried apple mixture. The cake was allowed to sit covered over night to “sob” or become moist. The two main ingredients in addition to the apples for the unique flavor in her cake as in this one is the ginger and molasses.

  • Catherine Spence

    I got the worst craving for one of these back in the fall, so a lady at my church made one for me. She said her mother called it a ‘lassy (molasses) fruitcake. She’s promised to teach me how to make it. Whatever you call it, these things are yummy deliciousness!

  • EDITH LEE

    nightwatcher77@fuse.net

    My mother-in-law, Ollie Lee had thirteen children; she made one of these for each couple at Christmas.
    Her financial means were very limited. We looked forward to them. She always had lots of dried apples to make the apple butter. NEVER FORGOTTEN MEMORY. YUMMY.

  • Debbie Wright

    My mother usually made 4 of these at a time. She baked them for Thanksgiving and would freeze 2 and save them for Christmas. Ive never tasted any as good as hers. They were delicious!

  • Judy Conditt

    My East Tennessee Grandmother made a apple stack cake every Christmas, she used apples that were dried in her attic every summer. She also cooked “leather Britches” every Christmas from her Kentucky half-runners that she also dried in her attic.

  • Jeanette Agnew

    my mother-in-law and her mother used to bake a cake that they called Molasses and Applebuttercake. the ones that they made had layers that were no thicker than a pancake,The molasses was in the dough , and each layer was smothered with applebutter. they also put it on top of thiers, while your receipe did not. They also put the cake up for several gays before it was cut. the longer you waited, the more moist it was , and while I have had a few since thiers, none have tasted near as good.

  • mary heath

    thank you for this stack cake recipe. My grand mother used to make them for us many years ago but she could not read or write so I never got an exact recipe for it. she had apple trees and dried her own apples and my grand father raised syrup cane and made his own syrup so Granny had the real ingredience. Thank you again for the recipe.

  • Linda Boudreaux

    We make them in Ky. They’re so moist and delicious!

  • Anonymous

    My Mom would make this at Christmas and she would pour brandy on it while it would sit for a couple of days

  • Kenneth

    My mom and dad (who learned it from his mom and her sister – both of whom were great bakers noted for these cakes & their lemon meringue & chocolate pies) made one for every Christmas. It always was placed in a container with a raised edge to hold the liquid, was covered with a lid or cover, always sat in a cool spot for two or three days so the moisture was absorbed by the cake. They used cast iron skillets for making the cake as well as home dried apples (we had a couple of apple trees including Granny Smith and Yellow Transparent Apples). I always loved it and ate way too much of it. Simpler times with wonderful memories!!!

  • William

    The Dried Apple Stack Cake layer we make are very hard and brittle after cooling, like a cookie. And it takes three days for the juices from the apple filling to soak into the layers. Ive been making them for 25 years, taking over the task from my mother. She took over from my aunt (grandmother’s sister), who took over the task from her mother. I kind of broke the chain, since I am a man. However, I have never heard of them being made for weddings and never heard of neighbors bringing individual layers. That’s a new one to me. We also make different stack cakes with strawberries and cream cheese, peaches, lemon, and vinegar. We only make Dried Apple Stack Cakes for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  • Rhonda Doran

    Mommy made me one to take to work for a dinner. It was a great hit. One of the woman I worked with said look over there. The men was taking spoons and was scrapping the crumbs from the cakepan. Lol, they got every crumb.

  • Sandy Bear

    My mama has made these cakes since I was a kid. She and my grandmother Sadie would peel apples early in year and dry them outside on an old piece of roofing tin covered with a screen, then bag them up when dried in an old pillow case and put in freezer. Then around the holidays they would make the BEST apple Stack cakes ever!!
    Now as an adult I too make apple stack cakes for my family!😍

  • Ruth Cross

    My mother made apple stack cake and used a cast iron skillet for baking the layers of the cake in. As for the part about neighbors bringing layers for a wedding cake, I believe this was most prominent during the war when food was rationed.

  • Anonymous

    I am from Kentucky and never heard of this. Have heard of stack pie though.

  • Sandra Stewart

    My grandmother made this cake and i still make this on special occasions. it Makes 7 layers and we filled it with dried apples and made it in a Iron skillet with the left over dough we made small ones and called them teacakes they are yummy..My Recipe is almost like this one

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