The Secret Ingredient in the Cake Harper Lee Made Famous

August 11, 2015 | By | Comments (5)

You might call Southerners shameless name-droppers. After all, we have a habit of honoring people and places by naming cakes after them. Take, for instance, the Lane Cake, which likely has its most famous mention in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as Scout describes eating one “so full of shinny it made me tight.” “Shinny,” as any Southerner knows, refers to bourbon, which is the dessert’s essential ingredient. The bourbon improves the flavor in the cake as it ages and mellows. With the recent release of Go Set A Watchman, we thought we’d take a look at the history behind this Southern classic (get the recipe here!).

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In the late 1800s, Emma Rylander Lane, of Clayton, Alabama took her first prize at the county fair with her sponge cake iced with a fluffy white frosting. She originally called the recipe Prize Cake, but friends convinced her to make the cake her namesake. She featured her Prize Cake in her self-published cookbook, which was appropriately called Some Good Things to Eat. Today you’ll likely find Lane Cake served at a family’s noteworthy occasions or church suppers. Southern Living first published a recipe for Lane Cake in the second issue in 1966.

Perhaps one of our of favorite versions of the Lane Cake comes from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, two of the most respected experts on the art of Southern cooking. The recipe and the story behind the cake can be found in The Southern Living Community Cookbook.

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  1. Mary Grady

    People who know enough to follow hypertext links will find everything they need for this cake. It’s all there, but you have to learn how to use the internet and Facebook.

    August 16, 2015 at 12:48 pm
  2. Lori Smith

    The entire recipe is on the site. If you go back to the top of the page, at the bottom of the article it has a place to click for recipe. When you get to the recipe it has where you can click to get the filling recipe and the icing recipe as well.

    August 11, 2015 at 3:25 pm
  3. Deb

    Would be helpful to have a “print” button, and also the recipe for the boiled white frosting!

    August 11, 2015 at 2:23 pm
  4. Janet Kneeland


    – CAKE –
    3 ¼ cups sifted cake flour
    2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
    1/16 teaspoon salt
    1 cup butter, at room temperature
    2 cups sugar
    2 teaspoons vanilla
    8 egg whites
    1 cup milk

    *On wax paper sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

    In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add egg whites, in four additions, beating thoroughly after each addition.

    Fold in flour mixture alternately with milk; begin and end with dry ingredients. Batter should be smooth but look slightly granular.

    Turn into 4 ungreased 9-inch round layer-cake pans lined on the bottom with wax paper.

    Bake in a 375-degree oven until edges shrink slightly from sides of pans and tops spring back when gently pressed with finger, or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean — about 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes.

    Turn out on wire racks; remove wax paper; turn right side up; cool completely.

    Put layers together (on a cake plate) with Lane Cake Filling, stacking carefully; do not spread filling over top. Cover top and sides with swirls of Boiled White Frosting.
    Cover with a tent of foil or a cake cover; or cover tightly in a large deep bowl in tin box. Store in a cool place; if refrigerated, allow to stand at room temperature for half a day before serving because cake texture is best when cake is not served chilled

    – FILLING –
    8 egg yolks
    1 cup sugar
    ½ cup butter, at room temperature
    1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
    1/3 cup bourbon or brandy
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    *In a 2-quart saucepan, beat the egg yolks well; beat in sugar and butter. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until quite thick. Remove from heat; stir in raisins, bourbon and vanilla. Cool slightly; use as directed.

    (from a standard recipe)

    August 11, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    It would have been nice of them to provide the recipe instead of a tease!

    August 11, 2015 at 2:06 pm

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