A cake aficionado of the highest order joins us to share the unique history and origins of three quintessentially Southern cakes, as well as the recipes for these beloved confections. Nashvillian Anne Byrn is the bestselling author of The Cake Mix Doctor cookbook series and American Cake, former food editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a graduate of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. Enjoy the intriguing histories of these Southern cakes, then bookmark this page and whip up one these fabulous recipes, so you can serve a slice of the South to your loved ones this holiday season. Take it away, Anne!

Left to right: Wellesley Fudge Cake, Lane Cake and Burnt Leather Cake

Left to right: Wellesley Fudge Cake, Lane Cake and Burnt Leather Cake

When I look at a slice of cake, I see more than layers and frosting. I see history. Especially in America, the cake we bake tells us both about our past and the way we live today. Cake is synonymous with celebrations and happy times — always has been; always will be.

When I researched my latest cookbook, American Cake, part cookbook and part history book, I guide you chronologically through the story of cake. I researched cakes from all parts of our country. I learned how cake baking has been influenced by our first settlers, the arrival of immigrants and their new traditions, a multitude of inventions and new ingredients, the westward movement and other migrations, and unfortunate cultural occurrences such as war and the Depression that greatly affected how we cooked and baked.

But as a lifelong Southerner, I found the stories behind the legendary jam, Lane and pound cake to be especially dear. So for this holiday season, I’d like to share three recipes from American Cake that are not only favorites of mine but ones you might be familiar with as well. And if you are not, then you are in for a treat! These great Southern cakes are timeless confections, come from different times in our history, and they remain an important part of our American cake story. Enjoy!

3 Quintessentially Southern Cakes

1. Granny Kellett’s Jam Cake

Jam cake is an old American cake, one brought to our country by German settlers who made jam from the wild blackberries that grew in Ohio and really much of the eastern United States. At Christmas, it was a tradition to fold this hand-crafted jam into a spice cake. As the settlers relocated into other parts of the South — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas — they brought this cake with them. Somewhere along the way, this cake met caramel icing, and once that happened, well, the German jam cake became uniquely American. My jam cake story in the book revolves around a post-Civil War recipe and how that cake became a family’s Christmas tradition for more than 100 years.

Today, jam cake is as relevant as it was yesterday. The crumb is dense and moist, the spices are fragrant and festive, and the cake is versatile enough to include either blackberry jam or black raspberry, whatever you have on hand. Bake it in layers or in a 13-by-9-inch pan for easy cutting into squares. Anyway you slice it, jam cake is packed with heritage and celebration.

Granny Kellet's Jam Cake

Granny Kellett’s Jam Cake

Granny Kellett’s Jam Cake

Anne Byrn
This fragrant and festive cake is the perfect holiday treat.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 42 mins
Total Time 1 hr 27 mins
Course cake
Cuisine American, Southern
Servings 12 servings

Ingredients
  

Cake

  • Flour and butter for greasing the pans
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans walnuts, or black walnuts
  • 1 cup 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup blackberry jam
  • 2 1 ⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 ⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup raisins

Caramel Frosting:

  • 1 ⁄2 cup 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1 ⁄2 cups light brown sugar firmly packed
  • 1 ⁄3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1 ⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar sifted

Instructions
 

  • For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9" round cake pans with vegetable shortening or soft butter and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.
  • While the oven preheats, place the nuts on a baking sheet in the oven, and let the nuts toast until just beginning to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and let the nuts cool.
  • Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until creamy, 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well on medium speed until each egg is combined. Add the jam, and blend on low until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Remove 1 tablespoon of the flour and set aside. In a separate medium-sized bowl, sift together the remaining flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir the baking soda into the buttermilk until dissolved. Add a third of the flour mixture to the egg batter, and blend on low until just incorporated. Pour in half of the buttermilk, and blend until incorporated. Repeat with the second third of the flour, the rest of the buttermilk, and the last of the flour mixture. Place the toasted nuts, raisins, and the remaining 1 tablespoon flour in a large bowl and toss to coat the nuts and raisins with flour. Fold these into the batter with the rubber spatula. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Place the pans in the oven.
  • Bake the cakes until they just begin to pull back from the edges of the pan and the top springs back when lightly pressed, 38 to 42 minutes. Remove the pans to wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges, give the pans a gentle shake, and invert the layers once and then again so they cool right side up on the racks. Let cool completely, 30 to 40 minutes, before frosting.
  • For the frosting, place the butter, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and salt in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring, until the mixture boils, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Use at once.
  • To assemble the cake, place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Spoon about a third of the warm caramel frosting over the top, and spread to smooth out. Place the second layer on top, and spoon the remaining frosting over the top and let it trickle down the sides of the cake. Let the cake rest for at least 20 minutes, then slice and serve.

Notes

Use what blackberry jam you have on hand. If you are buying the jam, look for a 10-ounce jar. If you don’t like blackberry seeds, buy seedless jam. You can substitute black raspberry, strawberry, or plum jam in this cake. Instead of toasted pecans, you can use raw black walnuts.
Tried this recipe?Rate it above to let us know how it was!

RELATED: 9 Party Etiquette & Entertaining Tips from a Southern Expert

2. Classic Pound Cake

Pound cakes are one of our country’s oldest cakes, and they came to America with the English settlers. The recipe for the true pound cake was pretty simple — a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. Flavorings varied — a little grated lemon zest or the addition of currants for special pound cakes called Washington Cakes — but the formula was pretty basic until baking powder arrived in the 1860s. Then, the recipe lightened, fewer eggs were needed for the cake to rise, and purists think the pound cake strayed from its classic self!

Just think how difficult it would have been to beat a pound of butter and sugar together — by hand — until creamy in texture. That is how our ancestors made the first pound cakes, which means they would not have baked a pound cake every day. It was a basic, but still special cake. The cost of imported white sugar was high. But if you could afford it, pound cake was a good keeper and could be baked ahead of time and served throughout the holiday season. That versatility makes pound cakes attractive today as well as yesterday. They are elegant, simple and much appreciated at dinner parties, bake sales or as gifts.

Classic pound cake

Classic pound cake

Classic Pound Cake

Anne Byrn
Pound Cake is a simple yet elegant dessert. It rises to nearly every setting, occasion, and crowd.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 20 mins
Total Time 1 hr 40 mins
Course cake
Cuisine American, Southern
Servings 16 servings

Ingredients
  

  • Butter and flour for prepping the pan
  • 2 cups 4 sticks; 1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1 ⁄4 cups 1 pound granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs at room temperature
  • 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 ⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest almond extract, or vanilla extract, if desired

Instructions
 

  • Place an oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease and flour a 10" tube pan and set aside.
  • Place the butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the butter is lightly creamed, 30 seconds. With the mixer running on low, gradually add the sugar, beating until the mixture is well creamed and fluffy, 2 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  • Add the eggs to the sugar and butter mixture, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and the salt, then add to the creamed mixture in thirds, beating on low during each addition. Fold in the lemon zest, almond extract, or vanilla, if desired.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and place the pan in the oven. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, 1 hour 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the oven, and place on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, and invert the cake once and then again so it rests right side up. Let cool on the rack completely, 1 hour, before slicing.
Tried this recipe?Rate it above to let us know how it was!

RELATED: A Lip-Smacking Twist on Traditional Apple Pie

3. Lane Cake

A beloved three-layer cake with bourbon-infused filling, Lane Cake is popular in the state of Alabama and has been for generations. It is also known as the “Prize Cake,” and the story goes that the cake was born when it was entered in the state fair by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, and the cake won first prize. The story behind the Lane Cake in my book American Cake came from the late Mary Jim Merrill Pianowski, who was known far and wide in Alabama for her Lane Cake. It was a cake she baked as a new bride, and after she died it would be a cake legacy her family continues today.

As with other great Southern cakes, even the venerable Lane has variations. Mrs. Pianowski liked the boozy, custardy filling of pecans, raisins and maraschino cherries so much that she placed it between the layers and on top, too. But other variations call for a light seven-minute frosting on the top and sides of the cake with the boozy filling spread only between the layers. Suit yourself! While pound cake and coconut cake may be baked in many parts of the country, the Lane Cake is most loved and revered in the South, especially Alabama.

The Lane Cake, center, was born in Alabama when it was entered in the state fair by Emma Rylander Lane, and the cake won first prize. Left to right: Wellesley Fudge Cake, the Lane Cake and Burnt Leather Cake

The Lane Cake, center, was born in Alabama, when it was entered in the state fair by Emma Rylander Lane, and the cake won first prize. Left to right: Wellesley Fudge Cake, Lane Cake and Burnt Leather Cake

Lane Cake

Anne Byrn
This stunning, flavorful layer cake is moist and delicious.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 1 hr 55 mins
Course cake
Cuisine American, Southern
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients
  

Filling and Frosting:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup 2 sticks lightly salted butter, at room temperature
  • 10 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups raisins chopped
  • 1 cup maraschino cherries save a few for garnish, chopped in half
  • 1 cup chopped pecans save a few whole for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ⁄2 cup bourbon

Cake:

  • Vegetable shortening and waxed paper for prepping the pans
  • 1 cup 2 sticks lightly salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ⁄2 cup 1 stick margarine, at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour see Cake Notes on page 114
  • 1 ⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
 

  • For the filling and frosting, place the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture comes together and lightens. In a separate, smaller bowl, beat the egg yolks with a whisk until they turn light yellow in color. Stir the egg yolks into the butter mixture until combined.
  • Fill the bottom saucepan of a double boiler with 2" of water. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the water simmers. Turn the sugar and egg mixture into the top pan of the double boiler. Cook over simmering water until the custard thickens and is smooth, stirring constantly, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the raisins, cherries, pecans, and vanilla. Stir to combine the ingredients well, and then stir in up to 1⁄2 cup of bourbon, adding the bourbon to taste. Transfer this mixture to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to assemble. It can be made a day in advance.
  • For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom of three 9" pans with vegetable shortening and flour. Cut waxed paper rounds to fit the bottom of the pans, and place these in the pans. Set the pans aside.
  • Place the soft butter and margarine in a large mixing bowl with the sugar. Cream the mixture by beating on medium-low speed until the mixture comes together and lightens, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • In a separate, smaller bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Blend in the vanilla.
  • Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and place the pans in the oven. Bake until the cakes are lightly browned and spring back when lightly pressed in the center, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes, give the layers a gentle shake, and invert the layers once and then again onto the rack to cool completely, right side up, about 30 minutes.
  • To assemble the cake, place the filling between the layers and on top of the cake, leaving the sides bare. Decorate the top of the cake with the reserved cherries and pecans, if desired.

Notes

Mary Jim used Fleischmann’s original margarine and Gold Medal flour in her cake. For a pretty contrast, use half golden and half dark raisins. Garnish the top with toasted coconut, if desired.
Tried this recipe?Rate it above to let us know how it was!

Thank you to Anne Byrn, author of American Cake, for sharing the history of and recipes for these fabulous Southern cakes! Reprinted from American Cake by Anne Byrn. Copyright (c) 2016 by Anne Byrn. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.

Thank you to Mitch Mandel for the gorgeous images of these mouthwatering cakes!

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