Appalachia has lost one of its own. As you probably have heard, on June 23, the great and legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley passed away. Stanley epitomized and popularized mountain music. He's one of those who made us all just a little bit prouder of our mountain roots. RIP, Ralph Stanley. You will be missed, but your music and what you've done for Appalachian culture will live on...and for that we thank you, kindly!
|Ralph Stanley autographing cd's after a 2009 Maryland concert|
|The 14 layer apple stack cake my mother made for my nephew's wedding!|
|Mom patting out her dough in iron skillets, the traditional way to bake a stack cake!|
|Mom assembling my nephew's groom's cake|
|Mom pouring her heart and soul into the groom's cake!|
|Mom with the finished 14 layer apple stack cake!|
|Another pic of my mother's cake at the wedding|
Tea cakes were a very popular cookie in Appalachia years ago. They were a lightly sweetened, relatively low in fat cookie that could be made in large amounts...and kept very well. This was a perfect fit for large mountain families where the cooking needed to feed several mouths for several days. My Eastern Kentucky mamaw would actually mix up her tea cakes in a big old dish pan, and then, when finished, store them in a very large cooker...that's how many she would make in one batch!
|My mother showing the type of dish pan that my mamaw used to mix her tea cake dough|
I wanted to duplicate these individually portioned desserts like my mamaw used to make, and the results were fantastic!
So here we go...this is how you make Old Timey Appalachian Tea Cakes and Mini Kentucky Apple Stack Cakes all at once (of course you can also just use this recipe to make one or the other...don't let me hold you back now!). I made a VERY large batch of tea cakes (Mamaw would be proud)...but at the bottom of the post I will also share the written recipe for half this amount if you aren't looking to make this for a big crowd. For the tea cake portion of the recipe you will need flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar.
|Eastern Kentucky sorghum|
Now my mamaw used her hands to work her tea cake dough together...so you feel free to do the same if you like. I won't tell!
If your dough seems too soft, knead in a little extra flour right before you roll the dough out. This recipe is very forgiving...and my mother assured me that in reality there were variances each time the women in Eastern Kentucky made these tea cakes as well (especially since most did not use a written recipe).
Roll one-third to one-half of the dough out at a time on a WELL floured surface.
Using a three inch round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, cut out the tea cakes and place on a greased (or sprayed) cookie sheet. They don't spread much while baking, so a few centimeters apart should do the trick.
Remove from pans and allow to cool completely on cooling racks.
I went the simple route with this and used store bought apple butter for my apple filling. Traditionally, women in Appalachia made a sauce-like filling for stack cakes with dried apples. They would cover dried apples with water on the stove, cook them down (mashing as needed to make a saucy consistency), spice the apples heavily with cinnamon and allspice, and sweeten with either honey or sugar.
When my mom made the groom's cake for my nephew's wedding, she did it from scratch with dried apples that had been grown in Kentucky. When my mother cooks you can bet every bit of it is from scratch and traditional all the way!
|My mother's dried apples for my nephew's groom's cake|
|Mom mashing her dried apples for her 14 layer Kentucky apple stack cake!|
If you use the apple butter like I did, you need to heat your apple butter on the stove prior to use. This will help the apples to soak into your cookie layers better, creating a cake that is more moist. I chose Musselman's apple butter because the ingredients were simple and closer to homemade...apples, sugar, cloves and cinnamon.
But I wanted to get a little more spiced flavor, so as I heated it, I added some allspice into the apple butter as well.
It is best to assemble them on a plate or dish that can be covered...as these cannot be served right away. They need to "set up" in the fridge for a few days so they can soften. Years ago, apple stack cakes would not have been refrigerated, so they had to be covered and left at room temperature for a couple of days. Luckily, now we have refrigeration that allows for longer set up time, and a much less dry apple stack cake! I assembled my stack cakes on rounds of parchment paper, but that is certainly optional.
Just alternate layers of tea cake cookies and spoonfuls of apple butter as you build your mini cakes.
I built my Mini Kentucky Apple Stack Cakes with 5 layers, but 4 layers would work well too. Any higher and it becomes a struggle to keep aligned.
Once assembled, cover the stack cakes and refrigerate for 3-4 days before serving.
So if you made your apple stack cakes on a Friday, you could serve them on Tuesday or Wednesday. For freshness, you don't want to wait longer than that...but I can't stress enough the importance of having a decent set up time in order to have a good apple stack cake. Don't rush it....the wait is essential, or you will be sorely disappointed with the end result.
Great thing about this recipe is you can enjoy the Old Timey Appalachian Tea Cakes the day you make them, and then enjoy the Mini Kentucky Apple Stack Cakes a few days later. Perfect for those of us with little patience!
And the stack cakes are deliciously moist, spiced, and....oh my word, SO CUTE! They are reminiscent of a cupcake in that they are individually portioned, and did I mention they are CUTE? Mamaw may have made them for kids, but I don't know of any adult who would complain about being served one of these adorable little mountain style treats! Wouldn't they be wonderful desserts to serve at a wedding or even a bridal shower? Apple stack cake is certainly a great way to celebrate anything...and these mini versions make it really easy to do so!
The full recipe is shown below. You can click here for a printable version of the full recipe, or you can click here for a printable version of the recipe halved.
Until next post, blessings to you and yours!
Old Timey Appalachian Tea Cakes &
Mini Kentucky Apple Stack Cakes
(Makes approx. 120 tea cakes OR up to 24 -- 5 layer stack cakes)
For Tea Cakes:
5 cups all purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4-1/2 cup buttermilk
For Mini Apple Stack Cakes:
Tea Cakes (5 tea cake cookies for each stack cake being made)
1 2/3 cups apple butter--for every 5 (5 layer) cakes being made
1/2 tsp. allspice (for every 1 2/3 cups apple butter used)
For tea cakes, preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Then work in butter, eggs, vanilla and just enough buttermilk to create a rollable dough. Once well combined, divide dough into thirds or half to roll out one part at a time on a VERY well floured surface. Roll to a quarter inch thickness or less and cut out with a three inch cookie or biscuit cutter. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Remove tea cakes to cooling racks immediately.
To make the tea cakes into Mini Kentucky Apple Stack Cakes, on stovetop heat approximately 1 and 2/3 cups of apple butter for every 5 (5 layer) stack cakes you intend to make. To each 1 and 2/3 cups of applesauce you use, add 1/2 tsp. allspice. When apple butter is heated through. Assemble the stack cakes by alternating tea cake cookies with a spoonful of apple butter, stacking as high as 5 layers of tea cakes. Make sure the entire top of each tea cake cookie is covered with apple butter (except the top cookie)
Cover mini stack cakes and refrigerate for 3-4 days before serving.