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Posted on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 7 a.m.

Appalachian Stack Cake: a traditional pioneer wedding cake

By Erin Mann

Erin Mann is baking a new cake every week for a year from the "All Cakes Considered" cookbook and shares her adventures here on Read past columns here.


A unique wedding cake: Making apple stack cake was a collective effort of the guests and bride's family.

Erin Mann | Contributor

If you’ve been reading my posts regularly, you may have noticed that 52 weeks have gone by since I began my cake baking journey with “All Cakes Considered” as my guide. A cake a week for a year — that was the original gig.

“All Cakes Considered” contains a grand total of 55 cake recipes, and I'll be baking the remaining three cakes over the coming weeks. You may be wondering, “What’s next for the baking bachelorette?” Well, I’m not letting you in on the details... yet. Just know that I’m not going anywhere soon, and I’m very happy about that.

Enough logistics — let’s talk about cake. I’m loving these cakes that have stories to tell — Appalachian Stack cake is another cake with history. You may know it as dried apple stack cake, Confederate old-fashioned stack cake or Kentucky pioneer wash day cake. Like the cake, the names are a mouthful.

Appalachia, a region of the United States that stretches southwest from southern New York to northern Mississippi, is known for this unique layer cake brought by pioneer James Harrod in the late 1700s. Some variation of the cake has remained popular with mountain families ever since. In lieu of dried apple filling, other versions of the cake are filled with applesauce or apple butter.

Traditionally, Appalachian Stack cake was served at mountain weddings. Guests would each bake and bring a layer of molasses cookie for the cake. The bride’s family would prepare the spiced apple filling from thinly sliced apples that had been dried in the sun. Her family would assemble the cake — the taller the cake, the more popular the bride.

Compared to the cakes from recent weeks, this one was a cinch to make. The hardest part about making the apple filling was finding the dried apples. I bought six three-ounce bags of dried apples from Whole Foods. I mixed the filling and left it to reduce on low heat while I worked on the dough for the molasses cookie layers.

Once mixed, the dough will ball up on its own. I separated the dough into five (as equal as possible) portions. The perfectionist in me thought about asking Rex if I could borrow his kitchen scale to weigh the dough to ensure even layers. And then I thought about how, in the mountains, one cake could easily be made by half a dozen bakers. The beauty of this cake lies in its imperfections.

Once assembled, the cake was so tall it barely fit under the cover of my cake carrier. The recipe recommends allowing the cake to sit for two days before serving. For me, it was an incredible feat of willpower to hold off cutting into it until the next morning at breakfast. The cookie layers softened somewhat overnight and, I imagine, will continue to soften with time as the filling soaks into the layers. A serrated bread knife worked well to cut the cake.

Low in fat and not too sweet, a slice of stack cake is perfect for breakfast with your favorite morning beverage. Or save it for dessert and serve it warm with ice cream for an alternative to apple pie a la mode. Find the recipe for Appalachian Stack cake here.

Erin Mann is ruining diets one cake at a time with her weekly kitchen adventures. Email this baking bachelorette at or follow her on Twitter. Facebook users can also keep up-to-date with A CAKE A WEEK by joining the group.


Tom Teague

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 6:02 p.m.

I have Erin's express written consent to post a different Stack Cake recipe transcribed (with parenthetical notes) from Mary Starr's cookbook - Mary Starr ran a cooking show in the 1960s on local television in Knoxville, TN and took some time to collect some of the older mountain recipes that were passing out of favor by then. Combine in a small bowl and stir lightly: 1/2 Cup buttermilk; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1 teaspoon soda. Cream together: 1 cup shortening, 2-1/2 cups sugar. Add and beat well: 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 eggs. Add milk mixture and mix with spoon. (I used a mixer with the dough hook). Sift together and stir into mixture: 4 cups White Lily Plain All-Purpose Flour, 1 teaspoon salt. (That's not a shameless plug - the recipe specifies White Lily which was once milled in Knoxville; it's available locally). Add enough flour to make dough easy to handle (it ended up being about half a cup). Divide into seven portions. Roll or pat each in waxed paper lined nine-inch pans. Bake about 10 minutes at 425. (I used no stick pans, but put a pre-cut round of parchment paper in each to cover the bottom. You can find flat parchment paper at restaurant supply centers and it doesn't curl when you try to cut it. The layers turn out pretty crisp like a well-baked cookie and are thinner than the ones in Erin's recipe, so handle them carefully. By layer four, I was getting pretty good at rolling out the dough into a circle). Stack layers with this hot mixture: (She neglects to say it explicitly, but Mary Starr means the hot mixture that you start making The Night Before you make the layers): Soak overnight and cook until mushy: 1 lb dried apples (Cook them in the same water you soak them in. I added a 1/4 cup brandy just because I figured it wouldn't hurt). Add to the hot sauce: 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. (If that sounds too sweet, remember that you're making the equivalent of cake icing, To assemble this, place a layer on a cake plate, spoon on some mixture, add a layer, spoon on more mixture, etc etc. You should assemble this cake on whatever you intend to use for a serving dish. Add some of the mixture to the top and sides.) Let cake stand at least 24 hours before cutting, Better the longer it stands. (Mary Starr speaks the truth: The layers were really good and mushy after 24 hours and the last slice, eaten 48 hours later, was perfect. It's a very forgiving cake to make).

Tom Teague

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 3:24 p.m.

@EyeHeart - LOL. In all honesty I was a little nervous when I typed the word "Appalachian" in my previous comment. But, if you think it would help, I'll make a couple of extra next time and take them by the Big House.

Tom Teague

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

@EyeHeart - LOL. In all honesty I was a little nervous when I typed the word "Appalachian" in my previous comment. But, if you think it would help, I'll make a couple of extra next time and take them by the Big House.


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 10:41 a.m.

Thanks, Erin. One more question: I imagine the baking time is longer because the cookies are so big. How do you adjust the oven temp, and how long to cook?


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 9:57 a.m.

Are the molasses cookies cakey or chewy?

Tom Teague

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 8:35 a.m.

I made my first one of these at Christmas this year. Fortunately, my mom in Tennessee -- an absolute Stack Cake genius -- served as a technical support hot line, fielding four or five calls from me and encouraging me to go for a full seven layers as given in an old Appalachian cookbook I used. It was a huge hit with my Michigan in laws. We had had one as a groom's cake at my wedding in Troy, MI a few years ago as well. I pass along a tip from mom: Because a Stack Cake is dense, the slices have to be smaller than a regular cake. Plain (not minty) dental floss works wonders for slicing them.