The City Magazine Since 1975

Sean's Grandma's Apple Stack Cake

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  • 1/4 lb. soft unsalted butter (for greasing the pans)
  • 4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. allspice
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 9 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1½ cups canola oil, (Sean’s grandmother used shortening, but says lard would be tasty as well)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups real sorghum, not molasses
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 9 cups apple butter (recipe follows)
  • Whiskey sorghum glaze (recipe follows)

For the apple butter:

Chef's Note: “I grew up eating this on biscuits nearly every morning,” says chef Sean Brock. “The yearly ritual of making apple butter with my family is something that I will never forget, something that I will pass on to my children.” Sean’s grandmother’s recipe is written to be cooked on the stove, but, he says, apple butter is easier to make—and less likely to scorch—in a crockpot on low. You can also cook it in a 250°F oven.

  • 12 cups chopped, cored, unpeeled Pippin apples, or substitute Granny Smiths
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves

For the glaze:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rye whiskey or bourbon
  • 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 lb. unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F

For this recipe, you will need to make six cake layers, each of which will be divided in half. This is easiest to do if you have six (10-inch) springform pans. Cut six circles of parchment paper the size of the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan.

Prepare the six pans by greasing the bottom and sides with butter. Lay a parchment circle in the bottom and grease it with butter.
Sift the spices, flour, and sugar into a large mixing bowl and combine well. In a separate large bowl, gently whisk the oil, buttermilk, and sorghum into the eggs. You do not want to make a lot of froth. Slowly stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Pour 1/2-inch of batter into each of the six greased pans. Bake for 10 minutes, until a toothpick comes out dry. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pans on wire racks for one hour.

Unlock the springform pans and remove cake layers from the pans. Using a long, serrated knife, carefully cut each layer into two. For the first layer, place a piece of the cut cake cut-side up on a cake plate. Evenly spread on six ounces of apple butter. For the second layer, place the cut cake on top of the apple butter cut-side down. Evenly spread six ounces of apple butter on top of it. Continue the process with the remaining slices of cake. The last layer should be cut-side down but not have apple butter spread on it.

Carefully pour the glaze over the top of the cake and allow it to pour over the sides. Using a cake spatula, spread the glaze evenly over the outside of the cake. Place in a cake keeper or cake box and let the cake set out overnight before cutting. Covered in a cake keeper or cake box, the cake will keep for up to three days at room temperature and five days in the refrigerator.

For the apple butter:

Combine the apples and cider in a nonreactive heavy-bottomed three-quart pot.

Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft, about eight hours.

Remove apples and purée in food sieve or mill.

Return the puréed apples to the pot and add the sugar and spices.

Cover and cook on low heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching until it is very thick, approximately one to two hours. You want it to be a spread with no excess moisture.

Cool the apple butter, place in a container, cover, and refrigerate.

Tightly covered, the apple butter will keep for several weeks in refrigerator or it may be frozen for up to three months.

For the glaze:

Combine the sugar, whiskey, and condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves, about seven minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter.

When it is incorporated, stir in the milk and the vanilla extract.

Cool on the counter top for seven minutes before glazing.