Sometimes in baking you need a challenge and the Alabama Little Layer Cake is the ultimate American baking challenge.
This is a cake native to south-eastern Alabama and is a true work of art.
Cakes like these were often seen at special family occasions and their size made them a centrepiece whilst also giving the wow-factor when you slice through to serve and you see all these fabulous layers of vanilla sponge and gooey chocolate frosting.
It’s called a Little Layer Cake because it is made of lots of thin layers of sponge sandwiched with the most incredible boiled chocolate fudge frosting, rather than two or three thick layers.
Our cake is twelve layers high, although if you have more sponge and frosting you can just keep on going until you’ve used them up! Watch Tarek make the Alabama Little Layer Cake here.
Alabama Little Layer Cake
This traditional recipe from south-eastern Alabama is from the days before electric whisks and icing sugar existed. Frostings used to be boiled, and carefully cooking this one correctly is crucial. This recipe needs a lot of time and is not for the novice baker - however, the result will wow everyone!
Makes one 20cm (8in) cake, to slice as desired
For the cake
280g (10oz) unsalted butter
670g (1lb 7oz) caster sugar
100g (3½oz) vegetable shortening (Trex)
6 large eggs
2½ tsp vanilla extract
845g (1¾lb) plain flour
1¼ tsp salt
2½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
6½ tsp baking powder
590ml (1 pint) whole milk
For the frosting
1kg (2Ib 3oz) caster sugar
40g (1½oz) cocoa powder
115g (4oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
350ml (12fl oz) evaporated milk (unsweetened)
120ml (4fl oz) whole milk 2 tsp vanilla extract
Three 20cm (8in) diameter loose-bottomed sandwich tins and a sugar thermometer
- To make the cake, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6. Grease the three tins and base line with non-stick baking parchment.
- Using a freestanding electric mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand-held electric whisk, cream together the butter, sugar and shortening at a high speed for at least 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Lower the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. When all the eggs have been added, mix until everything is well incorporated. Stir in the vanilla.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder twice. You want everything to be light and airy. Add the sifted dry ingredients and the milk to the creamed ingredients in several additions, starting with the dry and alternating with the milk, then finishing with the dry. Beat for a further 2-3 minutes on a medium speed until all is smooth and mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Measure out about 230g (8oz) of batter into each prepared tin, smoothing down lightly with a spatula to get an even layer.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the sponge is golden brown and bounces back when lightly touched. Take out of the oven and immediately turn out onto a wire rack. Repeat with the rest of the batter until you've got at least twelve layers. You can reuse the parchment, but be sure to clean the tins of any cooked-on batter.
- While the first layers are in the oven, start to make the frosting. Put the sugar and cocoa in a large, deep saucepan and mix well. Turn the heat to medium-high, then add the butter, evaporated milk and whole milk and bring to a boil. Boil for about 4 minutes, stirring continuously. Be careful and keep watching the saucepan to make sure that the mixture does not boil over. Reduce the heat to low, add the vanilla and simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 7-10 minutes. Using a sugar thermometer, cook to the point just before soft ball stage, or about 110°C (230°F).
- While the second batch of layers is in the oven and the first batch is still warm, begin to assemble the cake. Put one layer on a plate or cake card, with the top side facing upwards. Put about 4 tablespoons of the warm frosting on top. This frosting will seem thin, but it thickens as it cools. Spread all over to cover the first layer. Stack on the second layer, again with the top side facing up, and put 4 more tablespoons of frosting on top of that. Continue until you have used all twelve sponges. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting, allowing it to drizzle down the sides of the cake stack.
Recipe taken from Life is Sweet: 100 original recipes for happy home baking by Tarek Malouf and The Hummingbird Bakers (Fourth Estate, 2015)
For any questions relating to our recipes, we have a wealth of baking information over on The Hummingbird Bakery Blog and FAQs to help.
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