If you’ve been to many church socials or family reunions, especially in the South, it quite likely you have had the opportunity to enjoy an old-fashioned fruit stack. If you don’t know what that is, it is actually a cake made with applesauce and baked sugar cookie dough. If you like desserts made with apples, it’s “out-of-this world” delicious. The taste is both incredibly simple and an intricate blend of tastes. It will probably remind you of home, or of Grandma’s, even if you’ve never tasted fruit stack before.
You can find many different varieties of the stack cake, such as dried apple, peach, or pumpkin, but the one most people are familiar with is the applesauce stack. The origin of these cakes is pretty clear; they are made from simple ingredients found in the country and on farms. Even poor families, dating back centuries in America, would have had these ingredients on hand – especially during the holidays.
Many modern cooks have attempted to re-create the applesauce stack cake either from written recipes of by word of mouth, but most end up disappointed with the results. Either the taste is not just right or the cake is too thick and too dry.
I am not going to attempt to supply an exact recipe here; instead, I will discuss two secrets to making the stack cake turn out the way you want it. These are secrets handed down from mother to daughter and often, however unintentionally, do not make it into the recipe book.
All you need is a very simple recipe for sugar cookies and a jar of applesauce.
Secret # 1 – The cookie dough layers must be rolled out extremely thin. Once you mix up the cookie dough, take a small ball and roll it out as thin as you can possibly get it and still pick it up with both hands. You will place it in a regular round cake pan that has greased and floured. It should fit on the bottom but not come up on the sides. If it is too big, cut some of it off and try again. If you have rolled it out thinly enough, it is normal for the dough to sometimes break. Then you must roll it back out and try again. Where most people make their mistake is in rolling out the dough too thick. It is easier to handle and you don’t have to worry about “do-over’s,” BUT this is what makes the finished stack cake too thick and too dry.
Depending on how many cake pans you own and how many will fit into your oven, you can get a small assembly line going. For example, put two cakes into the pans. While they are baking, prepare two more pans with two more cakes. When the first two come out, gently dump the baked cakes onto a towel, wash, dry and prepare the two pans, and do it all again. A good stack cake will have 7-14 layers.
1) If you roll out the dough very thinly, it will bake quickly, sometimes in just 5-7 minutes. You have to watch it carefully and be ready to take it out as soon as the top begins to turn light golden brown. (The bottom will already be a bit browner.)
2) Also, it will be of a cookie texture until the cake is all completed and aged for a while, so be very careful when you dump it out of the pan and later place it onto the plate for the stack because it will break and crumble easily.
Secret # 2 – Use the right spices in the applesauce. Admittedly, people have different tastes when it comes to applesauce and desserts made with applesauce. Some like theirs with more spice, some with less. I am going to talk about my preferences, but you could change this according to yours, if you’d like. The mistake some people make when making fruit stack cakes, is that they use applesauce bought straight from the store, which has little to no spices. Other people add too much spice and the stack cake gets a “spicy-hot” flavor. Personally, I can my own applesauce, and I add cinnamon and nutmeg to my applesauce when I first make it. Then, when I make a fruit stack cake, I simply open a jar of my applesauce and I am ready to go. If you can get a jar of homemade applesauce already seasoned, that is by far the best option. However, if you have to use store-bought applesauce, do these steps ahead of time, before you are ready to make your fruit stack: Pour your applesauce into a sauce pan. Add sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. One alternative to the cinnamon and nutmeg is to use Apple Pie Spice, which already has the spices blended in good proportions. When I say “to taste,” I mean imagine how you want your fruit stack to taste when it is done. How sweet do you like it? How spicy do you like it? Add the sugar and spices a little at a time until you are satisfied with the taste. The sugar will thin the applesauce down, so you will have to boil it on medium to low until the excess water has cooked off. Be careful not to have your burner too high because sweetened applesauce will easily burn.
Once all your cake layers are baked and cooled, and once you have your applesauce the way you like it, you are ready to put the layers together. It’s as simple as it sounds. Place the first cake layer on a plate and spread it with applesauce. No need to spread it on the sides since some excess will trickle down. Spread the sauce as thick as you can without losing too much down the sides. Then repeat for every cake layer you have. Your stack cake can be eaten right away, but it is better if you refrigerate it at least overnight.
While a truly old-fashioned stack cake has simple ingredients, it can be a bit complicated to make, but hang in there because it will be well worth the effort you put into it!