Down Memory Lane

This past week, a friend from Michigan posted a recipe on Facebook that looked very familiar to me. It was called “Apple Stack Cake.” When I looked at the picture and read through the recipe, I knew it was the same cake we called “Christmas Molasses Cookie Cake” while I was growing up.

After several messages back and forth, I discovered that during his childhood my friend lived only 90 miles from the childhood homes of my maternal grandmother and grandfather. As did my relatives, he fished in the Clinch River that flowed through both communities. 

While this cake was a Christmas treat in our home, for my friend’s family it was used for many special occasions. He wrote that people brought layers to wedding receptions and the layers were all stacked together with the apple filling. After setting for the evening, it was served as the wedding cake. 

The only differences between my friend’s family recipe and ours are the use of both molasses and brown sugar in our recipe (his uses only brown sugar), and making the apple butter filling using cooking apples (his uses dried apples). His family always topped the cake with a final layer of apple butter, and our family iced the top layer with caramel frosting before serving.

Below is Mom’s recipe. Underneath this recipe is the family recipe handwritten by Grandma and sent to Mom via USPS.

Christmas Molasses “Cookie Cake”

    3 c flour                                                                              
    1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon                         
    1 1/2 tsp. baking powder                     
    1/2 tsp. baking soda                                   
    1/4 tsp. salt                                             
    1 egg (slightly beaten)                   
    1/2 c sour milk                                                    
    1/2 c brown sugar                                               
    1/2 c light molasses                                       
    1/2 c vegetable shortening (melted) 
    Apple Butter:
    6 pounds cooking apples
    1 c water
    2 1/2 c sugar
    1/2 c brown sugar
    2 tsp. cinnamon
    1 tsp. nutmeg
    2 Tbs. lemon juice
    Frosting: 1/8 c butter; 6 tbs. brown sugar; 1½ tbs. cream; 1 c. confectioners’ sugar
Cake: Mix brown sugar, shortening, egg, & molasses together. Sift flour, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, & salt together. Add sour milk (to sour 1/2 cup milk, add 1 1/3 tbs. vinegar & stir) & dry ingredients alternately to the first mixture. Roll dough out on floured board to 1/4" thickness. Use a small plate to cut out layers. Bake at 375° until lightly browned. Cool. To make cake, spread apple butter on top of first layer & between each additional layer. Let set in closed cake container for at least 24 hours before cutting. Before serving, ice top with Caramel Frosting. If not using caramel frosting, serve with whipped cream. Slice as a cake is cut. 

Apple Butter:  Peel, core & slice apples into eighths. Place apples in a large heavy saucepan and add water. Cover tightly and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir and add more water if mixture appears dry. Uncover and continue cooking until apples are tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Mix cooked apples with remaining ingredients in a crock or baking dish.  Bake in oven warmed to 350° for 3 to 4 hours or until mixture is thick and dark, stirring occasionally.  (A spoonful of apple butter, when done should not have a ring of liquid surrounding it.)

Quick Caramel Frosting: Melt butter in saucepan & stir in brown sugar.  Continue cooking over low heat for 2 minutes. Add cream & bring to full boil. Cool to lukewarm without stirring. Add confectioners' sugar & beat until smooth and of spreading consistency.

From Grandma Morrell:

During my research I found recipes for this cake called “Appalachian Stacked Apple Cake” and “Tennessee Mountain Stacked Apple Cake.”

At Magpie Cakes in Knoxville, TN, a 7-layer apple stack cake is available for $45. (November and December)

~ Cake picture from Pinterest


  1. $45, plus s/h; or make your own! I have a letter or two that Grandma wrote to me. I can verify that your note is authentic, for that handwriting is unique to Grandma.

    1. Vanilla, I think this letter and one other letter are the only ones I have that Grandma wrote. Her handwriting was distinctive. She was always faithful with writing to family who did not live close to her.

      I'm thinking I might make a half recipe of this labor-intensive cake for Christmas. My fear is that I will be the only one who likes it and I hate being wasteful.

  2. How could anyone not like it? Go for it.

  3. Trust me, you won't be the only one who likes it. If you are, that just means more for you.

    1. Ilene, I do plan to make it. It could not possibly be as high in calories as some of the other Christmas desserts I make. (The more for me the better.)

  4. I don't remember Grandma ever making this cake even though she must have since she must have asked Great Grandma for the recipe. Sounds yummy. I am going to have to try it.

    1. Coleen, your Grandma was still making this cake after they moved into their retirement place. She kept it in a cake container in Grandpa's office area off of the kitchen where it would stay cool until time for dessert. Probably there were too many competing desserts: cookies, date pudding, dessert bars, pies (pumpkin, pecan, mincemeat), and you never got around to this one. Kind of like it is at your place on Christmas Day. : ) I think she quit making it when she was no longer able to make the apple butter.

      When I was young, we had mincemeat pie and this cake every year for Christmas.