Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sardis United Methodist Church Secrets

All across the South in every community there’s those ladies who have perfected the art of baking. Whether it’s pies or cakes or candy, they are the Emeril’s, the Bobby Flays, the Paula Deens of their local churches. Sharing their creations at potlucks or reunions, they proudly display recipes that have been handed down from past generations. Martha Meadows of Slocomb, Alabama is known far and wide for her 15 layer cakes. You read that right, 15 Layers! She learned from her Mother who baked her cakes in a cast iron hoe cake pan. Martha is one of many in this community that makes the time honored cake. Members of the Sardis United Methodist Church make about 1,000 of them, selling various sizes for $5 a pound. A couple of years ago, they made enough to buy a new grand piano for the church. Last year, the cakes helped pay to remodel the church kitchen. In this corner of the country, where cotton and peanuts pay the bills, the worth of a cook can be measured in cake layers!

Mrs. Meadows uses a simple stand mixer to prepare the yellow batter and rotates six cake pans in and out of the oven, frosting each layer with warm, boiled chocolate icing as the next batch bakes. The result is known as a Little Layer Cake because the layers are thin. Baking and frosting one takes her two hours, “If you don’t count the cleaning!”
Over Christmas she’ll bake about 10, selling some to neighbors and donating others to her Baptist church.

The cake ladies of Alabama distinguish themselves with cakes whose recipes are a century old.
If you are thinking you might want to try this on your own, here’s some lessons from the Alabama Ladies:

How long do I beat the batter?
Mrs. Meadows: “It needs to be beaten a pretty good little bit,”
How long should I cook the icing?
Mrs. Meadows: “When it gets to cooking, turn it down.”

Another recipe from and 80 year old Augusta, Georgia lady simply said “Make a yellow cake.” Seventy-seven year old Jean Strickland said it was the best way she knows to make herself feel better- “If you get down and out, just get in the kitchen and bake a cake!” If you are feeling brave, here's the adapted recipe as posted in the NY Times!

Chocolate Little Layer Cake
Adapted from Martha Meadows
2 sticks butter, more to grease pans
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup shortening
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups milk
5 cups of sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 15-ounce can evaporated milk
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease three 9-inch cake pans and line with rounds of parchment or waxed paper.

2. In a mixer, cream together butter, sugar and shortening until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time and continue to mix on medium until eggs are well incorporated. Stir in vanilla.

3. Sift flour, then add salt, baking soda and baking powder. Sift a second time. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and milk in about 4 additions, then increase speed to medium. Beat until smooth, about 4 to 5 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl.

4. Spread 3/4 cup batter in each pan. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, or until cake springs lightly when pressed with a finger. Flip cake out of pan onto paper towels or cake rack while still very warm. Repeat with second set of layers.

5. When first layers go into oven, start to make icing. Put sugar and cocoa in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan and mix well. Turn heat to medium-high and add butter and milks, bringing to a boil. Boil for about 4 minutes, stirring continually, careful to watch that it does not boil over. Lower heat to simmer, add vanilla and stir occasionally for another 7 to 10 minutes. If using a candy thermometer, cook to the point just before soft ball stage or about 230 degrees.

6. Begin icing first layers, still warm, when second batch is in the oven. Flip layers over so that top side faces up. Use about 4 tablespoons of icing per layer. Icing will be thin but will firm up as it cools. Stack layers, then continue icing and stacking as layers are baked.

7. When all layers are iced and stacked, glaze top and sides of cake. Contours of layers will be visible through icing. If icing hardens too much while frosting cake, set back on low heat and stir until it is spreadable.

Yield: One 12-layer cake.


  1. What a great post Joycee; she's a lovely lady for sure.

    This has got to the same recipe one of my aunts used for her 15 layer cake as it looks exactly the same... yummy.

  2. Have those church ladies created a cook book with their handed down time honored recipes? I would love to see more of them! I think it would be a great money maker for them!

  3. I loved my "morning read" today. Her cake looks amazing and she looks like a force of nature.

  4. What a lovely cake! It takes a steady hand and a lot of patience to cut all of those layers into a cake! I agree with ClassyChassy they should do a cook book!


  6. One of the reasons I have trouble doing recipes on my blog, is I rarely ever measure. Grandma Merriott called added butter a knob.

  7. How many people will a cake that big feed? ha
    Beautiful cake!

  8. my mother in law (87) always says just add a pinch or a dab or some such thing (o:
    Yes... I would make a cake to perk myself up
    but I would eat the batter and hubby would eat the whole cake
    we are pathetic

  9. This cake looks so very good. I want a piece of it now hehe.

  10. That is so neat! I love that this cake has been handed down and cooked with so much love!
    I have never seen anything like it. I was wondering how you cut it.
    I may have to try this!

  11. Oh wow! Now THAT is a cake!

    Wonder who does a great Red Velvet?

  12. It's amazing the time and effort these ladies would put in for their church. I used to love my Methodist Church when I was young. Especially when there was dinners and special events going on. Always got something yummy. Great post Joy!!

  13. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a a 15 layer cake - surely God must be with her to get all those layers put together and standing tall...Great post~!

  14. Did you know that in Brazil a 15 layer cake is the most popular type cake? Well, I never counted the layers exactly but it looks the same :)


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