|It looks like a stack of pancakes, but it's way better than pancakes.|
Peeled, cored, quartered apples to yield 3 cups of thin slices
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 tsp ground ginger
2/3 tsp ground nutmeg
Mix together in a big bowl and set aside while you make the cakes. Traditionally, this filling is made with dried apples, but nobody makes dried apples at home any more and if you buy them, they're ridiculously expensive. The bigger the apples, the less work in this step. I discourage using applesauce for the filling. It's just too runny. My grandmother used it decades ago, but applesauce was less watery back then.
The cake layers:
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 1/3 tsp baking powder
1 1/3 tsp ground ginger
2/3 tsp ground cinnamon
2/3 tsp salt
2/3 cup melted shortening
2/3 cup sweetener (details later)
2 medium eggs
1 1/3 tsp vanilla
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Whisk together dry ingredients in large bowl. Beat the eggs and add eggs and sweetener to bowl, stirring to combine thoroughly. For the sweetener, sorghum syrup is traditional, but hard to find. This summer I found some at an Amish supply store in Mesopotamia, Ohio and have been holding on to it until now. If you can't find sorghum syrup, molasses will also work but is more strongly flavored. Once I got crazy and used apple syrup that I made from frozen apple juice concentrate - it was too appley.
Finish by stirring in the melted shortening and vanilla. You will end up with a dough, not a batter, and you'll have to finish it by kneading with your hands.
Divide the dough into four equal parts. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake layer pan. Press the dough down into the pan and bake at 350 F until the top surface is dry. It won't take long - less than 10 minutes. When it's done, run a knife around the edge to loosen it, then flip it onto a cooling rack. If you have more than one pan, you can do it in batches. The cakes will cool quickly because they're so thin. Be careful handling the layers - they'll be a little crumbly.
Now put a layer on your cake plate and spread one third of the filling evenly on it. Put another cake layer down, being careful to align it with the first one, and spread another third of the filling on top. Repeat, then top it with the fourth cake layer. You want cake on top, not filling.
Now you need to set aside the assembled cake and let things sort of meld together, maybe overnight. The filling will put off a decent amount of liquid which will soak into the cake layers and keep them from being too dry. In fact, that liquid may end up making things too moist, in which case you can pop the whole cake into the oven again for a little while to tighten things up. To make it extra fun and traditional, you can pour a quarter cup of applejack or whiskey on the top layer.
5/6 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat to the boil and then to 235 F, a soft ball stage. Remove from heat, stir in butter, cinnamon and vanilla, and set aside to cool. But don't cool it all the way down, or it'll be hard to get onto the cake.
Spread the icing over the top of the cake. You can get fancy and let it artfully drip down the sides as well. Now you've got a real Appalachian fall treat. Slice it thin, because you can only take so much at a time.