Gail first shared the story of her “cake from back when” after I wrote a column about my family’s history with Pig Pickin’ Cake. Gail said she’d really enjoyed the column and I told her I had been surprised at how much interest it had sparked. After all, I thought it was a pretty common recipe. And it was, back in the 1970s and maybe 1980s. I told Gail I’d seen lots of versions of what my family calls “Pig Pickin’ Cake” in many a church cookbook.
She said that’s true of many recipes we all used to make regularly. But eventually a lot of us find a “new” favorite cake and the old ones are forgotten.
Gail’s story is a bit more personal, though. Her mom’s Honey Bun Cake didn’t fall by the wayside because it got replaced. It had become a sad reminder.
“Mom made it for years,” Gail said. “And the year her brother Zack was diagnosed with cancer, she made it at least once a month for when her eight siblings and their spouses got together. Uncle Zach loved it. After he died, Mom did not make it for years.”
Fast forward to 2003 or so.
“I was in charge of feeding the spring break mission team (40-plus folks, rebuilding the Choctaw Academy Church, in Rufe, Oklahoma) so I made the cake for the team and they loved it! I was in charge of meals for three subsequent spring break mission teams (to Oklahoma and Kentucky). There always were requests for ‘that delicious cake.’ About five years ago, I started leading the United Methodist Women team that prepares lunch for the church staff (30-40 people). My husband’s preferences influenced the menu. Mission Trip Chicken and rice plus the Honey Bun Cake were two of his ‘suggestions.’ Because he directs the Men’s Ensemble (as a volunteer), he feels the ‘need’ to attend staff functions, especially if food is involved.”
Gail notes “even chocolate lovers love this cake,” and she knows her mom clipped the recipe from a newspaper’s readers’ recipes column, probably the Charlotte Observer.
I’m going to Walt Disney World next week to meet up with friends. And like Gail, I’m an established “cookie, cake and snack” bringer. I’m going to make and take a Honey Bun Cake. I might need to bake two, though, because Mom and I are first traveling to Raleigh for Thanksgiving with my brother’s family. Mom will stay there while I’m in Florida.
Here’s Gail’s mom’s recipe, with some suggested, optional updates from Gail.
Honey Bun Cake (Updated)
This is for a single cake:
— 1 box yellow cake mix
— 4 eggs (use whites equivalent to 4 whole eggs to reduce the fat and calorie content)
— 3/4 cup oil (use ½ cup applesauce and ¼ oil)
— 1 cup sour cream (fat free works just as well)
• The Cinnamon Swirl
— 1 cup brown sugar (use ½ brown sugar and ½ Splenda)
— 3 tablespoons cinnamon (use ¼ cup, easier to measure)
— Gail often adds a “heavy dash” (1/2 teaspoon) of ground clove
— Gail’s husband, Milton Nelson, has suggested adding raisins
— 2 cups powdered sugar (Gail thinks she also has substituted Splenda for ½ of the powdered sugar)
— 4 tbsp milk (or enough to make a thin paste, you do not want it runny)
— 1 tsp vanilla
• Mix cake mix, oil, eggs and sour cream; pour 1/2 of this batter mixture in a greased 9x13 pan.
• Mix together cinnamon swirl: 1 cup brown sugar + cinnamon. Put 1/2 of this cinnamon mixture over batter in pan.
• Put rest of batter in pan, then other half of cinnamon/sugar swirl mixture.
• Mix/swirl. Mix/swirl some more. Mix and swirl the batter and cinnamon/sugar layer so thoroughly you wonder why you mixed them separately. This swirling, Gail says, is the key/secret to making this cake so incredibly good.
• Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. (“My Mom’s recipe says 325 degrees for 40 minutes,” Gail notes.)
• For the glaze/icing: Combine all ingredients and pour over cake as soon as you remove it from the oven. (Gail often uses a fork to make holes all over the cake so that all the icing does not just pool along the edges or in the middle of the cake.)
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]