In the dead of winter when fresh berries are hard to come by, the Southern classic “Jam Cake” is a cake I just had to try. Aside from just plain “Jam Cake,” I’ve seen it called Tennessee Jam Cake and Kentucky Jam Cake. The cake was apparently a favorite of President Andrew Jackson, as author Ann Byrn reveals in her cookbook, American Cake. In the article, Make America Bake Again: A History of Cake in the U.S., she says that Jam Cake actually hailed from Europe, arriving in America via German immigrants who settled in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio (OK, so Ohio isn’t in the South!). Berries would be picked in summer, jam would be made, and a jar or two saved for winter that could be used to make this spiced Jam Cake.
Yes, there are spices in this cake, the usual suspects of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (or allspice). The first thing I did to put this cake together was to sift the spices in with the flour, salt, and baking soda.
I made the batter by first creaming butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes) and then adding in eggs one at a time, beating well in between.
Then I added the jam into the egg mixture. But before doing that, I mixed the jam in a small bowl to loosen it up.
After mixing the jam in, the egg mixture took on a purple hue. It was then time to add in the flour and buttermilk. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I made a quickie version (advice from “America’s Test Kitchen”), made up of one tablespoon of vinegar mixed into one cup of plain milk. Let it stand for 10-20 minutes, and it’s good to go.
I mixed the flour and buttermilk into the egg mixture on low speed and stopped mixing just when the batter became smooth–no more and no less. The batter was very thick.
Into the greased Bundt pan it all went.
It baked for about 45-50 minutes. The smells from the kitchen were so, so delicious–exactly like fresh jam being made on the stove.
After removing the cake from the oven, I could have just inverted it cake onto a wire rack and, when cool, dusted it with confectioner’s sugar before serving. However, there is a traditional, brown sugar glaze that goes with the cake, so I wanted to try it out.
I put brown sugar and butter in a small saucepan and heated it all together on medium high heat.
I stirred it constantly until it came to a boil, at which point, I took it off the heat.
I let it cool for a few minutes and then mixed in some milk.
Then I whisked in some confectioner’s sugar.
The glaze was a little thick. I immediately “drizzled” it over the cake straight out of the pot, pouring it from the middle to the sides of the cake in a zig-zag motion.
I then let the cake stand at room temperature for the glaze to harden, but I could have put it in the fridge instead.
I am finding that leaving a cake like this in the fridge overnight does wonders for it, in terms of both taste and texture.
We all had a slice. It tasted like a little bit of spice, a little bit of jam, and a little bit of history!