Southern Traditions: Jam Cake

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!

Print Recipe
Southern Jam Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze
2018 © HollyTrail.com
Course Dessert
Cuisine Early American
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Cake
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened (8 ounces, 2 sticks, or 226 grams)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup jam, blackberry, raspberry, or plum (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon vinegar mixed into 1 cup milk; let stand at least 10 minutes before using)
Glaze
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
Course Dessert
Cuisine Early American
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Cake
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened (8 ounces, 2 sticks, or 226 grams)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup jam, blackberry, raspberry, or plum (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon vinegar mixed into 1 cup milk; let stand at least 10 minutes before using)
Glaze
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
Instructions
Make the cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt cake pan. Combine and sift flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each addition.
  3. In a small bowl, mix jam with a fork to loosen and eliminate lumps. Mix into butter mixture on medium-low speed.
  4. On low speed, mix in flour alternating with buttermilk. Begin and end with flour. Mix until just combined and batter is smooth, but do not overmix.
  5. Pour or spoon batter into prepared Bundt pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen sides of cake with a butter knife and turn pan over to remove cake from pan onto wire rack. Cool cake completely before glazing.
Make the glaze
  1. In a small saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Let cool 3-5 minutes.
  2. Stir in milk until well-combined. Stir in powdered sugar until well-combined. Drizzle warm glaze over cake.
Recipe Notes

If preferred, a dusting of confectioner's sugar finishes off the cake nicely instead of the glaze.

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