Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lucy Mae's Jam Cake

Jam cakes by nature are homey, uncomplicated and downright delicious.  These homespun cakes go all the way back to a time when hardworking ladies would put up jar after jar of glistening preserves from the season’s bounty in their kitchens, and use them throughout the year in desserts such as these.  Thought to have originated in the Appalachian region, there are about as many jam cake recipes & versions of them, as there are stories behind each one.  

A friend has been talking to me for quite some time about a jam cake recipe her grandmother used to make for her & her siblings when they were growing up, which used to get baked quite often.  She remembers the cake fondly.  The heirloom recipe which has been handed down from the Tennessee branch of her family through four generations, comes with years of smiles, celebrations and special milestones.  When I found out about the recipe, I immediately asked if she would be kind enough to share it with me so that I could make it for my birthday this year.  She readily agreed and asked that I make her family proud.  

Put to the task of making the jam cake the centerpiece of my Birthday Luncheon, I thought about what type of jam I would use to make the cake my own.  You see, the original recipe, which is the case for almost all of the jam cake recipes I’ve come across, calls for blackberry jam.  I wanted to use boysenberry for the sole reason that it has always been my favorite jam, ever since I can remember.  

This is what Cathy had to say:  "Growing up in rural Georgia was my favorite place to be and summer was my favorite time.  

As a tradition, or in my mother's words: “it’s just what you did at that time of year”.  My maternal grandfather (granddaddy) would spend endless hours picking wild blackberries. He would bring home large buckets overflowing with these dark purple delicacies and even before he could get into the house we would grab a handful to snack on or my grandmother (granny) would wash some and put them in bowls with sugar and milk for us to spoon up. Such wonderful memories. 

Later after all the berries had been cleaned my granny would either make blackberry cobbler with a big batch of them or ‘put up’ many jars of home canned jam.  

On special occasions she would make a jam cake.  My mom tells me it was usually around Christmas but I definitely remember jam cake during the summer.   And my granny’s cakes were a sight to behold.  Three thin layers of cake that glistened with a white film of crystalized sugar. It swooped down in the middle because it didn’t appear to rise in the oven and she iced the cake in a sugary simple syrup that caused the cake to split down the middle. We would each get a slice and it would almost melt in our mouths unless we ran across a whole blackberry. It was by far the sweetest cake I ever ate while growing up.  A rustic creation, but it was still heavenly."

Note:  There are two choices for filling and topping this delicious cake.  

Lucy Mae’s Jam Cake

Cake Layer Ingredients
  • 3 cups (400 g.) cake flour or White Lily flour--not self-rising--, sifted
  • 1 teaspoons (5 ml.) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7.5 ml.) ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoons (1.25 ml.) ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoons (2.5 ml.) fine sea salt
  • 2 sticks (226 g.) unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1-3/4 cups (410 g.) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temp.
  • 1 cup (240 ml.) buttermilk, room temp
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml.) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup jam, such as blackberry or boysenberry 
Filling & Topping I (my birthday cake)
  • 1-1/2 cups jam for sandwiching and spreading onto layers

Filling & Topping II (Lucy Mae's cakes)
  • 1 jar blackberry jam 15.25 oz (Polaner All-Fruit), room temp
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar

Equipment: Two 9x2” round cake pans
Serves 8-10
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (177°C).  Prepare cake pans by buttering, flouring and adding rounds of parchment or wax paper.  You can also prep your pans with nonstick spray.
  2. In a bowl, whisk to combine cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and salt.
  3. Cream butter & sugar with a mixer on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, until thick & fluffy.  Scrape down the bowl at least once.
  4. Add eggs one at a time on medium speed and beat well.
  5. With mixer on low, alternate adding the dry ingredients with the buttermilk.  Begin and end with the dry ingredients.  Add the vanilla extract.
  6. Add the 1 cup of jam and mix to combine.
  7. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake for approximately 37-42 minutes.  
  8. Cakes should feel springy to the touch and a cake tester inserted in the middle should come out clean.
  9. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto cooling racks.  Cool completely.
  10. Any uneven surface areas can be trimmed off once the layers are cooled.
To make the cake with just the jam filling and topping like I did for my birthday luncheon, simply place one of the cooled cake layers right-side up on a cake plate or cake stand.  Spread the top of that layer evenly with 3/4 cups of jam, letting it go all the way to the edge.  Lay the second layer on top of that to sandwich.  

If you want a very neat-looking cake, I highly suggest flipping the top layer of the cake upside down when stacking the layers.

Optional, but highly recommended by me, strain the remaining 3/4 cups of the jam to remove all seeds.  Use this strained jam (no need to heat) to spread evenly over that top layer, letting the excess drip down the sides of the cake.  This will give your cake a very glossy, smooth finish.

You can make this cake a day ahead of your event.  I recommend leaving it out at room temperature, well-covered underneath a cake dome.  Any leftover cake can also be left out at room temperature.

Filling & Topping II (Lucy Mae's Cake)

  • In a small saucepan combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved.  Cool. This is a simple syrup.
  • With a toothpick or cake tester poke holes in the cake layers. Place one cake layer on your plate/stand and spoon half the simple syrup on top of the cake. 
  • Spread less than half of your blackberry jam on top of this cake layer and then add the second cake layer. 
  • Spoon remaining simple syrup on top of second layer and then top with remaining jam allowing it to drip over the sides of the cake. 
  • A tender, moist, flavorful cake!

Note from Cathy: I tested with Polaner All-Fruit. I discovered that this jam needs to be slightly heated to get a smooth consistency. I did not heat the jam that went into the cake batter but did microwave the jam for about 1 minute to glaze the top of the cake.  Add the simple syrup to taste.  You will NOT use all of it for the cake layers.  Save remaining syrup for sweetening lemonade & iced tea.

I love having a slice of cake with a good cup of tea or a cup of strong coffee.

This was my slice as I was eating it for my birthday.  You can see that the cake layers are dark, tight-grained and incredibly delicious.  One of the nice things about this cake is that it will begin to absorb some of that jam if you let it sit before serving it.

Jam Cake

Jam cakes are nice way to end any type of special occasion.  Their beguiling sweetness and homespun charm will make you a fan of them if you've never had the pleasure of trying one.  As I have stated, they're great for company coming over or for an event, but they're also perfect to serve  to family just because.  

Have fun baking this special cake!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Birthday Luncheon

For my birthday I like to keep things simple.  All I really want to have on my special day is good food, good company, excellent music playing in the background, perhaps a sip of wine (or two) and, of course, a delicious cake to finish our repast.  This year I had a small birthday luncheon here at home which, to my mind, was beautiful and pleasing to the eye & palate, because of its simplicity.  Typical to the way I like to set a table for informal occasions, the china, linens and glassware where chosen and arranged with that effortless sense of calm that always puts guests at ease.  The menu was fresh, tasty and infinitely edible.  This is what I love: easy entertaining.    

In terms of how I choose a menu, I always like to start with the vegetables.  I think of those I’d like to have that are in season and absolutely the freshest, then build around them.  As far as the main course is concerned, it too needs to be of the season and it must absolutely complement the flavors & colors of my vegetables.  You see, I always think in terms of what my dinner plate is going to look like with the main course.  To me, a plate is like a blank canvas which needs to have visual, as well as gustatory interest.  The more color I see on my plate, the happier I will be for it.      

From the few posts I’ve done on in the past, you will understand that an understated and quiet elegance is what I like best for table settings.  I don’t really go for showy flower arrangements, gaudy silver & crystal or china which will detract from the food, because all people really want is to engage in good conversation and enjoy their meal.

For the luncheon I started with my color theme.  I chose pale creams & pastel blues, along with the soft green of jadeite.  The tablecloth was a hemstitched pastel blue linen, the dinner plates were old Wedgwood creamware and the salad plates were vintage British lusterware that have hand-painted flowers; they complement the linens quite nicely.  The glassware was an unpretentious Polish tumbler for water and a hobnail-footed goblet from the 1950s for the white wine.  Meant to mimic old French ivory, the stainless steel flatware was also very casual.  Last, but not least, were the small jadeite pots filled with African violets, flanked by jadeite bunny egg cups acting as master salt & pepper cellars.

Here are a few photographs of my birthday luncheon.  

African violets in mauve are so beautiful and just the right size for the Fenton jadeite flower pots from my collection.  Although I didn't decorate anything with mauve, the small accent of color hit just the right note.

A small bunny holds freshly ground pepper.
Its counterpart on the opposite end of the table holds kosher salt.  The diminutive bunnies were a recent birthday gift.  From the moment I saw them, I knew they would be perfect for master salt & pepper cellars.  Note the small glass shovels next to each bunny.

For the salad course, I made a fresh tomato & corn salad.  The orange cherry tomatoes and sweet white corn were from an Amish farm stand near my home, and the fresh herbs were from the garden.  The plates are lusterware from the 1950s.  I just love that gorgeous blue hue of the hand-painted flowers.

For the main course I knew I wanted fresh crab cakes.  I had been craving them for some time, so I went to the local Whole Foods and picked up a pound of Maryland blue crab for these tasty morsels.  The haricots vert were blanched and sautéed with olive oil and minced garlic.  The plates are old Wedgwood embossed creamware. 

When all was said and done, not a fleck of food was left on the plates.  This is what I like to see.

As for the cake, I made an old-fashioned, southern Jam Cake for my birthday cake.  Yes, I baked my own cake!  Again, I had been craving boysenberry jam for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity to use some and devour every sweet bite.

Here is a piece of that tasty cake sitting on a hobnail clear-glass dessert plate.  I can guarantee you that it was delicious.  Don't worry, I will share that recipe with you in the near future.  

Our cat, Lion, being silly in front of company!

Even if you only entertain just once this summer, I hope that this gives you an idea or two for your celebration or event.  It's always nice to find like-minded individuals who can inspire me to create and share for my loved ones, and believe me, I have very creative friends who are on my radar for ideas.  To me, it's all about sharing.  

Happy Entertaining!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Colorful Birthday Cookies

It isn't always my intention to style, edit and showcase what I do with my gift-giving here on Good Things by David, even if it's the all-too-familiar cookie decorating that I love doing.  Although my camera is always at the ready, there are moments and events in one's life when one needs to keep things simple and stress free.  As much as I wasn't planning on showing the cookies that I made for some dear family members of mine this past weekend, I couldn't resist giving you a peek.

You see, my younger brother celebrates his birthday two days after mine. We're both Leos.  No matter what I send him for his special day, I always include a few cookies with his gift because that's what I do.  Well, as it turns out, I had some extra dough, some extra-delicious royal icing and some adorable cookie cutters that I wanted to use, so I got a little carried away. Moreover, the cookies ended up being iced and decorated with my niece and nephews in mind.  I figured if the kids gave my brother and sister in law one or two cookies, then my gift-giving would have achieved its purpose.  I think my brother will understand.

One of those cookie cutters has been waiting in the wings to be used and let me assure you, it's a  most special cookie cutter that happened to be a limited edition issue at the time.  Don't worry, I plan on making an individual post showcasing that cookie cutter with its complete, detailed history.  Many of you will instantly recognize it.

Baking & Decorating Cookies
Good Things by David Style

Whenever I get ready to mail out an assortment of cookies, I gather everything on a great big platter or large bowl.  I then determine what will go where inside the box I've chosen, so that I ensure everything is packed carefully.

From my collection of Martha by Mail cookie cutters, the Sunflower & Papillon set is a lot of fun to use.  I realized this sunflower was the perfect shape to make a lion's head!  Several individuals thought I was creating suns.

Having a sunny window in my kitchen right by the dough counter is excellent, because I can stand here all day decorating cookie after cookie. Those piping bags filled with my perfect royal icing are at the ready.

Not only did I make animals, I also included some letters iced with simple designs.  Since these were going to the little ones in my family, I packaged each in individual cellophane bags tied with multicolored ribbons.  I realize they won't be able to eat all of these cookies, but with the kids being in summer camp, they can share them with their buddies.

Do you see those teddy bears?  I used a Nordstrom Teddy Bear cookie cutter to create the adorable creatures.  Look for that special post in the coming week!

I almost kept one of those lions for myself!  With his cute smiley face and little ears, who wouldn't want to?  Actually, I did keep one cookie.

 A letter 'D'.  Since it is my birthday today, I think I will treat myself to one of my own creations.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!  


Friday, July 18, 2014

Cleaning a Stand Mixer

Stand mixers are indispensable kitchen electrics that get a lot of use in our homes if we happen to be avid bakers.  Although they are pricey investments, you'll quickly come to realize their true worth once you start using one on a regular basis.  A stand mixer helps us mix, knead, grind, whip and combine just about any ingredient with ease.  I would be lost without my mixers, because I use them weekly to mix so much.  Regardless of the brand or capacity of one's particular mixer, it's a good idea to keep these machines clean and gleaming in our kitchens.

Keeping and maintaining a stand mixer in prime condition is very simple.  A mixer is made to provide us with decades of use in our kitchens, yet if one wants to keep them looking as good as the day they were purchased, it's essential that we keep a few things in mind.  In my very own kitchen I make it a habit to wipe down and clean my mixers as soon as I'm done with the day's baking.  It's almost impossible to keep an ingredient or two from splashing or flying out of the mixing bowl and having it all over the machine, so cleaning it when I'm done makes sense.  I use a lightly dampened, fluffy kitchen towel to do most of the work and a small paper towel (or a piece of one) to do one particular task.  Keep in mind that all of this should be done after you've unplugged the machine.  Using a very gentle spray cleaner can help with any sticky and unsightly mess.    

Here is a KitchenAid duo flanking a Cuisinart food processor on one of my Metro shelves in the kitchen.  Everything is clean and ready to go should I need them. 

I always begin from top to bottom whenever I clean my mixer.  With the machine unplugged, take a cloth that's lightly dampened (not sopping wet) and begin wiping down the head of the mixer.  Get all the way around it on both sides and remove any flour or other food particles.

Carefully wipe around the speed control knob and make sure that you do not get any water into the opening.  Remember to wipe the labeled metal strip too.  This one has smears of flour & butter if you look closely.  If using a spray cleaner, spray the towel and wipe down the mixer.  Don't spray the mixer itself.

You will find ventilation ports behind the motor.  Wipe those down and always keep them free of dust.

Don't forget the handle.  6qt. or larger models have plastic knobs attached to the ends, so keep these clean as well.

If you've used the attachment gear shaft at the top, wipe the inside well with a paper towel and reattach the branded cover when you're done.

With the same cloth, wipe down the cord and keep it free of grease.  Don't wet the plug.

The KitchenAid mixers are labeled well with cautionary reminders.  The gear attachment area is probably the one that gets the dirtiest.  The metal band which connects the gear gets wiped & cleaned first.  This one, again, has flour on it and bits of butter mixed with sugar.

If you look at it from below to above, you can see flour and even some splashed vanilla extract.  Wipe it clean.  Newer models have a smooth rotating disk in this area with no gaps in between, which makes wiping them down a lot easier.  However, if your model is a bit older like mine, don't forget to get into that gap between the shaft and metal band. 

The gear shaft itself almost always gets a bit of residue from the motor.  I use a paper towel or part of one to wipe this area down, because it does permanently stain cotton towels.  The metal clip which winds around the shaft and holds the attachment down needs to be cleaned well.  Stubborn flour can get caught in there.  A small brush can be used to remove any flour from this area. 
Raise the arms of the mixer (unless you have a tilt-head model) and wipe them down, both in front & back.  If any flour has crept down the spine of the mixer, wipe that off.

Let's not forget the base of the mixer.  Bits of flour, butter, eggs, among other things, will gradually find their way to the the base if we spill a little bit while mixing.  Wipe the area well.

Mixer bowls are dishwasher-safe since they are constructed from stainless steel.  I like running them through the dishwasher because it removes all traces of butter & grease, which may otherwise hinder whipping egg whites in the future.  However, I do on occasion hand wash them if I don't have room in the dishwasher, using very hot, soapy water.

The types of attachments that come with mixers vary, but most will resemble these.  There is a whisk attachment, a flat beater and a dough hook.  Some people put these in the dishwasher, but I never do.  I always hand wash and dry them with a clean kitchen towel.

This new style of flat beater (sold separately) with wiper blades attached to the ends is quite helpful and makes scraping down the bowl of the mixer as you're mixing, virtually unnecessary.  It's a nice extra attachment to have and I do run it through the dishwasher since it's plastic.

Gleaming & spotless, the KitchenAid stand mixer is now ready to be either left on the counter or get placed on my Metro shelf.

If you're in the market for a stand mixer sometime soon, the capacity, attachments & wattage, along with the brand, should be completely your choice.  I've used KitchenAid stand mixers for years now and I couldn't be happier with them.  Other brands of reliable and powerful mixers include, Viking, Breville, Cuisinart & Hamilton Beach.  Check the instructions manual that comes with your mixer to see if the attachments are dishwasher safe.  If it does not tell you or if you happen to acquire a used mixer (this can prove to be a real money saver!), wash the attachments by hand.  You'll come to understand that it's so much nicer to approach a clean stand mixer the next time you find yourself reaching for one.  Make it a routine in your home to keep these beautiful machines clean, because they are going to provide you with years of great baking.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Deer, The Fox & The Groundhog

Nature never ceases to amaze me.  With so much wildlife around our home, it's not uncommon to see various animals walking by our windows during the day.  Some of them have even become 'residents'.  It just so happens that we were given one of those special and rare occurrences that can only be believed if seen firsthand.  Thankfully my camera is always at the ready!

A small miracle behind our house between a groundhog, a fox and a deer turned into something out of Peaceable Kingdom the other day.  It's almost as if these three characters decided to put on a show for us and behave quite civilly toward one another.  Yes, I was chuckling in between photographs, but really, it was rather jaw dropping to observe how mindful these creatures were of each other.  

This is pure entertainment!

You can see our resident groundhog, Henry, to the far left nibbling on some thick grass.  The fox who isn't fully grown yet, is right in the center and looks as if it's going to attack.  It didn't.  The deer is on the right.

A mother and her fawn have been spotted around our residence these past few weeks.  The baby stays very close to its mother, but once in awhile it does run around wildly, bucking & jumping every which way.

The little one has such an adorable face.

A den of foxes has taken up residence here just beyond the hill.  During the spring a couple of foxes gave birth to several kits; we counted 7-8 kits in total.  It was so beautiful to see the babies playing with one another, nursing and even waiting for their mother to come back from a hunt.  At the beginning, the kits were a very dark brown color, but as time went on, their coats became that familiar reddish hue.  On several occasions we spotted one particular kit (bottom right) sitting on the slate steps waiting for its mother to come back from her hunts.  


Our beloved groundhog, Henry, has survived several years of harsh weather and predators.  I realize that many individuals view these creatures as nuisances, but since there is so much space here, Henry does as he pleases.  He always brings a smile to our faces.

The silly trio behaved as if it were just another regular day for them.  I've only ever seen two of these animals near each other, never all three at once.  The adorable fox was so well behaved!

For a few moments we thought the fox was going to try and attack Henry, but he didn't.  The fox decided it was best to just lie there and take a rest.  

Here they are mugging for the camera.  As if on cue, they both turned to look at me.  How cute are they?

So it's not quite Peaceable Kingdom since there wasn't a lion nearby, but it's still remarkable to me.  I don't think I will ever witness this scene again, since Henry pretty much keeps to himself.  Perhaps Henry is mellowing out in his old age.  Who knows?

It was by pure chance that all three animals came together to pose for the camera and I'm only glad I was able to keep a steady hand while taking these pictures.