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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!


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