What to CookSouthern

A Vintage Southern Cake, Made Tender with—Wait for It—Jam

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There are many excellent ways to enjoy berry jam. Spread it on toast. Slather it on a muffin. Dot your cookie dough with it. Layer it into a tart. Make a cocktail with it. Throw caution to the wind, live wildly, and just eat it with a spoon. Or transform it into a cake!

Photo by Posie Harwood

In this case, the cake in question is a tender spice cake, moist with buttermilk and fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The three layers are swathed in a caramel-brown sugar frosting that sets ever so slightly within minutes, crackling pleasantly between your teeth with every bite.

And what about that jam? Swirled into the batter, it tints the cake slightly and sweetens it up. It's very subtle: You'd be hard-pressed to identify the flavor as fruit, but the jam does wonders for the texture of the cake, moistening the crumb beautifully.

This is an old, classic Southern cake. You'll sometimes find it called Tennessee Jam Cake, sometimes Kentucky Jam Cake, but the concept is the same. I love vintage recipes; there's something romantic about the idea of a beloved dish being passed down through generations. And as a baker, it's comforting to know that the recipe has been tested and tweaked for years, slowly being altered and turned into its most reliable, perfect form.

Photo by Posie Harwood

Decorate this cake any way you like (with beautiful but inedible hydrangea blossoms, as I did here, if you like), but do not skimp on the frosting! Instead of the traditional boiled brown sugar frosting, I like to use a bourbon-spiked version. It adds some intrigue to the cake and helps balance the sweetness of the icing. And you could leave the sides unfrosted, but after one bite of the frosting, you'll want to pile on as much as possible.

Tennessee Jam Cake

Tennessee Jam Cake

Posie (Harwood) Brien Posie (Harwood) Brien
Makes one 9-inch layer cake

For the cake

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 10 ounces berry preserves or jam
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (optional)

For the frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
Go to Recipe

What "vintage" recipes do you love? Tell us about them in the comments.

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Tags: Cake, Bake