Blackberry Jam Cake
Another potluck with my friends and colleagues from the university happened. As always, that caused me to think for days what I’m going to make. In the end, the latest issue of Cook’s Country coming in the mail helped make the decision. A rather lengthy article described the overhaul of a traditional Appalachian dessert, the Blackberry Jam Cake. The author reported all kinds of problems with different recipes taken from several cookbooks and what the test kitchen had to change in order to get rid of all the flaws in those recipes.
Well, I thought this should be a foolproof recipe, so I just went ahead and followed the directions, disregarding what I knew about creating cake batter and so on. I was a little worried, when I took the sponge out of the oven and it had shrunk away from the baking ring a little bit. Also, it slightly collapsed, while it was cooling down. In order to prevent further shrinkage, I turned it upside down, so that it would hang in the ring upside down and not collapse further. I did not think that the amount of butter in the recipe would prevent the cake from sticking to the parchment paper. As soon as I had turned it upside down, it was no longer connected to the ring or the parchment paper, so it just fell onto the kitchen towel. Not good. But it was cooked through all the way, and the bottom of the sponge didn’t look too bad, so I just left it on the rack to cool off.
Meanwhile, I started preparing the caramel for the caramel buttercream. The caramel consists of brown sugar, milk, flour and cornstarch. It has to cook until it considerably thickens. The recipe said, cook it over medium heat for about 7 minutes. Yeah, not with my smoothtop range. It took about twice as much time, and I had to switch to high after 7 minutes because it was heating up so slowly. Once nicely thickened, I took it off the heat and let it cool down a little bit. Carefully tasting it (trying not to burn my mouth), I noticed a very prominent floury taste. Crap. That was not supposed to be in there. Well, anyway, if things went terribly wrong, I could just do something else, entirely.
After a couple hours, I finished the buttercream, and now the floury taste was gone, replaced by a very nice nutty flavor. The buttercream actually turned out to be AMAZING! Best frosting ever…
I let everything cool off over night, and in the morning first whipped the buttercream to make it light and fluffy again. Then I cut the sponge in half. No surprise, it was kind of dense. Not really a nice and fluffy texture. But the crumbs tasted OK, so I just went ahead and assembled the cake. Took longer than expected because the buttercream started to curdle a little bit (caramel and butter apparently have different opinions about how long it takes them to reach room temperature after spending a night together in the fridge). Not a problem for my stand mixer! Several minutes later, everything was smooth again, and I could finish the icing of the cake. Then chop up some walnuts, roast them in a pan, and off we go, decorating the cake. Wanna see?
Yes, I was kind of satisfied with the appearance of this cake. I think it looks much nicer than the one in the picture of the Cook’s Country. The S’mores flavored cookies on top were an emergency solution for me not being able to acquire fresh blackberries. Our local grocery store had half pints of blackberries for $2.50 (just having spent half my summer in Seattle, this seems like a ripoff), but all of them contained at least one berry that had decided to grow a Santa beard. Not very appealing…
Anyway, when we finally cut the cake, in the evening, the color of the sponge looked greyish-blue, and the bottom layer had this nasty wet and dense spot that you always get when your cake collapses after baking. Those issues were well known by the author of the recipe (there were even pictures of them in the article) and supposed to have been fixed! They had substituted baking powder for baking soda because of the discoloration (apparently that doesn’t really matter), and supposedly had adjusted proportions and procedures to prevent the cake from becoming a dense slab of baked batter.
While I have no idea what happened with the color (I’m not a chemist), I have a theory about the texture. I think that the batter was simply overbeaten. There’s a reason that I learned not to use the stand mixer for incorporating flour into a cake batter. Next time, I will try doing that by hand (instead of “reducing the spieed to medium low and adding flour in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of jam mixture”), and we will see how it’s going to turn out…
Anyway, the unanimous opinion was that the cake tasted delicious. Well, it had about four sticks of butter in it (including frosting), so that’s not a big surprise ;-)
The final product in “artistic” presentation.
A European’s take on an American classic: Blackberry Jam Cake