Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Entertaining: Jelly Cake

Every Christmas Eve, my grandmother, aka Grandmommie, throws a dinner party. My entire family comes as do all of my grandmother's friends. Of course, Grandmommie just celebrated her 96th birthday so, over the years, as the number of grandchildren and great grandchildren have increased, sadly the number of Grandmommie's friends and older family members have passed on. However, at 96, Grandmommie has never been one to act her age. In fact, I'm not even supposed to know her age. None of us are. It's probably a punishable offense that I am plastering the big 96 all over the Internet.

However, now that Grandmommie has made it this far, I think she's actually very proud of being what her doctor calls healthy as a horse. She still regularly takes out her adversaries at the bridge table and her memory is way better than mine. In all seriousness, Grandmommie enjoys life, which sounds like a silly thing to say, but there are many people, young and old, who don't know how to make it through the tough times, enjoy the little things and truly believe that, to quote Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind, Grandmommie's favorite movie, Tomorrow is another day.

Now that I'm married, I'm only able to make it down to my grandmother's party every other Christmas. While I love my in-laws dearly, it's always bittersweet for me since I know I'm missing out on Grandmommie's huge dining room table filled with platters of homemade brown sugar slathered hams, parker house rolls, potato salad, deviled eggs, baked beans, petit fours and, my all-time favorite, jelly cake!

I know I wrote about Jelly Omelettes a few weeks ago, but jelly cake is a totally different animal. An Old Town Alexandria, Virginia (my hometown) specialty, jelly cake was created by the owners of Schumann's bakery over a hundred years ago. Basically, it's a very thin and delicate yellow cake cut into three layers with each layer slathered in jelly and the very top dusted in powdered sugar. It may sound somewhat unexciting, but to bite into a piece of jelly cake is something else entirely. Years ago, jelly cake established an international reputation when Queen Elizabeth had one brought to her by private jet!

Jelly cake is a Christmas tradition in Old Town and so while I planned baby girl's party/ holiday open house this year I knew I had to figure out a way to recreate it. While the original recipe is under lock and key in some safety deposit box somewhere, I did a little research and found a tiny article in the Washington Post that said the cake is actually a pound cake which surprised me since I always associate pound cake with hockey pucks. The jam is red currant. I had none of that on hand so I decided to use two precious jars of my homemade raspberry jam. For the cake, I turned to Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours and her Perfection Pound Cake recipe.

As you can see in the picture below, this cake is only about 2 inches high and is cut into three layers. I had to say several prayers and have my husband's moral and physical support while cutting and then assembling this cake. Don't fret, it's only about ten minutes of terror and then you have an amazing cake to gobble up. It's so wintery and perfect with a glass of milk or a cup of tea. Enjoy!

Jelly Cake
(For the cake, I adapted Dorie Greenspan's Perfection Pound Cake recipe. I found her cake to be light with a full butter flavor. I also invested in an 11 inch cake pan which gives the jelly cake its wide flat shape. However, if you don't want to invest, then just use what you have. Your cake won't be quite as delicate, but it will still be tasty. More reminiscent of a Devonshire cake, which I think must've been the Schumann's original inspiration for this dessert.)

What You'll Need:

For the Cake - 
2 cups Flour (all purpose or white whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter at room temperature (soft, but not oily and separating)
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

For Assembly -
12 ounces of Raspberry or Red Currant Jam the best you can find

Preheat the oven to 325 and generously butter your cake pan.  In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder; set aside. Set your mixer to high and beat the butter and sugar for 5 minutes until it's white and fluffy. Don't cut corners, the extra beating time makes a difference. Scrape the sides of the bowl and turn down the mixer to medium. Add each of the four eggs one at a time and beat for 2 minutes in between each egg. Keep scraping down the bowl as you go. Then add the vanilla. Finally, turn down the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients. Mix just a little bit and then turn off the mixer and finish incorporating the flour by hand. Pour the batter in the cake pan and pop into the oven. Bake until golden brown and a knife comes out clean. About 30-40 minutes. Turn it out of the pan and let it cool on a rack top side up.

To assemble the cake, gather your nerves and the longest, narrowest knife you have. Do your best to cut the cake into three equal layers. I did this by inserting the knife in the middle with one hand and bracing the top of the cake with the other and I kept moving very carefully around the cake.

Once the cake is cut, remove the top two layers and generously spread the bottom layer with jam. To get the middle layer on, I had to cut it into quarters and lay them on one at a time matching it up like a puzzle. Once you've done that, slather it with jam. Finally, every so gently slide the top layer onto the bottom layers - this is the easiest part - and dust generously with powdered sugar.

To serve, you can cut this cake in typical cake triangles or you can do like Grandmommie and cut it into tiny bite sized diamonds. Either way it's delicious. The best part about this cake is somehow time makes it better and better. We're on our fourth day and it's still amazing!

Approximate Dinner Cost:
Groceries: $12
Cost per Meal: Oh gosh, if you're a good boy or girl, there are like 12-15 servings in here! Perfect for a party of 20 or so.

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  1. This looks so delicious! Wouldn't this be a nice addition to a holiday dessert table with the cookies from your body + soul article! Both grandmothers would be represented!

  2. Yes!!! They totally would. Thanks, A:)

  3. I'd not heard of jelly cake before. This was a nice introduction to it and it looks delicious enough to eat in the photo.

  4. As a guest at your baby girl's big-birthday-bash/holiday open house, I was fortunate enough to sample this delight. And resample, and resample, and...

    This was simply delicious and the use of your homemade raspberry jam was a welcome substitution.

    I'm not much of a baker, but this has inspired me to try my hand for our next event!

  5. Thanks Alisa and Andreas!!! Luckily it's such a big cake that I had some left to munch on:)

  6. Sort of pancake, sort of cake, lots of jelly. How can you miss?

  7. As much as I am intrigued by this cake and its description, I'm more intrigued by your grandmommie. Does she cook all those things you mentioned?? And what a wonderful role model you have. I find it amazing that someone can reach the age of 96 with everything intact and the ability to enjoy every day still!

  8. Thanks Frugal and Sheryl.

    Sheryl, Grandmommie's a wonder and a constant inspiration to me. She still lives in her house, goes to the office every day, and plays bridge. She even made her signature sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. I hope I turn out just like her!!

  9. I've never heard of this before. Thanks for sharing. I love learning about regional specialties!

  10. I loved your description of Grandmommie and look forward to trying her cake. Thanks for the recipe.

  11. Looking delicious. This reminds me of a Viennese dessert called Gerbaud slices that uses walnuts and yeast in the dough and apricot jam in between the three layers. Tasty.

  12. Wow, I'm as impressed that your grandma is 96 (96!) as I am by this recipe. I am sure you will be just like her, and live just as long! (And the jelly cake looks fabulous also.)

  13. Looks delicious! Very impressive that your Grandmother made it to 96. Would that we all live that long!

  14. I've never heard of it either, but wow do I want to taste some. Right this minute. Did you see the article in yesterday's NYT food section, about southern ladies & their cakes? This reminds me of that.

  15. I've never heard of it, but now will always think of your grandmother when I do. Beautiful story.

  16. Such a fabulous looking cake! Sorry you had to go to the in-laws. My daughter married last year and this was the first year she had to spend Thanksgiving at her in-laws and I didn't like sharing her one bit!

  17. I want to be just like your Grandmommie when I grow up. Any woman who goes to the office, plays bridge and bakes at 96 deserves to have a book written about her. I've never heard of jelly cake but hope to try it one day.

  18. Thanks everyone!!

    Debbie, I was totally thinking the NYT and were on on the same page this week:) However, I don't know that I'll ever make it to 15 layers!

    Barbara, I feel your pain. My in-laws are absolutely phenomenal and I love celebrating with them. Wish we could all celebrate together every year!

    Grandmommie is definitely one of a kind and is one of the most influential people in my life!

  19. How did Grandmommie stay so healthy? Good diet? Good exercise regiment? Good genes? Inquiring minds want to know!

  20. You are so lucky to have a Grandmommie still cooking at 96... and one who makes yummy stuff like this!

  21. Ahh! I know I wish we all had her secret, Stephanie! But, I truly think her secret is that she enjoys every single day of her life. Always have. She also is blessed with amazing genes.

  22. Peggy-
    Loved your description of your grandmother. How wonderful that you have her with you. Good on her!! And, the recipe, I am certainly tempted to do the thing cake, and please know that's a big tempt as I've not made a cake in at least 30 years. But it sounds so yummy....thx for the recipe.

  23. Peggy,
    never knew you were from Old Town Alexandria -- I've spent happy hours there listening to Irish music. thanks for the great introduction to your Grandmother, and for the recipe.

  24. FYI http://www.jellycake.net/FAQ.htm



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