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When the cabinet calls

I have a problem, and it’s sitting in my kitchen cabinet. It crouches in the corner like a jack-in-the-box. It’s packed like gunpowder ready to explode. It’s a many-headed monster, cold and heavy, lying in wait. It, dear reader, is eleven jars of jam.

So much sugared, syrupy fruit should have me ecstatic, I know, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a certain amount of excitement each time I open the cabinet door. There they are: nearly a dozen jewel-toned jars, shimmering with promise and ready to spread. I reach for one. I turn it over in my hand, admiring its heft and viscosity. I test the lid, making sure that the seal is secure. And then, with a sigh, I put it back on the shelf. I love jam—the concept of it, the process of making it, the mere fact of its existence, not to mention its flavor—but I never seem to actually eat it. Apparently, I collect it. I guess it’s more my style than stamps, or PEZ dispensers.

But nonetheless, it’s getting obscene, if not a bit ominous. Being the somewhat anti-waste woman that I am, I can’t help but hear a call—or, rather, a roar from the back of the cabinet—to do something with the stuff. To hoard so many calories really can’t be okay, especially when I could eat them instead. Toast would be a good start, but sadly, I prefer a glob of salty butter to any number of jams, jellies, and preserves. PB & J would be fine, too, but I like peanut butter plain much better. I could make a batch of Linzer cookies, I guess, but they say Christmas to me, not late March. And really, when dealing with this quantity of concentrated fruit, I think it best to cut straight to the chase, and just spoon a half-cup or so on top of a cake.

I’ve been a fan of cake-jam pairings for a little while now, since a recipe by Flo Braker taught me that jam belongs not only on bread, but also on a simple, buttery cake. Her method calls for a cake sandwich of sorts, with a slathering of jam in the middle and a doily of powdered sugar on top. It’s hard to argue with near-perfection, but this time, I wanted something even simpler. And turning from the pantry to my pile of cookbooks, I found just the thing: a cornmeal cake, already book-marked and waiting, no doubt, for a warm, jammy sauce and a crooked cap of whipped cream.

I can think of many worse ways to solve a problem than with a plate of this cake: sweet, tender, freckled with nubs of cornmeal and shards of lemon zest, and fitted with a lacy, delicately crunchy collar. When something is this good—really, knee-bucklingly so—any adornment is superfluous, but because I was on a mission, I gilded my lily with a sauce of warm jam, made silky and spoonable on the stovetop, and then I silenced the eleven-headed monster under a few soft peaks of whipped cream.

And before the cabinet calls again, I’m taking the last piece of cake and catching a plane to New York. I’ll be back in ten days—and ready, no doubt, to attend to the ten jars of jam still waiting.

Cornmeal Cake with Warm Apricot Jam and Whipped Cream
Adapted from Fresh from the Farmers’ Market, by Janet Fletcher

I think of this cake as a sort of sexed-up cornbread. Put it this way: it is to cornbread as a silk nightgown is to cotton pajamas. It’s still comfortable in the way that only cornbread can be, but it’s better. To treat it right, be sure to use a good-quality jam. I used a sunny apricot version made by one of my favorite French producers, La Trinquelinette. I imagine that a vibrant strawberry might be nice too—or really, anything with a bright flavor and good balance of sweetness to acidity. If you want to gild the lily even further, you can play at slipping a little liqueur into the whipped cream—maybe 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon per cup of cream. Bourbon goes especially well with apricot, I’m happy to report.

1 ¼ cups cake flour
6 Tbs fine yellow cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup milk, preferably whole
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp grated lemon zest
½ cup good-quality jam, preferably apricot
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9” round cake pan with butter or cooking spray, and then dust the pan lightly with flour, shaking out any excess.

In a bowl, whisk together the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar gradually, scraping down the bowl once or twice, until smooth and fully incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon zest, and beat to incorporate. Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk mixture, beating on low speed until just combined. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 15-20 minutes in the pan; then invert it onto a plate, and turn it topside up onto a rack. Cool the cake to room temperature.

When you are ready to serve the cake, spoon the jam into a small saucepan, and warm it over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it loosens to the consistency of a spoonable sauce and bubbles gently around the edges. If your jam was on the thick side to start, or if you would like a truly drizzle-able sauce, you may want to add a bit of water—a couple of teaspoons, maybe, or more—to help it along.

While the jam warms, whip the cream. Pour the cream into a mixing bowl, and beat it on medium speed until it begins to thicken. With the beaters running, slowly sprinkle in the sugar, and continue to beat until the cream holds soft peaks.

To serve, cut the cake into wedges, drizzle a bit of warm jam over the top, and dollop with whipped cream.

Yield: 8 generous servings


Blogger Nic said...

I'm a big fan of jam and cakes, as well, Molly. I love the addition of cornmeal with the other flavors here. It sounds delicious.

4:14 AM, March 25, 2006  
Anonymous sher said...

I love good jam. I make it when the best fruit is available and that makes a huge difference in quality. Years ago I used to enter mine in the county and state fairs, which was fun. I like the idea of the cornmeal in the cake because I don't like a vapid cake paired with good jam.

8:27 AM, March 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Molly!
Great idea! Another thing I do to "use up" jam at the end of the season is to mix it into plain white yogurt to make my own natural fruit-flavored yogurt. The flavored yogurt from the store adds all those weird fructose and corn syrups and stuff, and is sometimes tooo sweet, so this way I can mix it to taste. And it uses up a jar of jam!

9:47 AM, March 25, 2006  
Blogger violet said...

about a month ago, when my other half's parents were in cabo, he and i went over to take care of their blind dog some nights and when i opened one of the kitchen cabinets, i found about (no exaggeration) 60 jars of fig preserves his mother had made late summer from the fig tree in their yard. now i cant get rid of damn fig preserves to save the last of them. as soon as one jar is gone, his mother sends another home with us.

2:17 PM, March 25, 2006  
Anonymous Nico said...

As a follow-up to the previous commenter, here's another way to make use of those jars of confiture (especially the tart-tasting dark berry fruit ones). Just like some other people, each day I wake expressly for the purpose of eating the exact same breakfast :) In my version of granola-breakfast, I mix my favorite granola-nut mix with plain yoghurt, banana, and a teaspoon of my favorite 'confiture', which gives it an extra kick and substitutes any extra sugar-needs to sweeten the yoghurt.

2:46 PM, March 25, 2006  
Anonymous Dave said...

At least your jars are unopened and sitting in the cabinet. Mine are in the refrigerator. When I buy a jar of a new jam or jelly I immediately have to try it. Then of course, the curse of "Refrigerate after openeing". occurs.

3:48 PM, March 25, 2006  
Blogger McAuliflower said...

Oh dear... I have the same affliction. Mine stems from the fear of using it up.

I dare you to heat up one of your jams on the stove and ad vodka to it to make liqueur... :)

8:05 PM, March 25, 2006  
Anonymous lindy said...

I like jam with cake too. This one looks like a good combination. Also on oatmeal...or pancakes, or french toast.

4:04 AM, March 26, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

I love love love La Trinquelinette. What a good idea, to spoon warm jam over a simple cake like that. And I agree with Lindy that in pancakes or crepes or 'omelette confiture' it can also be sublime. Or as a glaze for pork tenderloin? Or as the filling for simple, homey crostata - so plain you can eat it for breakfast? And the idea of "sexed-up cornbread" made me smile. Sounds delicious! Anyway, I digress. Have a safe flight! See you soon! :)

10:52 AM, March 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad Purim is over already -- I love filling my hamentaschen with delicious jams!

-Ester in Brooklyn

11:06 AM, March 26, 2006  
Blogger Nerissa said...

I had to laugh when I read your post. I have a collection of jam threatening me all the time from my cupboard and fridge all the time too. I've been thinking about making butterfly cupcakes or just a good old-fashioned jam cake for my students (aren't they lucky?) I feel that way I can enjoy the taste but not be stuck with eating ALL the jam or leaving various flavours crowding the fridge. I like the anonymous comment about mixing it with yoghurt, particularly since I've been avoiding any jams with fructose... well anything with "ose" at the end.

11:14 PM, March 26, 2006  
Blogger Jen said...

You should make these cupckaes (http://www.nigella.com/recipes/recipe.asp?article=225), the cakey part has almost an entire jar of jam in the mix. The recipe says to use cherry, but you could make any variety you liked.

I have made these before, and they are devilishly delicious! And a good way to add a few extra calories to the jam!

2:16 AM, March 27, 2006  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

You too have cabinet like that? A magical place with foods holding court? That cake pairing is magnificent!

10:12 AM, March 27, 2006  
Blogger Tea said...

I suggest this simple solution: send your extra jam to me! I'd be happy to help by taking some of those jewel-like jars off your hands, Molly. Really, anything to help a pal in need.

Have a great time in NY. We're looking forward to hearing about your adventures when you return.

4:48 PM, March 27, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Nic, this cake really took me by surprise. I was already a devoted fan of the cookbook in which I found it, but really, this cake is just exceptional: so tender, so fragrant with lemon and vanilla...and then the cornmeal just cinches the deal.

Sher, I had no idea that you were a competitive jam-maker! I'm very impressed. Do you have any particular specialties? I humbly offer that this cake is a worthy pairing for even a prizewinner...

Anonymous, that's an excellent idea! Thank you for reminding me. I too have been known to spoon jam into plain yogurt, especially a yogurt that's on the puckery side. Yum.

Violet, I am a sick woman. When I read your comment, the first thing I thought was, "Wow! I want some fig preserves!" Apparently, my days of compulsive jam collecting are far from over. Ohhh, fig jam...

Nico, hmmm, your breakfast sounds strangely familiar. Hmmm. From one yogurt-and-granola girl to another, have you tried pureeing the banana before you mix it into your yogurt? [Oh no, here I go again, negating the need for jam!] Sometimes, if I've been making banana bread or something of that sort, I'll save some banana puree in the fridge - it will keep for a day or so, although it will discolor slightly - and stir it into my morning yogurt. I love the way the sweet, creamy banana flavor melds with tart plain yogurt. Mmmm, mmm.

Dave, I feel your pain. And sadly, I'm sure that your fridge does too. But, hey, at least refrigerators exist, right? If they didn't, you'd live with a constant imperative to eat massive quantities of jam, lest it go bad...

McAuliflower, I'm so sorry. Fear of starvation - or rather, of jam shortage - is a terrible thing. But vodka? A very good thing.

Lindy, good ideas! Thank you. I really like the idea of jam on a good, fluffly buttermilk pancake. It's almost like toast, but dressed up. I'm not sure, though, that I'm ready to trade it for honey on my oatmeal, or maple syrup - aaaah, maple syrup! - on my French toast. I'm hopeless, I know.

Luisa, you're just full of good ideas, aren't you? Thank you! You know, one of my fondest Parisian street-food memories is a steamy, fresh-from-the-griddle crepe folded around a pocket of apricot confiture, eaten while ducking under an awning to escape a winter afternoon drizzle. Thank you for reminding me! And about that jam crostata: yes, please. A demain, my dear.

Ester, you've got the right idea. Delicious!

Thediningdica, you're a woman after my own heart. I'm pretty notorious for pawning off various baked goods on my coworkers. I'm struck with the urge to bake more often than I can justify, and I often have ingredients - i.e. jam - that I simply must use. But I live alone, and a girl can't eat an entire cake, can she? Or not all the time, at least. Your cupcakes sound like a very good idea.

Jen, those sound wonderful, and with "devilishly delicious" in their description, I can't possibly resist. Look out, jam: more calories are coming your way!

Foodiechickie, I like that: "a magical place with foods holding court." A much better term than "cabinet"!

Tea, you're such a good friend. Wow. What a generous offer! I'll let you know if I feel like parting - gasp! sniffle, sniffle - with anything in my collection...

5:09 PM, March 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son just asked about cornmeal cake last night ... I had no clue what he was talking about...THANKS! Also, for a great pairing w/ jam...try out Pie in the Sky's strawberry muffins. You hide a dollop of jam inside the muffin that gets all gooey when you bake it. They are even good cold! My 15 year old loves them because he is self-admittadly lazy and like that the muffins already have "stuff" in/on them. Thanks again...love your blog. Wendy

3:54 AM, March 28, 2006  
Blogger Michèle said...

Molly, I understand exactly what you are saying. Although I must admit that for me its not so much the jam (though I do have about 6 jars laying around). My problem lies more with honey! I cant seem to stop buying it and have flavours like thyme, eucalyptus, rosemary, dandelion, pine, heather, buckwheat, and so on and so on. Perhaps I should just make cake, break out all my honey jars, and give in!

4:12 AM, March 28, 2006  
Blogger dairokkan said...

This recipe sounds delicious, as all your recipes do. I MUST try it soon. Another thing I like to put jam on is mozarella sandwiches (shredded chicken with a little mayo in toasted bread, covered with lots of mozarella, melted in the oven). I usually put one or too tablespoons of strawberry jam on it.

6:27 AM, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous Melissa said...

I was just about to happily rattle off a few ideas of my own, but it seems they've pretty much all been covered - apart from, perhaps, a bit of jam and strong cheese for dessert? I've even been known to put a smear of jam on a savory sandwich, but I wouldn't dream of suggesting you do such a thing. I think your cake idea is brilliant, though, and I have just bookmarked the recipe for that day when I too open the cupboard to find a glut of jam. Then again, you wouldn't tell anyone if I went out and bought a jar just for this, would you?

9:00 AM, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous sher said...

Molly, I had to come back and look at your cake again! It's driving me crazy. I was addicted to entering jam competitions. I did pickles and other preserves too. Anything for a ribbon. My favorite jam is called Peach Melba. I make it when the best peaches are in season, with raspberries in it.

7:51 PM, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous Oliver said...

Hi Molly, reading eleven jars of jam I immediately had to think of scrumptious crêpes. "Street style", thinly made with a decent amount of filling and folded. So to me those 11 jars would be extremely tempting and instead of keeping them behind cabinet doors, I'd have to lock them up... ;)

12:43 AM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger kickpleat said...

oh molly, that cake and jam and cream combo look amazing! it's funny because last week, i looked in the fridge and only found one lonely more-than-half-gone jar of jam left. time to stock up!

10:04 AM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger lee said...

Umm, yeah, I guess I'm crazier than I thought. I have entire CASES of homemade preserves in my basement. So many that today when I was looking for the Plum with Pinot Noir, I gave up and brought up the Peach with Lemon Verbena instead! I have to say that you inspired me though for my birthday this past Monday I made a cake that would go with jam instead of the chocolate overload that I would have normally indulged in. Thanks!

6:53 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Kevin A Ashton said...

Having just joined the chef’s blog, I was cruising around, just browsing over the sites...about to go to bed but then you made me do it and it's now nearly 1 am!!!
I found your site, read a few lines and those lines held and held me.
Obviously a top-notch writer in love with food, who occasionally flirts with apricot jam.

Kevin Ashton

3:56 PM, March 31, 2006  
Anonymous Nico said...

Molly, I know what you mean with the banana puree ;) I actually discovered this when experimenting with delicious:days' birchermuesli recipe. Try it, just add granola the day you eat it, for the extra crunch :)

5:08 PM, March 31, 2006  
Anonymous GoobernGrape said...

Molly, what a great idea. i practiced making Zuni's gateau victoire yesterday and thought that a jam topper would work well. i didnt have anything good on hand, but bought a black cherry jam. it gave the slices a little more sweetness without having to resort to whipped cream. im sure raspberry or strawberry (or orange?) would have worked in this case, but the cherry was really good. and hooray, no seeds! thank you for providing the inspiration!

10:10 AM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger Katy said...

Yes I had the same problem a few days back- I went the victoria sponge cake route though, my problem was extra lemon curd and that stuff has to be used since it goes bad in a couple of weeks!

If you are interested in my jam using:

9:05 AM, April 03, 2006  
Anonymous rob said...

Molly, I sympathize with your jam woes. We have a several jars in our cupboard, too.

I love using jam instead of (okay, with) maple syrup on pancakes. I recently used a pear and vanilla jam on leavened pancakes, and it was unbelievable.

9:32 PM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Wendy, thank you. That muffin sounds wonderful! Do tell: what is Pie in the Sky? I could go for a gooey jam muffin right now, maybe with some tea...

Michele, your honey habit sounds dangerous, ma cherie. Better seek treatment soon - or invite me over for some serious eating!

Dairokkan, your sandwich sounds very intriguing - and delicious. I imagine that a little fruity, sweet-tart jam could be lovely alongside the richness of cheese, chicken, and mayo. It reminds me of how much I love sneaking red grapes into chicken salad.

Melissa, how could I have forgotten such a classic duo: jam and cheese! Amen, my friend. I love a good French sheep's milk cheese - Ossau Iraty, maybe, or anything semi-firmish from the Pyrenees area or Corsica - with a dark cherry jam. And then there's manchego with quince paste, which is almost jam, sort of. Mmm, mmm. Thank you, my dear friend. Oh, and if you do go out and buy another jar just for this, your secret is safe with me - and, well, the entire Internet.

Sher, a peach Melba jam sounds heavenly. You must have quite a collection of ribbons.

Oliver, I could really go for a crepe with confiture this afternoon. Sigh. Too bad we don't have crepe vendors on the streets of Seattle. Grrr!

Kickpleat, you're in dire straits! I should hop in the car, head north, and hand-deliver a jar or two. I would hate to see you suffer, especially when I still have [gasp!] ten jars hanging around...

Lee, it sounds as though you have some very special jams! Plum with Pinot Noir? Peach with Lemon Verbena? It's enough to make me start itching to add to my collection. Happy belated birthday, by the way!

Well, thank you, Kevin! I'm so glad that you found me and Orangette. Welcome.

Nico, I remember that delicious:days post, and I've been meaning to make the recipe. Looks like my time might have come...

GooberNGrape, it's my pleasure! You're quite an inspiration yourself! And how about that Gateau Victoire, eh? Not too bad either...

Katy, your "tangy breakfast bites" look delicious. Delicate, buttery, rich - and with lemon curd? Perfect with a cup of tea. Thank you.

Rob, might you share that leavened pancake recipe - and the jam, while you're at it - anytime soon? It would be such a good deed for humanity...

3:31 PM, April 06, 2006  
Blogger Gary said...

Williams Sonoma no longer sells La Trinquelinette. Does anyone know of another source? Gschatz@aol.com

8:19 PM, January 06, 2008  
Blogger selena said...

I just made this recipe, and it's a great one for a little mellow dinner party! I used homemade lemon-apple jam. Good stuff.

10:39 PM, January 09, 2009  

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