Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake

Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake RecipeWe lost our Mom in August of 2015.  Mom didn’t leave behind very much, she was a woman of few possessions and content to be that way.  What she did leave me and my ten siblings was her collection of recipes, which holds value beyond words.  Several months following her passing, I went about the task of organizing her recipes.  I had brought them back to California with me following her funeral.  It was too soon.  Holding her recipes in my hands, three thousand miles from her Kentucky kitchen, felt surreal and empty.  I was still deep in the early stages of grieving and struggling to deal with the permanence of her being gone.  I gathered together the recipes, mindful of keeping them in the exact order she had left them, and put them away for some future time when I would make another attempt.  

There is so much history and tradition buried in the hundreds of recipes Mom collected over her lifetime.  They tell stories of Sunday gatherings, weekend breakfasts, holiday meals, church bake sales, and the countless weeknight dinners shared sitting around our oversized kitchen table.  No value can be placed on the endless handwritten pieces of paper that fill more than four recipe boxes, several gallon-sized ziplock bags, and even a pink elephant cup that had sat atop her kitchen counter.  Any container could be home to one of her recipes, and many of them were found among the pages of books left stacked as high as a fence surrounding her favorite chair.

I often wonder if the days of hand writing recipes are over.  In today’s world, it is much easier to share these things via social media, and even I am guilty of rarely ‘writing’ down a recipe.  Mom believed strongly in keeping the written word alive and did her part as often as possible, whether it was through a birthday card to a loved one, a note to a friend, or an ingredients list followed by instructions jotted down on a 3×5-inch card.  Going through this process has inspired me to write down my own treasured recipes, the ones that might matter to my daughter one day.
Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake RecipeWith the start of the New Year I was inspired once again to re-visit the project of archiving my Mom’s recipes.  Coincidentally, at the same time, I was thoroughly engrossed in a new cookbook titled American Cake by Anne Byrn.  I actually ‘read’ my cookbooks and my favorites are the ones that are steeped in historical context.  American Cake is one such book.  Along with an intriguing history of the evolution of cake in America over the past two hundred plus years, her book is brimming with beautiful photos and enticing recipes sandwiched from cover to cover.  One cake in particular caught my attention and transported me back to my Kentucky Girl childhood.  It was a version of the famous Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake.  By the time I closed the back cover of the book, I knew I wasn’t going to rest until I sank my teeth into a bite of spiced cake, enriched with blackberry jam and coated in caramel frosting.
Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake RecipeAs lovely as the Jam Cake in Anne’s book was, for nostalgic reasons I wanted to make our family’s version of the cake.  I remembered it vividly from my childhood and was convinced that a copy of it must be buried somewhere among my Mom’s recipes.  Without hours and hours of searching, I knew it would be nearly impossible to put my hands on it.  Desire and determination led me back to the mission of getting her recipes in order.  What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.  The third recipe I put my hands on was for Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake penned in my Mom distinctive handwriting.  Chills shot down my spine and an ear to ear smile came over my face as I felt a big heavenly hug from Mom.  It was the nudge I needed to carry on with the project of securing her recipe legacy for generations to come.  Instead of feeling loss and grief, I felt connected and joyful.

The project is coming along beautifully.  The hundreds of recipes are organized and ready to be scanned.  I’m taking suggestions on great recipe archiving software, so if you know of one I welcome your suggestion.
Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake Recipe


Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze

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Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze RecipeThis pumpkin bread almost didn’t happen.  It was destined to be an utter failure. I messed up big time when I was executing what is actually a very straight-forward recipe. I’m willing to wage a bet that you too have made the same mistake I made when stirring together the ingredients for this awesome bread.  I inadvertently omitted the baking soda.  Yikes!  Five minutes after placing the loaf pans into the oven, I took a peak to see how things were looking.  Something seemed off.  Call it baker’s intuition.  I quickly realized that the only leavening agent I had added to the batter was egg, and with years of baking experience under my belt, I knew that couldn’t be right.  In a panic, I rushed to my recipe and quickly scanned the list of ingredients.  And there it was, staring right back at me in black in white – 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda.
pumpkin-bread-w-brown-butter-maple-glaze-lr-8176Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze RecipeWhat to do?  In a last ditch effort to salvage the ingredients and the time and effort that went into those two loaves of pumpkin bread, I did what every baker would do.  I pulled the pans from the oven, dumped the batter back into a mixing bowl, stirred in the baking soda, divided the batter between the pans once again, and popped them back into the oven.  Whew!  But did it work?  Surprisingly, yes it did!  As I sunk my teeth into a warm, lightly spiced and nutty slice of bread, I was glad I took the risk.  Of course, adding forgotten ingredients to a recipe once it has begun the baking process isn’t always going to work.  However, if you ever find yourself in that situation, be bold!  What do you have to lose?
Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze RecipePumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze Recipe



Inspired by:  Farmer John’s Favorite Pumpkin Bread


Grave Robber’s Cake and a Guest Post

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Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenMy incredibly talented daughter has grown to become quite a talented baker in her own right.  She continues to blow me away with her creativity and skills as an artist, baker, and all around amazing person.  I thought it was high time she share her talents here on the pages of  Sifting Focus.  Enjoy!

Jael WeinbergHalloween runs in my blood. The “holiday season” most people get excited for is between the third week of November and the first of January; mine centers around October 31st. One year when I was in elementary school, my dad decided to re-purpose our Sukkah (a small outdoor hut used in the Jewish celebration of Sukkot) into a tiny haunted house for the neighborhood kids. It was a 12’x12’ box that he transformed into a small, three section scare house. The victims walked in on the right side, had a ghost or two pop out at them, turned the corner and put their hands into bowls filled with Jell-O brains and peeled grape eyeballs, turned another corner and were chased out by an axe-wielding mad man (my father).

Over the course of the next ten years, this Jewish hut turned spooky attraction, grew into a 1,000 square foot depraved house of horrors in our back yard. The icky bowl of brains was replaced by an actor screaming bloody murder while getting their leg sawed off by a mad scientist. The hallway where ghosts went “Boo!” transformed into a corridor of corpses where only one was real. The gaggle of neighborhood kids looking for a fright became a line down the block of local teens and adults shaking in their boots!

While my dad was inventing ways to make children (and many adults) cry out in terror, my mom was busy hosting a giant party of friends and family celebrating All Hallows Eve. The kitchen counters were always filled with snacks, cornbread, hot dogs, and a 5-gallon pot of chili. The house was abuzz with couples in matching costumes, kids sorting their bags of Halloween loot, and the sounds of screaming visitors inside the haunted house.
grave-robbers-cake-lr-2I have always loved makeup and have been playing around with it since nearly before I could walk. When we started the haunted house, I helped my mom put on black lipstick and drip fake blood onto costumes. I eventually became head of the makeup department, applying silicone scars, creating fake gashes, painting faces, and generally covering everyone in as much blood as possible. In college, I took a special effects makeup course taught by a Hollywood movie professional who specialized in gore and horror – I was in heaven! I have since become a part-time makeup artist, doing it as a side job and hobby.

With Halloween fast approaching, I decided to combine my love of delicious treats with my flair for the macabre. What resulted was a cake my mom described as, “Almost too disgusting to eat.” Using inspiration from notorious serial killer Ed Gein, I created a yummy 3-layer cake covered in human flesh! (just kidding, it’s fondant). Check out the steps below to see how it was done!

I began by baking a yellow cake using a recipe by Cook’s Illustrated. However, you can use any cake recipe or flavor you desire – red velvet would be fun! I chose to bake three 8” rounds, but the decorating can be adapted to any shape or size of cake.

Once the cake rounds were completely cooled, I assembled them with a layer of vanilla buttercream and a layer of red raspberry jam between each. I thought adding some oozing red jam in the center of the cake would add an extra ick-factor.  After assembling the layers, I covered the cake in a crumb coat of frosting to create a base for the fondant.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenThe ingredients and tools needed to achieve this finished cake result are shown below.Grave Robber's Cake for Halloween

I began by coloring the white fondant using a combination of peach, green, and copper food coloring. When coloring fondant, it is best to begin slowly, adding only a small drop at a time and kneading thoroughly. You can always add more color but you can’t take it back!

I then rolled out the fondant into a large round sheet approximately 1 foot in diameter and 1/16th of an inch thick. Your fondant size may vary depending on the size and shape of your cake. If you want to see a detailed video on how to cover a cake with fondant, click here.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenOnce my cake was covered, I began using the blunted edge of a butter knife to carve depressions into the fondant to make it look like separate skin pieces were attached together. Be very careful with this step because if you press too hard, you may slice through the fondant. Luckily, this is a cake made to look like cut apart skin, so a few extra nicks shouldn’t be a disaster.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenNext was the fun part – the painting! I used a variety of different food colors to paint the fondant. If you are using high quality gel food colors (which is recommended) you will only need a drop of each color to paint the entire cake. By mixing the various colors together and adding water, I was able to turn the food coloring into what was essentially a palette of watercolors. I proceeded to work some special effects magic and painted the cake to look like it was made of various pieces of decaying/bruised/rotting flesh.

One of the most important notes on how to achieve this effect is to remember that skin is not simply one tone. Take a look at the palm of your hand and notice how many different colors are there! Blues, greens, yellow, and purple are all present in everyone’s skin, regardless of how dark or light your skin may be. I created some bruises on the fondant using a combination of all these colors. If you would like to see how to create a realistic bruising effect, check out this video. In the video, she uses special effects makeup paint, but the same exact effect can be achieved using your food coloring watercolors.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenOnce the fondant was painted to my liking, I added black food coloring into the crevices created by the butter knife to imply added depth. To create edible blood, I used clear piping gel and colored it with red and burgundy food coloring. I then painted the gel into the crevices, making sure they looked nice and oozing!Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenFor the finishing touch, I pushed large staples (yes, real staples) into the cake to make it look like the flesh was actually stapled together. *I felt comfortable using real staples because I was going to be the one serving the cake and was confident I would be able to remove them all. If you have small children or are bringing the cake to a party, I would suggest making “stitches” out of fondant and painting them black instead.

The final product was a disturbing baked good that is not for the faint of heart. Enjoy exploring your dark and creepy side this Halloween!
Grave Robber's Cake for Halloween

Pecan Pie Bundt Cake

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Pecan Pie Bundt CakeI acquired a love of Pecan Pie at a very young age.  I’m sure my first encounter must have been a slice following one of my family’s Thanksgiving meals.  My grandmother was a fierce pie baker and is likely the person responsible for my first encounter.  Over the years, I’ve eaten Pecan Pie in every possible form, be it a tart, tassie, cookie, or bar,  every form except cake.  When I happened upon this recipe in the Fall issue of Bake, I pondered whether a cake could ever truly mimic the flavors we equate with pecan pie.  I’ll be honest, I was skeptical.  The only way to know for sure was to give the recipe a try.  Well, let me just say, the folks over at Bake From Scratch knocked it out of the park with this one.  I seriously don’t know if I will ever bake a pecan pie again, it was that delicious, and easy.  No crust required!
Pecan Pie Bundt Cake RecipePecan Pie Bundt Cake Recipe


Adapted from Bake From Scratch, Fall, 2016

Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake with Lemon Frosting

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Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed CakeAs many of you have already headed full-force into Pumpkin Season, some of us (Moi), have one foot still firmly planted in the last few days of summer.  Technically, summer doesn’t end until next Wednesday.  And, given that the temps (I’m currently in KY) are well into the 80’s, frankly, it feels more like summer than Fall.  So, for anyone with me on eeking out the last few days of summer, and for any of you who may still be harvesting the end of your zucchini crop, I have a cake for you!  Honestly, this is a year-round cake.  Zucchini is available pretty much all year long, and is a very accessible vegetable.
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeIf you love Lemon Poppy Seed cake just as much as Carrot Cake, or visa versa, you are going to love this cake.  It is a perfect hybrid of two classics.   Grated zucchini steps in for the carrot that a traditional carrot cake relies on for moisture.  However, the  ample amount of grated lemon zest and nutty poppy seeds in the recipe are indicators that this recipe leans a little more toward a lemon poppy seed cake than carrot.  This cake takes two classics, spins them together, cuts them by half, and voilà, a bright, tangy, and moist single-layer cake is born.
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeWhat I like most about this cake, besides the bright lemony flavor it exudes, is that the recipe makes a single layer cake.  I like the informality and casualness of single layer cakes.  One can only eat so much cake ;-), even when it is a really delicious cake.  So, unless you are serving a large group, this recipe is perfectly sized at 8 to 10 servings.
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeZucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeZucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake Recipe(Just had to share with all of you something my daughter just said to me.  While reading my post, she suddenly stopped and said, ‘wait, that cake had zucchini in it???’  I had to laugh.  She had eaten several slices and never had a clue.  So for any zucchini-adversed eaters out there, you won’t even know it’s in there.)
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake Recipe