A Swirled Jam Cake for 2021

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions.

It’s not that I’m afraid of failing to accomplish them — rather that such a defeat seems almost inevitable. If I don’t care enough to start something on December 31st, why should I expect to muster up the gumption over night?

(Side note: I have never actually seen the word “gumption” in print, and I am now quite charmed. This fuels my present gumption.)

That said, there is one incredibly, aggressively mild goal I have never achieved, despite countless avowals to do so.

Journaling.

Intending to keep a diary as pristine as Bridget Jones’, over the years I have instead left a trail of mangled pages in my wake, like some sort of deranged gerbil. Colin Firth would never settle for that — and I will never settle for less than Colin Firth.

This brings us to two important conclusions:

  1. I will almost certainly die alone.
  2. This year, the 2021st year since someone decided to start counting, I am going to journal.

Well, rather I’m going to bake a cake a week and tell you, my vast audience (hi Mom), all about it in lieu of recording personal anecdotes in a spiral-bound. Because let’s be honest: my life is nowhere nearly as exciting as cake.

My poor family might even protest that cake can be rather too exciting. Last night, while attempting to make a basic vanilla poundcake, I burned myself on the new oven element, cut myself on a fork (a fork), and then just said “It’s fine” over and over again with increasing hysteria before slicing open my hand on the mandolin. That’s when the crying started.

You have been warned.

So here we are, getting a jumpstart on the new year with week one, cake one.

This charming and reassuringly fail-proof breakfast cake hails from a delightful cookbook from which I expect to draw inspiration for many of the subsequent forty-nine entries you have been promised: Snacking Cakes, by the brilliant Yossy Arefi.

(Why only forty-nine, when there are fifty-one more weeks after this? The book only contains fifty recipes — so keep an eye out for those two wild cards!)

My beautiful and tolerant sister indulged my Great British Baking Show obsession with this Christmas gift, and in turn she is now doomed to a year of snack cakes. Ditto my roommate, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and the staff at my gym. I’m really going to have to see that latter squad quite regularly.

Now, without any further ado (sorry to make you scroll through all that text, Mom):

Swirled Jam Cake

(adapted, just barely, from Yossy Arefi’s Snacking Cakes)

Ingredients:

  • A scant 3/4 cup (125 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs (honestly, I’m not sure what size these eggs are but I’m using two)
  • 1 cup (220 g) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted (thank you, microwave)
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt (a scant 3/4 tsp if using Morton, like me — thanks for hot tip, Yossy Arefi! Who knew salt could vary in saltiness? Well, Ms. Arefi, clearly.)
  • 1 + 1/2 cups (190 g) AP flour
  • 1 + 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) smooth jam (any flavor, but I’m playing with peach-raspberry today)
  • Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)

Protocol:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prep an 8-inch square baking pan with butter, flour, and enough parchment to hang over two of the edges like floppy little wings; you know the drill — it’s all in the name of cake extraction.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and eggs until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. Add sour cream, butter, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until smooth and emulsified.
  3. Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda to the bowl. Whisk until almost combined (batter will be quite thick), then switch to a rubber spatula for the last few strokes — a 10/10 pro tip. Make sure to scape the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan gently on the counter to release any air bubbles. (To be honest, I forgot the loving pan tap and the cake was still delightful.) Dollop (love that word) the jam in teaspoon-size blobs all over the batter, then use a wooden skewer or toothpick to swirl the jam into the batter. This may take a few passes — don’t be afraid to get in there and really swirl it around. (I confess to fearing the swirl.)
  5. Bake the cake until puffed and golden (don’t overthink it), and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35–45* minutes (I said don’t overthink it!). Set the pan on a rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Then use the parchment paper (nifty overhangs!) to lift the cake out of the pan and set it on the rack to cool completely. Dust the cooled cake with confectioners’ sugar.
  6. Store the cake, well-wrapped, at room temperature for up to three days. I expect it to last no more than two in my household, but perhaps others have more self-restraint.

*If your oven, like mine, browns rather quickly (thanks to an enthusiastic top heating element), just cover the cake with aluminum foil when the top gets nice and golden (around 20 minutes for me) to prevent it over-browning while the center of the cake bakes.

Happy snacking!

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