Black Raspberry Jam Tea Cakes

It has been a fairly mild winter in New England, so mild that I can count the number of times I’ve needed to turn on my heat on one hand. It also helps that I’ve been in a bit of a baking frenzy, and somehow managed to turn a small corner of my kitchen into my office.

All it really takes is a spark of curiosity, and before I know it I’m buried in a new cookbook with a notebook and pen in hand and my laptop less than an arm’s length away. And sometimes my experiments work out well, like these mini cakes — a perfect treat for a mid-morning coffee break.

Mini Black Raspberry Jam Tea Cakes

Adapted From: The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger
Makes: 8 mini loaves, or 12 muffins
Oven: 350 degrees
Baking time: Approximately 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 – 2/3 cup black raspberry jam, preferably with seeds
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your mini loaf pan, or muffin tin.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, almond extract, and butter. Carefully add this mixture to the dry ingredients and beat until the batter becomes smooth and fluffy.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Cover each loaf, or muffin, with spoonfuls of the jam, dotting it over the surface of the batter. Insert a butter knife straight into the batter and gently swirl a few times to distribute the jam slightly through the batter.

Bake in the center of the oven until a cake tester inserted into the cakes comes out clean, about 20 min. Rotate your pan halfway through.

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes and place them on a cooling rack. Sift the powder sugar over the top of the cakes.

The cakes can — and should — be served immediately.

Additional notes:
Because I had some extra buttermilk to use up, and the first batch went so well, I decided to make a second batch using some chocolate hazelnut spread I had hanging out in my cupboard. While this was a little bit more difficult to distribute through the cakes, the flavor was exactly what I had been looking for — warm, chocolatey, and not too sweet.

What jam, or other spread, flavor do you want to try in this recipe?

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Sweet Raspberry-Flavored Memories

When I was about 9 years old, Smuckers decided that it would be a good idea to start selling the "seedless" version of their black raspberry jam. They clearly did not consult me on this product decision.

I remember standing in the aisle at Miller’s grocery store in Somonauk with my grandpa for what seemed like hours looking through every single jar on their shelves for the real stuff. With seeds. The way it is supposed to be made. Black raspberries have seeds! It just wasn’t right!

For some reason, this made me feel like my world was forever changed that day. And my grandfather saw it all over my face and heard it in my voice, as did the rest of the town I’m sure.

The "seedless" jam became a running joke in our family, and one of the sure ways to get me fired up and irritated all over again as if I was still that 9-year old little girl throwing a fit in the middle of the jam aisle at the market.

So imagine my surprise when under that year’s Christmas tree were four jars of homemade black raspberry jam – WITH seeds. Grandpa had managed to stash away some of that summer’s berries in the cellar freezer and then got the wonderful woman who delivered our mail to take them and turn them into the jam that I couldn’t survive without. And the Christmas jam tradition was born.

Of all the gifts that have ever had a place under that tree, those jars of jam were what I looked forward to the most.

Picking Raspberries: Thorns, Sunburn, Stains — Oh My!

One of my favorite memories growing up on our farm was that special time in late June / early July when our wild black raspberry plants came alive. There were freshly washed sherbet buckets lined up on the front porch, along with my own greedy stomach, just waiting to be filled.

    "G’damn it girl, put on a long-sleeved shirt before you go out in those thorns. And long pants. And stay out of that patch back by the machine shed."

    "You know you are going to be sorry if you don’t put that sunblock on before you go out there."

    "Just make sure you get almost as many berries into the buckets as you get into your mouth."

Lines straight from my grandfather’s mouth every summer once the berries turned that perfect shade of deep purple. And as would be expected, I never listened to any of the orders given.

And inevitably, I would wander back into the house at the end of the day with scratched up arms and legs, a mean sunburn and a tongue that looked like it would be stained purple forever. And I was never happier.

Some days I think I’d give anything to go back to that time, when I had nothing to worry about except finding the sweetest and plumpest berries to fill those buckets. But even more is that I wish I could package up those times and memories and give them to my niece and any future kids of my own.

There were no TVs, insanely expensive toys, or exotic family vacations. There was fresh air and sunshine to be enjoyed, bikes and skateboards to ride, books to read, fresh food to eat, hand-built tree forts and swing sets to play on, secret hiding places to explore and chores to be accomplished.

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