{recipe} Kentucky Jam Cake with Brown Sugar Icing

I recently finished watching all three seasons of Justified–a somewhat silly TV show on the FX network set in Kentucky that’s about a US marshal and a whole bunch of lowlife hillbilly types who sell Oxycontin and shoot each other with sawed off shotguns. It’s not terribly flattering to Kentuckians in general, but it’s an entertaining show, and besides Timothy Olyphant is so darn good-looking that I’d probably watch a show about him watching paint dry. In the course of the show, the characters mention jam cake a few times. After the first mention I was curious, the second mention intrigued, and by the third mention, I knew I had to look into this jam cake thing once and for all. Because JAM. And CAKE. Yes please.

This is where the internet shines – in pursuit of information of just this type. (I mean, that, and cats. The internet is really good at cats.) After confirming that it is indeed a Kentucky thing for real, and perusing several different versions of jam cake recipes, I made up my own and while I have no idea if it’s authentically a Kentucky jam cake, I am quite certain it is a fricking delicious cake. A whole cup of jam is mixed into the batter, along with a bunch of melty sweet dates. Buttermilk adds tang, and allspice, cloves, and cinnamon spice it up. The whole thing is covered with a brown sugar and evaporated milk concoction that’s straight out of the South.

To be honest, the icing for this cake is a little fiddly and requires a candy thermometer and some fast frosting skills because it hardens immediately after making it. While it’s traditional for this cake, it’s certainly not necessary. I think this would be great baked in a bundt pan and drizzled with a simple lemon glaze or just baked in loaf pans and eaten like a coffee cake with no frosting at all.

Kudos to the Justified writing staff for including reference to this regionally accurate culinary delight, and thanks for dropping the hints to make me pursue it. Now that I’m done with Justified I’ve moved on to watching The Wire, but I don’t foresee any recipes inspired by that show, unless cooking heroin in a spoon or drinking Jameson whisky straight from the bottle counts as a “recipe.”

Recipe: Kentucky Jam Cake with Brown Sugar Icing

makes one tall 2-layer cake


for the cake:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • large pinch salt
  • 3 cups + 1 Tblsp flour, divided
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup dates, chopped
  • 1 cup blackberry or raspberry jam

for the icing:

  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup butter


make the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 325 F. Prepare 2 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans by spraying with nonstick spray. Place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and spray the paper.
  • Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.
  • Add spices, salt, 3 cups of flour, and baking soda. Mix on low speed for a few rotations. With the mixer going, drizzle buttermilk in. Mix everything until just combined.
  • Use your fingers to toss the dates with the remaining 1 Tblsp of flour so they separate. Add dates and jam to mixer and stir until just combined.
  • Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 30-45 minutes, until a knife comes out clean.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes then invert on a rack to finish cooling.
make the icing:
  • Put all ingredients in a heavy saucepan on the stove. Turn heat to medium low and cook until it reaches 238 F on a candy thermometer.
  • Transfer to a bowl and use a hand mixer to beat a few minutes until it’s a good consistency for spreading.
  • Ice cakes immediately as it will harden very fast. If it gets a little hard to spread, dip the knife in hot water. If it gets REALLY hard to spread, scrape it off and put it over a double boiler to soften it.

You may also like...

13 Responses

  1. ginny says:

    I love regional cakes–always been a big fan of “Texas sheet cake” and now I have to try this! And watch Justified.

  2. Lora says:

    I love that Justified spurred you on to research and make this jame cake. I admit I am a bit addicted to the show. The ckae looks addictive as well.

    • Karen says:

      @Lora I haven’t found too many people who watch the show, I think they’re missing out! Love all the characters. 🙂

  3. Maria N says:

    The cake looks so delish! I would love to try it out next weekend. I think if would be a perfect gift to my fiance’s mom. Don’t you think?

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Maria N

  4. Jessica Brighton says:

    This looks so very delicious. I can’t wait to make one of these and make everyone at home taste it.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.


  5. Mildred says:

    Its really cute how you made the icing. Very delicious recipe my kids will really love it.

  6. Jeline says:

    This looks definitely one of the most favorite food for kids and I am sure they will love this too.. Thanks!

  7. Stephy says:

    Oh, wow, my mom used to make these–only she didn’t call them “jam cake”–just “blackberry cake”–probably because instead of jam she used canned or fresh blackberries. She generally prefers cakes that are a bit less sweet, so I’m guessing that’s why she substituted out the jam.

    This is one of those rare baked goods that actually improves with age. I always thought it was better after a day or two. Also, it’s really delicious cold from the fridge.

  8. D7ana says:

    I’ve just started watching the 1st season of Justified. Saw your recipe on Pinterest. I’m pinning the recipe there and will share on Twitter and FB. Sounds gooood.

    Thanks for researching it and sharing it here.

  9. roger says:

    no, no, no….if you don’t put the effort into making the icing you need to move on…sure it’s probably good, but if you want a Jam cake then make the icing….i had this as a kid at family gatherings; my great aunt made this and the icing is almost like a firm or hard fudge, it would break off the cake when cutting, it is part of this recipe…do it right or just don’t do it….yes, it’s that important that you “fiddle” with the icing!

  1. May 22, 2012

    […] Kentucky Jam Cake with Brown Sugar Icing, a simple but delicious Date Shake, and Ice Cream Dates (these look amazing, by the way). […]

  2. November 1, 2012

    […] particular pan was made out of half of a stale Kentucky Jam Cake (I scraped the frosting off before cubing) because I couldn’t eat a whole cake by myself fast […]