You may be wondering where I have been. You may be sitting at your dining room table at this very moment thinking: "listen up girl, I have been JONESING for some cake, and it is your job to provide me with it, and you've let me down!"
I'm so sorry; I really have let you down. Does it help if I tell you that I have been gallivanting about the East Coast, eating warm baguettes from the King Arthur bakery in Vermont and playing with my new niece who is getting wonderfully more chubby with each passing minute (and by playing, obviously I mean squeezing her thighs and singing her terribly off-key Josh Ritter and John Denver songs)?
I've been discovering all sorts of good things lately. If I tell you about them, will you forgive the lack of cake? I've discovered that yes, the Harry Potter audiobook is a wonderful thing to listen to even if you are 29 years old, and that yes, British accents are (forever and always) swoon-worthy.
I've discovered that mezcal + tequila + lavender simple syrup + smoked salt makes a wickedly good cocktail.
I've been taking earlier runs than usual, breathing in cold morning air and stopping to watch the surface of the Connecticut River, as still as glass.
Okay, I can sense your displeasure. Now you're thinking: that does all sound lovely, but I'm still hungry and really we haven't had any cake yet. So let's get down to it already.
This cake is really spectacular, and I really don't usually bandy that word about like I'm in a Jane Austen novel or something. But it is. I've developed the recipe using an old one I found from Eagle Brand condensed milk as the foundation, and it's very simple to make. Condensed milk and butter give it a delicate but moist crumb. The batter is just slightly sweet, but with each mouthful you get a swirl of jam, which adds enough sweetness. I brown half of the butter: This might seem like a fussy step! But I've tried it both ways and it really helps to make the cake richer and more flavorful.
Of course, the best part is how pretty it is. And you don't need any fancy cake-decorating techniques to create the striking swirled effect. Just dollop spoonfuls of jam over the batter and have at it with a knife -- the messier it is, the cooler it looks. (If only more of life were like that!)
Berry Butter Cake
Makes one 8" square cake
**Note: You really taste the jam here, so do yourself a favor and splurge on a good variety. You deserve it; I said so.**
10 tablespoons butter at room temperature, divided
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup berry jam
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter an 8-inch square pan and sprinkle sugar to coat the bottom and sides.
Melt 5 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat until it begins to brown and smell nutty. As soon as you see it browning, remove it from the heat, and set it aside to let cool.
Cream together the remaining 5 tablespoons of room temperature butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go.
Add the condensed milk and beat until the batter is smooth.
Add the 5 tablespoons of melted, cooled butter and fold it in (the batter might look too liquidy—it will come together!).
Add the salt and flour and mix until the batter is just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. If your jam is very thick, now is a good time to warm it slightly—just enough that it loosens a bit.
Spoon dollops of jam over the surface of the pan and use a knife to swirl the jam across the surface of the cake.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving, or turning out into a wire rack to cool completely.