CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Grandma Forman’s Jelly Cake is not a cake, contains no jelly and the recipe was classified information for most of the 20th century.
Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on July 9, 2015
My mother-in-law Helene used to tell the story of the first real dinner she cooked as a newlywed.
The highlight of the meal was a chocolate layer cake that she presented to her new husband Jack (who, thirty-five years later, would be my father-in-law) for dessert. He ate a piece; she asked him if he liked it and he said, “Yes, but how often can we eat like this?”
It was a loaded question. Jack’s own mother, who became known in the family as Grandma Forman, was revered for her Jelly Cake. That cake was a Loch Ness monster of desserts — everyone had heard of it, some claimed to have tasted it, one or two female relatives were said to have the recipe, but as far as I could tell, no one had actually made one since Grandma Forman passed sometime in the 70s.
After the chocolate layer cake episode, Helene decided home-baked desserts were a questionable use of time and effort and my husband grew up in a home where baked goods were usually purchased from a bakery and except for special occasions, dessert was fruit.
But I love to bake and the apparition of Grandma Forman’s Jelly Cake began to fascinate me. I was a member of the Forman family for two decades and had produced two grandchildren before I was handed a blue-lined index card with the secret recipe written out by hand. No nuclear code could be more closely held. To further deepen the secrecy surrounding the Jelly Cake, the recipe revealed that it is not a cake but really more of a pastry and contains preserves or jam but no jelly.
As to the question, “How often can we eat like this?” I can now say, “Quite often.”
Grandma Forman’s Jelly Cake | Charity Robey
Makes four generous pieces, eight when served with a dollop of ice cream
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening
1 large egg
6 teaspoons cold water or orange juice
1/2 cup raspberry or strawberry jam or preserves
2 teaspoons of cinnamon/sugar for topping (2 parts granulated sugar mixed with 1 part cinnamon)
1 tablespoon of whole milk or cream for glazing
1. Whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together. Cut in the shortening with two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture is like small crumbs.
2. Beat the egg with a fork and combine gently with the flour mixture. Add water or orange juice 2 teaspoons at a time, mixing with your hands until a handful squeezed gently just forms a ball.
3. Refrigerate the ball for 40 minutes. Cut it in half.
4. On lightly floured parchment or a silicone mat, roll the first half into a 9-inch circle and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan. Spread the preserves on the dough, leaving 1/2 inch around the edges jam-free.
5. Roll out the second piece in a 9-inch round, place on top of the jam and pinch the top and bottom layers of pastry together, fluting the edges by pinching the dough with your thumb, pointer and middle fingers.
6. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and sugar. Brush whole milk or cream on the edges of the crust to encourage browning.
7. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.