An American Marriage, the poignant novel by Tayari Jones, received a boost of popularity when Oprah selected it as her book club pick earlier this year. I bought it before reading it — something I don’t typically do — but all of the buzz about it made it feel like a sure bet. I finally picked it up as part of my two reading challenges, and while it wasn’t “unputdownable,” it was captivating all the same. Jones is brutally honest in a narrative about a broken America.
Celestial and Roy are a young married couple with their whole lives ahead of them. She is a promising artist, and he’s an ambitious executive. They are also black in America, which ultimately has a greater effect on their lives than anything else about them. As their lives together are just beginning, Roy is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and their lives and marriage are never the same.
The novel is character-driven with multiple points of view, mostly Roy and Celestial. A good portion of the story is told via their back-and-forth correspondence while Roy is incarcerated, during which it’s a tale of two marriages. As Roy becomes more devoted to his wife, Celestial finds herself growing apart from a husband she has trouble connecting to. Their marriage becomes a victim of circumstance.
In a pivotal holiday scene, Celestial and her family sit down to dinner punctuated with blackberry jam cake. Jones describes an “aroma of rum, cloves and cinnamon.” When I looked it up online, I found a recipe that was passed down the generations, like the one Celestial’s mother used. This recipe didn’t use rum, but otherwise, it seemed to have all the required ingredients.
I got started by soaking the golden raisins and toasting the walnuts (which I did in a saucepan, rather than in the oven).
While both of these were cooling, I sifted together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and creamed the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
To the creamed mixture, I added the eggs one at a time until incorporated, and then added the blackberry jam.
I added the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, about a third of each at a time, and then folded in the cooled walnuts and raisins.
I poured the batter evenly into the bundt pan and then popped it into the oven to bake for an hour.
I let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes, before turning it out onto a wire rack to continue cooling.
Meanwhile, I made the coconut caramel glaze. In a saucepan, I combined butter, coconut flakes, brown sugar, half and half and a bit of flour. I heated and whisked the mixture, until it began to thicken, and then put it in a glass bowl covered in plastic wrap to continue cooling in the fridge.
I used a spoon to dollop the glaze on top of the cooled cake and made to sure it dripped down the sides.
The cake was moist and spicy as promised, definitely fitting for the holidays. I can see why its become a Christmas tradition in the South.
For the cake
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup black walnuts
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 8 ounces unsalted butter softened
- 1½ cups dark brown sugar packed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup blackberry jam homemade and seedless if possible
- 1 cup buttermilk
For the coconut caramel glaze
- ½ cup dark brown sugar packed
- 2 ounces unsalted butter
- ¼ cup half and half
- ¼ cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a large bundt pan.
- Place the raisins in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and allow the raisins to cool completely; drain well.
- Place the walnuts on a small baking pan and toast in the oven until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let them cool and chop them evenly.
- Sift the flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and baking soda into a bowl and set aside.
- With an electric mixer, cream the butter with the brown sugar and the salt on medium-low speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl as you go. Add the jam and mix it in completely. Add the reserved dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, scraping the bowl completely once or twice. Fold in the raisins and walnuts.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a pick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about an hour.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely. Place the cooled cake onto a serving dish or cake stand and drizzle with the coconut caramel glaze.
To make the glaze
- Place the brown sugar, butter, half and half, coconut and flour into a large shallow, heavy saucepan. Set over medium low heat and cook while stirring until the mixture is completely blended and begins to boil. Continue to boil gently while whisking until the mixture begins to thicken, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
- Scrape the glaze into a heatproof dish and press plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the fridge until it is cool and thickened but will still dollop off of a spoon. Using a large spoon, drizzle the glaze, bit by bit, over the top of the bundt cake. Guide the glaze with the spoon so that the entire cake has drizzles of glaze running down the sides.
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