Jesuit Cake

White cranberries from Paradise Hill Farm.

Last year around this time, I bought some heirloom cranberries at Whole Foods cultivated at a local New Jersey bog. I came away with two containers of berries, one red, one white. Yes, breakfast fans, I had in my hands white cranberries. If you haven’t seen them, they’re beautiful, speckled scarlet and pink, and harvested in the fall a few weeks before their garnet sisters. When I was invited to a holiday party, I put them all into a simple, gorgeous cake I whipped up from an excellent recipe I found on Vanilla Garlic. It was the hit of the party.

Last year's Cranberry Cake.

Last year’s Cranberry Cake.

Okay, you made a nice cake, you are thinking. Good for you. But what do holiday cakes and most of all,  Jesuits, referenced in the post’s title, have to do with breakfast? Trust me, hungry ones, these elements come together in the end.

The  Jesuit connection. When I saw the same heirloom cranberries for sale again at Whole Foods in November, I remembered last year’s cake. As  I gazed on the lovely orbs and contemplated making another fantastic cake, it hit me. Streaming reds, whites and golds, the finished product puts me in mind of the Jesuits at the university where I work when they wear their ceremonial finest.

You see a group of them pictured below trooping to the Mass of the Holy Spirit that opens each academic year. For me, the association was so strong, I decided to call the cranberry confection Jesuit Cake.

Saint Joseph's University Jesuits

Saint Joseph’s University Jesuits

Maybe you don’t get the connection the reds and golds are there, you say, but the absolute white of the Jesuit vestments is missing. Please humor me and read on; there is more Jesuitica to come.

The Founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, was a 16th-century Spanish playboy/nobleman/general who became divinely inspired while recovering from a battle wound in the family castle in the Basque region, in the north of Spain. More about St. Ignatius and the Jesuits is found here, but there he is below, wearing red, white and gold in a painting by Peter Paul Rubens. Why wouldn’t he approve of this cake being named for the order he founded? The colors work. But is that enough to call it Jesuit Cake?

St. Ignatius of Loyola.

St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Wanting to strengthen the cake’s Jesuit street cred, I thought I could add Manzanilla, a green apple sherry made in Basque country, instead of the splash of Kirsch, the German cherry liqueur suggested in the original recipe. While there was no Manzanilla in my local spirit shop, I had a bottle of Calvados in my liquor cabinet, a fiery apple brandy from France, where Ignatius studied at the University of Paris. Further inspired by his roots, I planned on adding Spanish Marcona almonds, which are flatter and sweeter than the California variety.

I put it all together and  fussed and worried over the additions as I watched the cake bake. Would the almonds make it too heavy? Would the taste of the Calvados be too strong? But my recipe tinkering was a success. The Calvados added a bit of naughtiness to the batter, and the crunchy almonds, which I  ground in a mill, migrated to the outer edges and gave the cake a fine, marzipan crust. Inside, the sugar, butter and cranberries popped for tang and sweetness.

If a Jesuit baked a cake...

If a Jesuit baked a cake…

Why cake for breakfast? Why not? At this time of year, don’t you deserve it? This is a weekend treat best-served on a Sunday morning during the holidays. Let’s say you make two single-layer Jesuit Cakes. Too labor intensive? Not at all. It’s easy to make — check the recipe. Take one to a Saturday night party where it will be devoured, leaving only dense, sweet crumbs and admiring crowds in its wake. When you wake up the next morning — maybe ten-ish — slice into the cake you left at home and cut through the morning haze with a mug of strong coffee. Crave a hit of protien? Add a wedge of mellow Gouda cheese to savor a full flavor spectrum. Smiles of saints abound.

Sunday morning treat.

Sunday morning treat.

Recipe for Jesuit Cake, adapted from the Cranberry Cake recipe found on Vanilla Garlic.

makes one 9″ x 13″ or 10″ springform pan

3 eggs
2 cups of sugar — if you have it, use vanilla sugar*, but it is optional
3/4 cup of unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 oz. of Calvados
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of milk
2 cups of flour
2 1/2 cups of cranberries or 1 bag; 1 cup of ground Marcona almonds

  • Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ or 10″ springform pan.
  • Beat eggs and sugar together for 5-7 minutes. The mixture will increase in volume. You’ll know it’s ready when it flows in ribbons off of the beaters.
  • Add butter, vanilla extract and Calvados. Beat for 2 minutes. Add the milk and salt and mix for another 30 seconds.
  • Stir in flour and fold in cranberries. Add ground Marcona almonds and pour into the pan. It will be a dense mixture!
  • Bake the 9″ x 13″ for 45-50 minutes or a little over an hour for the springform. Watch that the top doesn’t get too brown. Tenting the cake with foil for the last 15 minutes or so will stop this from happening. Let it cool completely before serving.

* A word about vanilla sugar. Don’t buy it — make your own. If asked to use whole vanilla bean instead of extract for another recipe, don’t throw the scraped pods away. Put them in a Mason jar (the one-pint size and up) and pour in granulated sugar. Seal it with a lid and ring and put it away in a kitchen cabinet. Forget about it for a while. Let the pods, which are the real carriers of the vanilla flavor, combine with the sugar for a few months. The resulting vanilla sugar will make your baked goods sing.


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