Granny's Million Dollar Cake is a customizable classic Southern jelly cake

Vallery Lomas
Granny's Million Dollar cake is easily customizable.

This recipe is by Vallery Lomas, author of Life Is What You Bake It and winner of the Great American Baking Show, season 3.

Jelly cakes are a Southern tradition.

When I went to Grandma Willie Mae’s house, sometimes she would bless us with not one of her million-dollar cakes but two. The first one was always filled with pineapple and the second one always had apple jelly as the filling.

I later learned that “jelly cake” was actually a thing, traditionally filled and iced with jelly so it luxuriously drips down the sides. Granny always frosted her jelly cake with cream cheese frosting on the top and sides — she liked things tidy.

To turn Granny’s Million Dollar Cake into a jelly cake, substitute 1 to 1½ cups of your favorite jelly for the pineapple and warm the jelly slightly to make it spreadable. It can be hard to find apple jelly these days, so I often use strawberry or apricot jam instead. Just be careful if you choose to use preserves, which contain large pieces of fruit that might not be so spreadable or beautiful for your jelly cake

About the recipe

Baked in the right pans, these cake layers bake up perfectly flat, making them ideal for a layered cake.

If your layers form a dome, don’t worry — you can still stack them or trim off the rounded top with a serrated knife.

Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature, which will help this cake whip up beautifully. The pineapple filling should be added when the cake is still warm. It acts as a soaking syrup and melds the pineapple filling into the cake layers. But don’t frost the cake until it has cooled completely. Otherwise, the butter-based frosting will melt right off the cake! Also, using both almond and vanilla extracts gives the cake a more interesting, wedding-cake-like flavor — which I love.

Ingredients

Pineapple filling

1 21-ounce can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup or pineapple in its own juice

¼ cup granulated sugar (if using pineapple in its own juice, increase to 1⁄3 cup)

Cake

Nonstick baking spray with flour

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup whole milk

Cream cheese frosting

1 8-ounce package (1 cup) cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Prepare the pineapple filling:

In a blender or food processor, blend the pineapple on low until the consistency of applesauce, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a small saucepan, add the sugar, and heat over low until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Spray three 8-inch cake pans with baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-low speed until creamy, about 30 seconds.

With the mixer running, pour the sugar in a steady stream. Continue to beat on medium-low speed until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until light, fluffy, and pale, 2 to 3 more minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next, about 2 minutes in total. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, mixing until just a few streaks of flour remain. Add half the milk and mix until combined. If the batter appears broken, don’t worry — the next bit of flour will bring it back together. Add half the remaining flour mixture and continue to mix on low speed, just until no streaks of flour remain.

Add the remaining ½ cup milk, continuing mixing on low, then add the remaining flour mixture. Mix until the flour is integrated, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans and smooth the top.

Bake until the cake layers are golden on top and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert the layers onto the cooling rack to cool.

While the layers are on the cooling rack, spread half the pineapple filling on one layer and the remaining filling on a second layer. (The third layer won’t get any pineapple on top.) Let cool completely.

Make the cream cheese frosting:

Add the cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the ingredients come together, then increase the speed to medium and mix until creamy, about 5 minutes.

Place one layer with pineapple filling on a cake plate, pineapple side up. Set the second layer with pineapple filling on top of the first. Then add the final plain layer, placing it upside down on top so that the bottom of the cake, the most even side, faces up (this gives you a nice, flat surface to frost).

Use a spatula to frost the top and sides of the cake with the cream cheese frosting. Let the frosting set, then enjoy.

Storage:

Store the cake, covered (I like using a cake dome), until ready to serve. If it won’t be eaten within a couple of days, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.