I’ve been trying to write this post for days (days, I tell you!). As you’ll see eventually, its about a plum cake. The problem is, I don’t have much experience with plums. Other than eating them raw at their peak of ripeness – the sweet-tart juice running down my arms to my elbows – plums and I haven’t made a close acquaintance. We’ve flirted a bit in the past after a quick saute’ in a pan along with a dab of butter and some brown sugar, strengthening our relationship with the aid of a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. And, there was that lovely marriage of blackberries and plump black plums that produced a few jars of delicious jam this summer… But when it comes down to memories – the kind of memories evoked by the first bite of a beloved (or even hated) food – plums and I are complete strangers.
I’m fairly new to the world of writing, having only started forcing myself to practice regularly when I started this blog and discovered how much I enjoy it. I’ve learned in the six months since defining the direction of bella eats that writing about personal experience is much easier than writing about something I lack a connection with. Occasionally, I won’t even realize that I have something to write about until suddenly, the words start pouring out of my fingertips as memories flash through my head in a slideshow of my past – ranging in age from 2 days to 25 years. And so, these last couple of days I’ve sat behind my computer writing a sentence here and there, just waiting for those hidden plum-inspired memories to present themselves.
This evening, as I was in the middle of my uninspired third draft, my Momma called for a chat. She had some bad news about an elderly relative, my grandfather’s sister. My Great Aunt isn’t doing very well, in fact hasn’t been for awhile, and Momma wanted to update me on her status. Our conversation eventually turned to more trivial subjects to lighten our mood, and my unsatisfying third draft came up. As I explained my writer’s block my Momma chuckled, and proceeded to share with me a few of her own childhood memories of plums, of which she has many.
She told me about “plumjum”, my grandfather’s favorite spread for toast, and how his sister (yes, the very same as mentioned above) used to make him jars of it with plums from another sister’s trees. She laughed about how surprised she was when, at an older age, she learned that the coveted spread was in fact a simple plum jam. Those family trees that produced the fruit that formed the jam were a favorite playground for my Momma and her cousins, a treetop haven where they ate as many plums as they could stomach while spitting the pits at each other (she was a bit of a tomboy, my mother, having grown up with all male cousins). As we laughed about her memories, events she probably hasn’t thought about in years, I was reminded again of how powerful food is, and thankful that even though she hasn’t read it yet, this post evoked happy thoughts of her past during a time of sadness.
As far as my future with plums goes – and based on my family history with the fruit – I feel pretty confident when I say that we’ve got many happy moments ahead of us. And you can bet (a plum cake, perhaps?) that a few jars of “plumjum” will be produced this weekend from the best possible specimens, packed up and shipped to Florida for my Momma and grandfather to enjoy. With love.
In the last few weeks, I’ve seen plums pop up in magazines and on some of my favorite blogs, tempting me with their deep red-purple skin and sunset-hued flesh. I’d always thought of them as a summer fruit, but apparently this is the time of year when the European varieties hit their peak. I came across a container of Italian Plus last week and, unable to resist the petite, egg-shaped beauties, immediately started plotting their fate.
We decided to host a little brunch at our house last Saturday morning, and so the idea of a plum coffee cake was born. On Friday I consulted numerous recipes before deciding on an adaptation of one I’d had my eye on since August. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be a breakfast treat, but I think it served our purposes just fine. Better than fine, actually, as this cake was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Truly. The tartness of the fruit was nicely balanced by the not-too-sweet dough, the perfect compliment to a cup of black french-roast coffee.
If you’d like this cake for breakfast, make it the night before and wrap it tightly in plastic, letting it sit on your counter until the morning. Then, about 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat it remove the plastic, pop it in the oven to re-heat for a few minutes before turning on the broiler to crisp the top and caramelize the edges.
adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson
P. 39 August 2009 Gourmet magazine
inspired by Whitney in Chicago
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- zest from one lemon
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups stone fruit, halved then sliced to about 1/4″ thick. [I used 18 Italian plums. You’d probably use 1/2 as many if you used a larger variety]
- juice from 1/2 a lemon
- 1-2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped a bit
- Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and lemon zest together in a bowl, set aside.
- In a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or with a handheld electric mixer) cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix.
- Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir just until a smooth dough forms. Pull together in a ball and wrap with plastic wrap, flattening to a disk about 1-inch thick. Freeze for 30 minutes.
- While the dough rests, place your sliced plums in a bowl and drizzle with lemon juice and 1-2 tbsp sugar, depending on the sweetness of your fruit. Let sit until dough is ready.
- Preheat oven to 375*. Butter a 10″ spring-form pan. Remove dough from freezer and divide into two equal pieces. Pat one piece into the bottom of the buttered pan, making sure to cover the surface evenly. Spread your fruit over the dough, distributing evenly. Break the remaining dough into 1-inch globs and distribute over the surface of the fruit. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar and the almonds.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbly and golden. [mine took closer to 40 minutes]
This cake keeps on the counter, wrapped tightly in plastic, for about 3 days. I think, in fact, that it is best on the second day.
I followed the original recipe closely except for the following adaptations:
Because about 1/2 of my plums were still a little green on the inside and therefore quite tart, I chose to macerate the fruit for a bit before layering it with the dough. Even if I use very sweet fruit in the future, I won’t skip this step. The sugar helped the fruit to caramelize at the edges, producing a wonderful texture.
The addition of lemon zest to the dough and slivered almonds to the top of the cake are two tricks that I use quite often in fruit cakes and crumbles. I think that everything is better with a touch of lemon and a few almonds.