An Austrian-style cake filled with ripe, sweet plums seemed like “a simple way to enjoy a summertime fruit at its peak,” said Erika Bruce in Cook’s Illustrated. The problem was finding the right recipe. In some versions, plums merely became a sodden center that had sunk to the bottom of the
cake. Recipes that tried to avoid this pitfall by calling for a thin layer of sliced plums on top ended up “leaving behind mouthfuls of plain cake.” Another common pitfall was a pancakey batter. Repeated testing with different batters, plum varieties, cooking methods, and flavorings finally yielded the secret to this perfect plum cake.
Recipe of the week
Rustic Plum Cake
This recipe works best with Italian plums, which are also called prune plums. The brandy can be omitted, but then you will need to melt the jam with 1 tbsp of water before adding the plums.
2 tbsp red currant or seedless raspberry jam
3 tbsp brandy
1 lb (about 10 large or 14 small) Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
3/4 cup (3-3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pan
3/4 cup (5-1/4 oz) sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/2 oz) slivered almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg, plus 1 large yolk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar for serving
Cook jam and brandy in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until reduced to thick syrup, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, place plums cut-side down in syrup.
Return skillet to medium heat, cook until plums shed juices and thick syrup is again formed, about 5 minutes, shaking pan to prevent plums from sticking. Cool plums in pan, about 20 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-inch springform pan. Process sugar and almonds in food processor until nuts are finely ground, about 1 minute. Add flour, baking powder, salt; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, about 10 1-second pulses. Add eggs, vanilla, almond extract (if using); process until smooth, about 5 seconds, scraping bowl once if needed (batter will be very thick and heavy).
Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Stir plums to coat with syrup. Arrange plum halves, skin-side down, evenly over surface of batter. Bake until cake is golden brown and wooden skewer inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Cool in pan on wire rack until just warm or to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into wedges and serve. Serves 6 to 8.