Thursday, August 22, 2013

When life gives you plums...

...make plum cakes!

Our half-a-duplex apartment has a plum tree in the back yard. It's a pretty small tree that looks like it's been badly abused (like someone took a hatchet to the trunk!). I was not expecting the quantity of golden delicious plums it would produce! I was taking a large bowl of plums with me to work every day to share with my coworkers. Then one of my coworkers, Jens, suggested that perhaps I should make something with the plums, like cake. For some reason that hadn't occurred to me, and I was uninspired by the idea of jam... but cake! Cake is always a good idea.

Since Jens is German and he suggested plum cake, it occurred to me that Germans and Americans might have a different perception of "plum cake", so I went to my German cookbook first. According to that book, German Plum Cake (Zwetschgenkuchen!) is essentially a plum tart - pie crust with plums layered inside, meh. I was on a cake mission, not a pie/tart mission! So I opened up Baking With Julia and found my first plum cake recipe.

---- CAKE #1 ----

Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes
1 stick Unsalted Butter
2/3cup Light Borwn Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1tsp Orange Zest (I used lemon)
1/2tsp Vanilla
1cup Flour
3/4tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Buttermilk (I used whole milk)
4-5 Large Ripe Plums

Instead of light brown sugar, I use evaporated cane juice plus a drizzle of molasses. Make sure the butter is near room temp (but not melted) and then cream together the butter and sugar. I failed to notice the recipe says to only cream 1/3cup of the sugar and the remaining 2/3cups is for sprinkling on top of the cakes...either way works.

Add the eggs one at a time...

...add vanilla...

...add lemon or orange zest...

Scrape the batter off the edges and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to make sure that everything is getting evenly incorporated. Butter some large ramekins, small bread pans, or whatever you want to make your cakes in...

...halve and pit plums...

Divide the batter among the buttered dishes and then gently press plums on top of the batter. If you want, you can sprinkle the plums with brown sugar. Then bake at 350degrees until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.

These cakes were intended to end up with a plum slice on top coated in melted brown sugar. However I put all the sugar into the cake batter and then pressed my plums into the batter too far so the batter enveloped them as it cooked. This is all aesthetic though, they were delicious. Also, I think it would be hard to over cook these because one came out under cooked even though it was dark brown and pulling away from the edges.

---- CAKE #2 ----

The second plum cake was inspired by another coworker, Jason, and his infamous campfire cast-iron upside-down cake. I'd never made upside-down cake before, but I was stoked to make cake in my cast iron skillet! I queried the internet for plum upside-down cake and decided to follow the advice of David Lebowitz (I've been ending up on his blog a lot lately...)

Upside-down cake is made from the bottom up and it all begins with caramel...

Cinnamon Caramel
3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
3/4cup Sugar
liberal dash of cinnamon

Melt the butter and sugar together in a cast-iron skillet. I also added a sprinkle of cinnamon. Stir to make sure it cooks evenly.

Turn off the heat when it suddenly becomes smooth and looks like caramel. Continue to stir for a few seconds and then spread the caramel evenly across the bottom of the pan.

Set this out of the way and let the caramel and the cast-iron pan cool completely.

No matter how tempting it is to lick hot caramel off the spoon, or dab your finger into the pan, don't do it! Hot caramel is like liquid lava!! It's HOT, even as it starts to solidify, it can still burn you! Patience.

...and now for the cake part.

Butterscotch Cadamom Cake
8Tbsp (1 stick) Unsalted Butter
3/4cup Sugar
1tsp Vanilla
2 Large Eggs
1 1/2cups Flour
1 1/2tsp Baking Powder
~1Tbsp Butterschotch Powder
~1/2Tbsp Cardamom, ground
1/2cup Whole Milk
pinch salt

Cream together the butter and sugar...

Add the eggs and vanilla, scrape the side of the bowl with a spatula and mix again just to make sure it's all even. Then sift together the flour, baking powder, butterscotch, cardamom, and salt.

Gently fold half the dry stuff into the wet stuff, then add the milk, and then add the rest of the dry stuff. Only mix it just until everything is combined and don't over-mix!

Set the oven to 350degrees, and start building the cake!  ...slice up some plums (or nectarines, or apricots, or oranges, or pineapple, or whatever your heart desires.) This was the last of the plums from our tree, some of which only ripened on one side, so I had to remove the unripe, green bits.

Make a pretty design with your fruit slices on top of the caramel in the cast-iron pan.

...scoop the cake batter on top...

...gently spread the cake batter around trying not to disturb the plums underneath.

Bake for roughly one hour, until the sides pull free from the pan and the center feels set.

Let it cool for about 15 minutes, and then put a plate on top of the cast iron pan and carefully(quickly!) flip it over to turn the cake upside-down.

This cake is definitely a winner, and all things considered, pretty darn easy to make. But most importantly - this is a cake that can also be made in a campfire!!

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