Christmas is here, and 'tis the season of splurging—when it comes to both cash and calories. On a recent shopping trip to Williams-Sonoma I couldn't resist picking up a box of this Sugarplum Crumble Specialty Bread Mix, which promised to be "a festive bread studded and swirled with sweet plums and topped with crystallized ginger streusel." The price seemed at little steep at $14.00, but the friendly sales associate persuaded me, with much eye rolling and gesticulation, saying that it was "brand new and absolutely amazing." Since I had offered to bring dessert to an upcoming holiday party, I figured, why not? Bread, loaf cake—what's the difference?
The box consisted of three packets: streusel mix, plum powder, and bread mix. First, I had to mix the streusel in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Like magic, the fine crumbs morphed into larger, chunky crumbles. It was like preparing the topping for apple crisp, but without the mess of mashing up all that butter with your fingertips.
Next, I mixed the plum powder (which looked a lot like the contents of a packet of Kool-Aid) with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water. The mixture came out a bit runny and grainy. I couldn't detect any real plum flavor, but it tasted pleasantly of sugar and cinnamon.
Finally, I combined the bread mix in a large bowl with a stick of melted butter, a bit of water, and a couple of eggs. Like most standard cake mixes, it blended effortlessly with only a few turns of a wooden spoon. While the instructions recommended merely greasing and flouring the baking pan the batter looked a bit soupy to me, so I took the extra step of lining the bottom with parchment. (Better safe than stuck, I always say.)
Creating the "swirls" of sugarplum was similar to making cream cheese brownies: I drizzled the plum mixture over the bread batter and then drew a knife through it, which created a lovely effect, similar to a Jackson Pollock canvas. After sprinkling the streusel on top, I slid the pan into the oven for the requisite 65 to 70 minutes. It took my loaf an extra five minutes (75 in total) before a toothpick came out clean, but when it did the cake was perfectly golden and had a lovely buttery aroma.
The streusel looked a bit precarious, and I was somewhat worried it would fall of when I tipped the pan to remove the cake. Surprisingly, while there were a few wayward crumbles, the vast majority stayed in place.
The final results were simple and elegant, like a glorified pound cake. The loaf was dense and moist, with distinct cinnamon and walnut flavors. While the sugarplum wasn't as prominent as I had hoped, it did impart a subtle, syrupy flavor. Best of all, not a single one of my friends guessed that their dessert was anything short of homemade. It was met, and subsequently devoured, with an enthusiastic chorus of "yums."
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