We bakers must be a lot alike. Last week, when plums were inching berries off farm stand tables, I got messages from people around the country who were making plum cakes, custards, and tarts. And that was just what I was doing. I made a plum clafouti, (kind of like a custard, kind of like a cake), individual plum tartlets (puff pastry rounds brushed with jam, topped with plums, sprinkled with sugar, dotted with butter, baked, and served warm with ice cream), and this Dimply Plum Cake, a favorite.
The base of this treat is a brown sugar cake flavored with cardamom and orange zest, a combination I really like with plums. The cake itself is a simple beat-the-butter-with-the-sugar affair, in other words, a snap in the technique department; the baked fruit is really what makes it special. I love the way the way the plum juices seep into the batter and add their own tangy sweetness to the mix. (Of course, you can mix things up and make this cake with other fruits and other spices; see "Playing Around," below.)
When I originally came up with the cake, my idea was for it to be a morning sweet, something to serve at brunch, to have as a mid-morning pick-me-up or even something to enjoy with that first early-morning coffee. But the cake is really so good with tea that it’s an easy grab in the afternoon and it’s not bad at night either. I know, no surprise, right?
Oddly—you don’t expect this with fruit sweets—the cake is a pretty good keeper. Its texture is kind of firm, crumbly and cornbreadish when it’s first baked, then, after being covered for a day or two, it gets softer and moister. I like it both ways and hope you will too.
Playing Around: Feel free to use a different spice or citrus zest in the cake and feel just as free to swap the plums for another soft, juicy fruit. Here are some of my other favorite combinations: apricots with orange zest and a pinch of ground star anise; peaches with lemon zest and a little finely chopped fresh basil; nectarines with orange zest; and cherries with lime zest. I’ve never made this cake with berries, but as I was writing this list, it occurred to be that it could be great with blackberries with lemon, lime or orange zest, or with a combination of blackberries and raspberries.
- Yield:8 servings
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 8 purple or red plums, halved and pitted
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and put the pan on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom, if you’re using it.
Working with a mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a minute after each egg goes in. Still working on medium speed, beat in the oil, zest and vanilla—the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.
Run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter, just to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums cut side up in the batter—I usually make four rows of four plum halves each—jiggling the plums a tad just so they settle comfortably into the batter.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the plums and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes—during which time the plums’ juices will seep back into the cake—then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up.
Storing: You can wrap the cake and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days, during which time it will get softer and moister.