Friday, August 27, 2010

Sunday Dessert: Plum Upside-Down Cake

I love reading those articles (and blog posts) in which the author stumbled upon some seasonal bounty, took a load of it home, and made something fabulous. I’m happy to say that I did something similar recently, with these lovely plums. I did, however, keep my homeward haul modest, and of a scale compatible with two people in an apartment eating dessert on Sunday (with leftovers on Monday and Tuesday).

These very small purple plums were labeled “Home Grown” at a local produce market, and I knew I had to at least try them. They looked beautiful, not so ripe that they were leaking, but also not too hard. I controlled myself and brought home a reasonable amount, immediately thinking of dessert. I sampled one as soon as I got home, and their taste was so just right – plenty of real plum flavor, just enough tartness to remind you that it came from nature, and just enough sweet juice – that I began to regret my plans to use them all in a dessert. Cake, however, would make up for that perceived loss.

I had made some kind of plum upside-down cake several years ago. I remember it being good, but making a big mess in the oven, and I don’t seem to have kept the recipe (although that could just have been lack of organization). I had had good luck, however, with the pineapple upside-down cake in Joy of Cooking (I have the 1997 edition). Why couldn’t I just adapt that to use with plums instead of pineapple?

It turns out that there is no reason why I couldn’t do just that. I made a few other modifications to the recipe as well. Inspired by the recipe in The Ultimate Cookbook by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough titled “Plum and Rum Barbecue Sauce,” I added a bit of rum to both the brown sugar topping and to the cake batter. Now, I’m a little bit chicken when it comes to boozed-up cakes (or anything else boozed-up for that matter), so I went pretty light on the rum. If you want a rum cake, you’ll have to find a recipe for a rum cake, and let my plum cake be a plum cake. I also replaced the buttermilk (which I didn’t have on hand) in the original recipe with plain yogurt (which I did have). Those two dairy products seem to perform very similarly in baking, and I often use them interchangeably.

Well, the story’s pretty much over now, except to say that the cake was really, really good. It wasn’t boozy at all, but the rum did seem to enhance the flavors and aromas, adding just the slightest caramel note. The yogurt made the cake super-moist, but not mushy, as if it had been underbaked. The plums, of course, were the stars. Sweet and tart and aromatic and fruity just the way only seasonal fruit can be. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on a wedge of warm plum cake…why else does summer even need to exist?

Plum Upside-Down Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

You can omit the rum if you wish. Just leave it out of the topping and replace it with yogurt or milk in the egg mixture.

1 pound small plums
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons rum, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated white sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup plain yogurt

1. Cut the plums in half and remove the pits. If the plums are larger, you might want to slice them so that they can be arranged nicely in the bottom of your baking pan. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the 3 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (you could also use a similarly-sized cake pan) and put it in the oven to melt the butter. (You can probably do this while it is preheating.) Once the butter is melted, remove the pan from the oven and brush some of the butter up the sides of the pan.

3. Add the rum and the dark brown sugar to the butter in the pan. Spread the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan. Arrange the halved plums, cut side down on top of the sugar.

4. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons rum, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

5. In a larger bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, combine the flour, white sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix together briefly with an electric mixer, or with the paddle attachment of a heavy-duty mixer.

6. Add the 6 tablespoons room-temperature butter and the yogurt. Beat at low speed just until all of the flour mixture is moistened, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 ½ minutes.

7. Add the egg mixture, one-third at a time, beating at medium speed until the egg mixture is fully incorporated after each addition. Also, scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula before each next egg mixture addition. When the last of the egg mixture has been incorporated, beat for an additional 20 seconds.

8. Spoon or pour the batter over the arranged plums in the pan. Smooth the batter so it is even.

9. Bake at 350 F for about 35 minutes. The cake is done when a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out free of unbaked batter.

10. Tilt the pan around to ensure that the cake is not stuck to the sides of the pan. If it does not seem to be free on all sides, gently slide a knife around the stuck edge to remove it. Set aside on a wire rack for about 5 minutes.

11. While wearing oven mitts or covered with hot pads, place a large plate over the cake. Carefully invert the pan, releasing the cake onto the plate. Gently remove the pan and rearrange any fruit that may be askew on the cake’s top. Cool. The cake can be served warm or completely cooled. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream (or by itself.)

Makes about 8 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Rhubarb Yogurt Cake, Cherry-Plum Crisp

One year ago: Gazpacho

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