The plum trees have gone crazy. Both the proud peacocky one in the corner (tiny fruit that taste like candy), and the sturdy and reliable pillar of fruit production in the back center (larger, tarter, shaped like a heart). There are plums in every colander and bowl in my kitchen, and there’s nowhere to put anything else. We’ve had plum shrub, plum jam, and chicken with plums. Plum cake, other plum cakes, and one more plum cake again. I had to put this sign on the fence today.
This summer, I’ve had a little thing I like to call Mondays with Mistral. I’ve known Mistral since she was little, and now she’s all grown and, as of today, off to her Junior year in college. But on most recent Monday mornings, she’d swoop into the kitchen, tie on an apron, and start deciphering whatever beginnings of a recipe I was struggling over. Mistral has been my first ever employee, and it’s been a nice gentle easing into a piece of adulthood that terrified me.
I loved hearing her clonk around in the kitchen while I wrote in the back room. Every so often I’d come out and pour us two glasses of cold coffee with maple syrup and milk. And whenever I could get my act together, I’d make cake for the afternoon.
The first time we had Monday afternoon cake, Mistral told me about the family she lived with in Scotland a few years back. The mother (let’s call her Mrs. Scotland) kept a tin in the pantry that was always stocked with cake. At any given time, she could bring it out for a friend who dropped by, or she could simple tell one of the kids in the house to “go get yourself a bit of cake” when they needed a snack.
Nearly every time Mistral and I would sit down for a bit of cake, she’d start to tell me about the Mrs. Scotland and her cake tin.
“I’ve told you this story before, right?”
And I’d say yes, but honestly I could listen to it over and over. What a marvelous woman, to be forever entwined with afternoon cake in Mistral’s mind! I think if Mrs. Scotland knew the strength of her cake in Mistral’s memory, she’d feel very proud of her stocked cake tin. And although I’ll never meet Mrs. Scotland, I like to think that I know how the contents of her tin made her feel. I don’t have a tin, but I have a glass casserole with a lid, and when it’s on the counter, filled with cake, I feel a sense of calm and security.
Cake in the afternoon is civilized, don’t you think? And even in the most uncivilized sort of day, that simple square of flour and sugar and fruit spreads its order and security into the moments around it. Maybe it’s just the Brit in me (constantly arguing with the Jew), but I sure do like a bit of cake with my tea.
I’ve made this particular plum cake three times in the last two weeks. It’s a Nigel Slater recipe mostly, and it’s given the whole family a break from my previous favorite afternoon cake, the stone fruit tea cake from Rustic Fruit Desserts. Nigel (he won’t mind if I call him Nigel, will he?) calls it a pudding cake, and that’s exactly right. The first day it’s more of a gingerbread, and then the next afternoon and the afternoon after that, it doesn’t dry out as you might think a cake would do, but gets more and more moist until you serve it with a spoon instead of a fork. It sounds strange, I know, but we’ve all agreed that this cake reaches its peak on the third day. By then, the plums have released their juice into every crumb of the cake, and the ginger and cinnamon melt together to create something altogether different than either one. It’s just warm.
There are a few fancy sugars in this one, and my hope is that you might just have some muscavado sugar you bought for some other Nigel Slater recipe long ago. If not, I think light brown sugar should work just fine. And golden syrup–well, there’s no substituting that one. But then you’ll be stocked and ready for pear season.
(Before we get to the recipe, big congrats to Kate Stimmell, winner of the Mighty Nest lunch gear giveaway! Thanks so much to everyone who participated, and if you’re facing a new school year and haven’t read through the comments, I recommend it. There are some amazing suggestions in there.)
A Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon, and Plums
lightly adapted from Nigel Slater, Ripe
serves 8, and doubles nicely if you’re expecting a crowd or just have too many plums
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup golden syrup
2 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed light muscovado sugar
about 1 pound plums
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Tuck a sheet of parchment into a 9×9 or similar cake pan so that there’s parchment hanging over the sides of the pan. Don’t worry if the parchment doesn’t sit neatly- the batter will weigh it down when you pour it into the pan. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger into a bowl.
2. Heat the golden syrup, honey, and butter in a pan just until the butter melts. Remove from heat and whisk in the muscovado sugar, taking care to whisk out any lumps.
3. While the butter mixture heats, halve and pit the plums.
4. Whisk together the eggs and milk in a small bowl Pour the butter mixture into the flour and mix with a few swift strokes. Add the eggs and milk and continue to stir until there are not too many lumps. The batter will be thin, like pancake batter (Nigel calls it “sloppy”), and if there are a few lumps, it’s okay.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Drop in the plums, flesh side down. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, until the cake is firm in the center.
I tried for plum jelly and ended up with a beautiful plum sauce that I have an overwelming amount of and will (hopefully) become the base for a lovely dessert. Thank you for the inspiration.
Every post you write makes me wish I was your neighbor or friend. Just absolutely beautiful, and your personality definitely comes through.
Mistral is lucky to have had such a wonderful summer job!
Thank you, Anna :).
Lisa M. says
How ironic that I look at your post today and it’s about plums! Last night I stood in Lowes looking at plum trees, trying to decide which to buy and which would pollinate each other! I ended up buying 2 more blueberry bushes instead but the plum trees will be bought in the next week or so. Can’t wait to have an abundance of plums too!
Always love your posts!!!
Oh, go for the plums! It’s so nice to have a few trees. Blueberries though… well you can’t lose.
The neighbor’s plum tree dropped a branch onto my side last week, so of course I had to go pick all of the tiny red plums off it. I put some in a jar and covered with brandy, and I used a quart of them to ferment some plum t’ej from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. In years past, I’ve also cooked down plums into a fruit butter that I’ve frozen and used in baked goods in place of the oil, and made “plum-b-q” sauce.
Plum t’ej? That’s new to me! It sounds like something I need to look up!
Thanks for posting! Not having a plethora of plums, I made this with peaches, cardamom and cinnamon. I also forgot to check my store of Lyles had to sub in third of a cup of ancient corn syrup (yuck, I know) to get to the full 2/3 cup. The cake turned out very well – I’m looking forward to seeing how it does with pears once the stone fruit is gone…
Love the sign Alana!!! Should have taken you up on it 😉
You still can! Come!
I am SO in.
On my To Do List for this week: Plum Cake.
ps: please send me a plum tree. we have a pound or two, but could use a tree more.
Oh, Molly- if only I could give you plums! There are at least 30 pounds just sitting on my counter right now, and I have a feeling you would have something REALLY good to do with them. xo
We have the most luscious peaches coming in right now, so glad to see someone else was able to make this with peaches. Oh but plums are so yummy too, how to choose…
We make plum dumplings when we have seasonal plums.
The Czechoslovak name for the recipe is slivkove knedle. Essentially, it is a potato gnocchi dough rolled thin and wrapped around each plum, then boil them until they float plus about 5 minutes. Serve with cottage cheese plus a dusting of confectioners sugar (and butter if you want). It was my favorite dinner as a child!
I made this plum cake today, it turned out perfectly. Delicious. Thank you for the recipe.
Wow…so good! I just made this, with Italian plums, and it is delicious! Thank you! And so fun to make. I’m eager to have another piece tomorrow, as it morphs into something more pudding-like. Love your book, love your website. Thank you!
Margo, Thrift at Home says
what a lovely way to describe cake – I’m not even much of a cake person (PIE, baby). Putting this on my list of recipes to try and hoping there are still plums in market – perhaps I could use another stone fruit. . . ? Although I think this is it for the peaches this week, too. . .