I've usually only eaten plums whole with juice dripping off my elbows, then spitting the pit as far as I can manage. In my adulthood, that is the compost bin! But they are certainly delicious especially in desserts. And this Italian Plum Cake is just one of the many delicious options. It holds its own as a breakfast cake, a tea cake, or a dessert with a bit of whole whipped cream.
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Plums hold a special place in my memory because I remember loads of the luscious fruit in France as a kid. I'd have to verify with Mom as to whether my memory of sitting in plum trees chomping down on fruit after fruit is an actual memory or not, but I at least do remember plums in France!
My mother-in-law tells of a Zwetschegenkuchen being made in the family bakery in Germany when she was a child. I wish I could say that this recipe is THAT one, but I can't. The Zwetschegenkuchen, as I understand it, is made with a yeasted dough. And this one, most decidely, is not. However, it can perhaps allow us a nod back to the family bakery.
History of this recipe
First published in the New York Times by food columnist Marian Burros in 1983, the recipe had been given to her by Lois Levine, who co-authored the cookbook Elegant but Easy. The recipe was published every year during plum season between then and 1995. As you can imagine, it has been made in a few versions over the years, but I agree with Smitten Kitchen that the original was perfect as it was.
How are Italian plums different?
There are many types of plums ... red, golden, plump, juicy ... and then there are the thin Italian plums that are just as juicy as their plump counterparts.
Italian plums are a large oblong-shaped variety. The skin is thin and surrounds a firm, juicy flesh that holds a pit that is easily removed. It is rich and has a sweet flavor. The pulp is a greenish, amber color when the fruit is raw, but it is a deep shade of pink when cooked. You can see that change from the photo above to the last photo in this post.
The cake starts with a simple creaming of the butter and sugar, then adding the eggs.
The flour, salt, and baking powder are then added and mixed in completely. This is a simple cake!
Now for the magic!
The cake is simple. So the WOW factor comes from the fruit ... Italian Plums. Just cut them in half and nestle them into that simple cake batter.
Sprinkle them over with sugar and cinnamon and bake.
When it comes out of the oven, the plums will be cozied into the batter and totally juicy.
How to serve
I've tasted this warm and I've eaten it a couple of days after baking. I can say with all confidence that it is delicious either way. However, the longer it sits, the juicier the fruit becomes and permeates the cake. You make your own preferential choice.
Other recipes you might like:
Italian Plum Cake
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, or gluten-free 1:1 flour blend 125 grams
- 1 teaspoon baking powder 5 grams
- large pinch of salt
- 1 cup organic cane sugar (plus 1-2 Tablespoons extra for the topping) or coconut palm sugar 200 grams
- ½ cup butter, softened 115 grams or 8 Tablespoons
- 2 large eggs
- 12 small Italian plums halved and pitted
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 10 ml
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Heat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9-inch round baking dish by buttering it.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
- In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter and 1 cup of sugar together until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- Add the dry ingredients, mixing until combined.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, over the top of the batter. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice, then cinnamon, then 1-2 Tablespoons of sugar depending on how sweet the plums are.
- Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out free of batter, about 45-60 minutes. If it is getting too brown, but is still not set in the middle, place a piece of foil on top without tightening it down around the baking dish.
- Cool on a rack. When it is at least at room temperature, (or even the next day when the juices are all soaked back into the batter!), cut into wedges and enjoy!