AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, dessert, Fruit Pies, Summer, Upside-down cake

Italian prune plums, in a shuk near you

After spending eight hours at work making cakes and chocolate babkas — though not a bad way to spend a day — I came home tired and a little irritable yesterday evening. Somehow, the only remedy to my exhaustion-induced crankiness was to make plum kuchen (nerd alert). My usual excuse for buying large quantities of prune plums is Molly Wizenberg’s plum-ginger crumble, but after making two or three of those in the past couple of weeks, it was time to find another recipe that showcases the little oval beauties.

After Jeff and I spent a few minutes arguing over the pronunciation of the word kuchen (a discussion which ended with my throwing my hands in the air and reminding him that I am only half Ashkenazi, after all) I set to work on this terribly simple, and intoxicatingly delicious-smelling Eastern European dessert.

humble-looking plum kuchen... smells like home.

Plum Kuchen, adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

Kuchen is german for “cake”. This one is made by first assembling a pate brise-like bottom crust or cake, and then topping it with plums that have been tossed with sugar, cinnamon and flour. You can certainly use whatever purple plums are available in your area, just be sure to choose small one for this recipe. 

For the cake

1 1/2 cups sifted whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter/margarine

1 large egg

1/3 cup whole milk

grated zest of one lemon

melted butter/margarine for brushing

For the topping

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar – depending on the sweetness of the plums

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour

8 small, ripe plums, halved and pitted

1 large egg yolk

2 Tbs heavy cream/soy milk or soy creamer

To make the cake, heat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a bowl. Add the shortening/butter/margarine and cut in using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Beat the egg, milk, and lemon zest together. Add to the flour mixture, stirring just until blended.

Press the dough into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Brush the surface of the dough with melted butter/margarine.

To make the topping, mix the sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Arrange the plums cut side up on the dough. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the fruit.

Blend the egg yolk with the cream and drizzle over the fruit. Bake for 35 minutes, covered for the first 15 minutes of baking. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake

breakfast, Dairy Free, dessert, Upside-down cake

I think this may be the world’s easiest upside-down cake.

In a fit of optimism I bought three pints of blackberries at my local produce market. I guess I was thinking I might juice them for my column, or that Auralee would enjoy them by the fistful as she has in the past.

After more careful consideration, I realized that juicing blackberries would leave me with seeds, and since my project for Foodthinkers involves using the leftover pulp from juicing, I figured seeds wouldn’t be all that appetizing to most folks, myself included. Unfortunately, Auralee found that blackberries shipped from Chile in February weren’t quite sweet enough for her liking and I was left with three pints of rather tart, but pretty, berry-rejects.

Upside-down cake was the next idea that came to mind, since I love it so, and because I figured a little sugar and cake batter would be just what these sweet-challenged berried needed.

Oh happy day. I found this recipe (aptly titled, Blackberry Upside-Down Cake) just waiting for me in my Gourmet Cookbook and with a couple minor changes, I whipped in up in a under an hour.

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake, adapted from Gourmet Today

What makes this cake so easy in comparison to other upside-down cakes, is that there is no need to cook, caramelize, or alter the fruit in any way before adding it the pan. The batter itself is a standard cake-formula: beating your fat and sugar, then adding the egg and then alternately mixing in the wet and dry ingredients.

2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries (12 ounces)

1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) earth balance margarine/vegan buttery sticks

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup well-shaken soy/almond/rice milk, mixed with 1 tsp apple cider vinegar (my “buttermilk” formula)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Line bottom of a greased 8- by 2-inch round cake pan with 2 rounds of parchment paper, then grease parchment. Dust pan with some flour, knocking out excess.

Arrange blackberries in 1 layer in cake pan. Sprinkle berries with 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and shake pan to help distribute sugar (if you are using summer-sweet blackberries, you can probably use just a teaspoon or two of sugar).

Whisk together 1 cup flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and mix at low speed until just incorporated. Alternately add flour mixture and “buttermilk” in 3 batches, mixing at low speed until just incorporated.

Spoon batter evenly over berries, smoothing top, and bake in middle of oven until top is golden and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Run a thin knife around edge of pan, then invert a large plate over pan and, using pot holders to hold plate and pan together tightly, flip cake onto plate. Peel off parchment and serve as is, or with vanilla ice cream.

Cranberry Walnut Upside-Down Cake

Autumn, dessert, Upside-down cake

IMG_1015Personally, I don’t think I could ever collect too many cranberry recipes. Talk about fresh, local, and seasonal–  for those of us in the northeast, cranberries completely fit the ideal of what is “in” right now, foodwise. Plus they are pretty, like little jewels and they freeze so easily. You can just take that fresh bag of cranberries you bought at the store and throw it in the freezer if it looks like you are not going to use it in time. Once these shiny red berries begin appearing at the market in abundance, there is no way I can wait until thanksgiving to cook and bake with them. Luckily, I am a recipe and cookbook hoarder, and when I was looking through my fall clippings from years and years worth of Gourmet magazines (sniff…sigh) I found this little gem from the November 2005 issue.

This Cranberry Walnut Cake is made here in a 10-inch cast iron pan, but if you do not have one of those, a sturdy 10-inch cake pan should be fine. Just make the topping in a saucepan first and transfer it to the cake pan (which you should grease in this case) right before you pour in the batter.

Cranberry Walnut Upside-Down Cake, from Gourmet, November 2005

Active Time: 30 minutes

Start to Finish: 2-ish hours (including cooling)

Serves 8 (so they say)

For the Topping

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter or earth balance spread

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (I used 1/2 a cup and it was plenty)

1 3/4 cups (7 oz.) fresh or frozen cranberries- if frozen, do not thaw

3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (3 oz.), toasted (10 minutes at 325 F should do it)

For the Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used whole pastry, and it worked just fine)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter or 8 Tbs Earth Balance margarine, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar (I used 1/2 cup)

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk or soy milk with 2 tsp of apple cider vinegar stirred in, to curdle it (this is my standard substitute for buttermilk, and works well, and tastes really good. Just let it sit for a few minutes so the vinegar can work, before adding to the other ingredients)

Make Topping

Melt the butter of Earth Balance in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over moderate heat, then swirl to coat bottom and side of skillet and stir in brown sugar.

Simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved, 1 – 2 minutes, then sprinkle cranberries and walnuts evenly over the mixture and remove from heat.


Make Cake

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat together butter/Earth Balance and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy, 4 -6 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture alternately in batches with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just combined. DO NOT OVERMIX.

Bake Cake

Heat topping in skillet over moderately night heat until it starts to bubble, then gently spoon the batter over the topping and spread evenly. Quickly transfer to oven; bake until cake is golden brown and a wooden skewer comes out clean (or whatever sharp pokey thing you have on hand), ~25 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside edge of pan and invert cake onto plate. Cool completely on plate, on rack ~ 1 hour (or as long as you can stand it). Serve at room temperature.

You can make this cake ahead and keep, wrapped in plastic wrap at room temp for one day- after that I would recommend refrigerating it.