Friday, August 14, 2009

Italian Plum Coffee Cake

Fruit desserts are my favorite. Serve them warm with a little vanilla ice cream and I’m pretty much in heaven. This year in the Northeast it’s been hard to know if it’s really summer. One sure sign is fresh fruit and the markets have been overflowing with it, despite the rain. One of my favorite recipes is Italian Plum Coffee Cake. How happy was I when I saw small plums at the Union Square market the other day? Thinking “they’re here!” I bought a dozen or so and made my way home, anticipating my scrumptious cake.

Well, whoops, they weren’t Italian plums. Honestly, I knew it when I bought them. They didn’t have deep purple, almost black, skins like Italians plums do. The plums in my bag were red. My desire to make the cake overrode the slight nagging feeling I had that they weren’t the right kind and might not work out as well.

I cut into the first plum to halve it and not only did the flesh look different, but the pit wouldn’t budge. A quick Google search uncovered why I suspect this is an Italian plum cake and not an any-old-plum-cake. Italian prune plums, like all prune plums, are freestone fruit, meaning it’s easy to separate the pits from the flesh. This makes them ideal for baking. The plums I had were clingstones, meaning the pits are not so easy to remove from its flesh. Rather than be put off by a couple of ornery, dinky pits, I pressed on. A grapefruit knife became my friend. A little quick (truly) minor surgery and I was in business. In no time I had all the plums halved and ready to go on top of the cake.

The cake looked and tasted amazing. The vibrant red color actually made it even prettier than the cake I’ve been making all these years. The lush flesh of the clingstone plums was soaked up by the simple, satisfying cake underneath. Now I know I don’t have to wait until the end of summer when Italian plums come into season to make this recipe. To be sure, I will go back to the original when the Italians make their appearance in late August, but in the meantime I have a pretty, juicy stand-in.

Italian Plum Coffee Cake
As mentioned, you can use any kind of plums for this recipe. I'd just keep them on the small side so you see more of the cake poking up between each plum half.

½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted, unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
12 Italian plums, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix only to combine. Spoon into a greased 9-inch springform pan and place plums, skin side up, on top.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the batter. Bake for 1 hour or until the crust is golden and tester comes out clean.

Serves 8

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