By Catherine Winter
My mother’s side of the family is a mix of German, Scandinavian, and Slavic, so our holiday traditions incorporated aspects from a number of different countries and cultures. Every year, we could look forward to the ritual of advent candles being lit, evergreens decorated (both indoors and outside!), and we could also rely on the exact same foods being served every single year. I enjoyed the gravlax, winced at the rotkohl, and always looked forward to what would become one of my all-time favourite desserts: this plum cake.
Pflaumenkuchen embodies everything I love in a dessert, particularly during the holidays. As I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, the plums’ tartness counteracts the sugar in the crust, and a single slice of this cake tends to have more fruit than pastry in it, which is just exquisite. Every time I bake it, I consider that we may indeed be fortunate to be able to buy armfuls of fruit at the grocery store year-round, but with the scarcity that would have existed during the winter in bygone eras, a cake like this—packed with butter and fresh fruit—would have been incredibly precious to my ancestors.
As such, it is quite perfect for a special holiday meal, and shared with loved ones.
3 pounds of dark blue/purple plums: prune or empress, pits removed, halved if small, quartered if larger
2 cups of whatever flour you like best
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup butter or Earth Balance
1 egg, beaten (or equivalent vegan egg substitute)
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup milk (approximate, and milk can be dairy, soy, or almond)
1 additional tablespoon sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon for sprinkling on top
Preheat the your oven to 350 degrees F. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then cut the butter in with a fork. Do not blend too well at this point.
In another bowl, mix the egg and the almond extract together, then add the milk bit by bit, whisking thoroughly, until you have 3/8 of a cup of wet ingredients. Using a spoon, blend this mixture into the dry ingredients, then work them together with your hands, forming a soft dough. Should you find that the dough sticks to your hands quite a bit, add a tiny bit more flour as needed.
Grease a 9 x 12 baking pan, and then use your hands to spread the dough across it, forming an even crust. If you have a bit of extra dough, just work it up the sides of the baking pan to form edges. Press the plum halves into the dough so that said dough pushes up between them a little bit, then sprinkle each with a pinch of the cinnamon sugar.
Bake for approximately one hour, or until the crust has gone just golden and the plums are fork-tender. Note that the plums will turn a deep magenta hue as they bake, and if you leave the cake in the oven too long, they’ll leak a lot of juice into the crust. You want the crust to be a bit soft, and the plums still maintaining integrity.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a good 30 minutes or so before serving. Cut into squares or slices, and serve as they are, or with a generous dollop of whipped cream or custard on top.
This really is a gorgeous dessert to have after Christmas/Yule dinner, but it’s just as wonderful for breakfast the next day.
Fröhliche Weihnachten/God Jul!