A few weeks ago, I found myself in a panic when I realized that all of the apricots and plums and cherries I’ve been enjoying this summer will be a thing of the past come September. I just don’t know what I’ll do with myself, especially since I’ve been a little plum crazy this season. It started with the cherry plums in my backyard. Then there were the black plums that came from the newlyweds’ tree. And then this plum cake happened.
Let’s rewind to last summer, when we were all still happily flipping through the pages of Gourmet. I instantly fell in love with the plum kuchen that was featured in the August issue; it photographed beautifully. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to try out the recipe, but I swore up and down that I would get to it the following year. And finally, I did. A few weeks back, I had a bag of plums and a Sunday all to myself, so I dedicated the afternoon to the plum kuchen. And now this is the part of the story where I sadly report that I was a little disappointed with the results, which rarely happens with Gourmet recipes.
Because I’ve been such a busy lady this summer, the thought of a five hour coffee cake is not super appealing to me. And if a recipe is going to require five hours of my time from start to finish, it has to be phenomenal. The kuchen, in my opinion, was just okay. It was gorgeous and had a light, airy texture, but somehow it was lacking; there was no balance between the tang of the fruit and the barely sweetened dough. I could definitely see the appeal, it just wasn’t for me. What I wanted was something a bit sweeter and more cakey, and this was more bread-like. I will say, in defense of this kuchen, that my expectations might have been a little beyond reason, which can happen when you have to wait an entire year to test a recipe.
But I loved the idea of an upside down plum cake; it’s such a simple yet stunning summer treat. I’ve mentioned in the past that I tend to be a bit obsessive, and let me tell you, this cake was definitely a result of my craziness. I was determined to make it work. So I borrowed the cake base from a recipe that I’ve made several times, swapped out a few ingredients and proceeded with caution. It took a little bit of experimenting and some serious consulting with my favorite cubicle mate and a few other trusted tasters, but I couldn’t be happier with the final product. The juice from the sweet-tart plums, when combined with the sugar and butter in the bottom of the pan, creates a really delicious, syrupy jelly as it bakes. I literally licked the pan because that plum syrup is so tasty. And the cake was better than I could have imagined: sweet, tangy, a tiny bit buttery, a little caramelized on the edges. And absolutely pretty and pink. Sometimes, magic really happens in this kitchen.
pretty plum cake
inspired by Gourmet
4 small firm-ripe plums, halved and pitted
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and sprinkle the bottom with 1/3 cup sugar. Cut plums and into 1/4-inch slices and arrange in the pan in one layer. Set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix 3/4 cup sugar and vegetable oil until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is well combined. Add vanilla and milk. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly over the plums with an offset spatula. Bake until cake is golden brown and tester comes out clean, about 22-25 minutes, rotating once halfway through. Cool in pan for 5 minutes and then invert and unmold onto a rack to cool completely.