Naked cake

DSC_3181

A naked cake with raspberries and mint to celebrate someone special’s birthday.

 

Rainy day plum cake

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My mother came to visit for a few rainy and chilly days.  Most years we see each other only two or three times, usually in the hustle and bustle of holidays or family celebrations, when there is little time for unhurried cooking or conversation.  We brewed large amounts of coffee and watched favorite old movies.  When the rain died down to a drizzle we went for strolls and browsed in little shops for vintage jewelry.  Mostly though, we spent hours cooking and baking.

This plum cake pops up in my blog feed from time to time, a classic recipe from the New York Times that bakers love to revisit.  Over a few days I saw it pop up on Food52 and Smitten Kitchen, so when my mother and I saw these dark purple plums at the farmer’s market, I knew exactly what we were going to be making.

Lemon, plums, salt, flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, butter

Lemon, plums, salt, flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, butter

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Here is a summary of the recipe from the various places I have seen it.  Everything is generally the same recipe to recipe, except that some recipes use 3/4 c of sugar for the batter and some use a full cup.  We used the full cup.

Plum cake originally published in the New York Times and adapted by a dozen blogs I read:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 
Pinch salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10-12 plums
, pitted and cut in half
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp extra sugar for topping

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9-in springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.  In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one, then add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Spoon batter into springform pan, using a spatula to smooth it evenly around the pan.  Set plums on batter, skin side up, so that most of the batter is covered with plums.  Drizzle with lemon juice, then sprinkle with cinnamon and remaining sugar.

Bake 45-50 minutes, until tester comes out clean and top is golden.  Let cool for at least 15 minutes in pan.  Use a butter knife to make sure cake sides are separated from pan edge, then remove pan side and slide cake onto a plate.  Goes equally well with coffee or ice cream.

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A few tips:

Combine extra sugar and cinnamon in a bowl first, then sprinkle over batter and plums.  This is just a tad easier.

There may seem like a low amount of batter to a high amount of fruit.  Don’t worry, this will take care of itself.

Cut and pit the prunes before you start the rest of the recipe.  Depending on how ripe your prunes are, this make take a little longer than you anticipate and its nice to have them ready to go once you’ve made the batter.

I’ve seen recipes with and without the lemon juice.  We happened to have a lemon lying around and used it.  I didn’t notice it much on the day of baking, but the flavor really came through on day two, so if you have a lemon, go for it.

Deb recommends saving the cake for day two.  While she is right that the plum juices make the cake more moist and custard-y, the plums themselves are not as gooey and jam-like as they are on the first day.  Cake full of jam-like plums is indescribably delicious, so definitely enjoy at least some of the cake on day one.

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Dark chocolate cake

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My mother has been visiting and we decided to have half a dozen friends over for a little dinner party.  It had been raining for days, and the damp and chill gave us the perfect excuse to make the first squash soup of the season.  After so much summer traveling, it felt good to gather our dear ones around the table and warm our bones with baked brie, bowls of hot soup and far too much wine.

To round out the meal, I made my favorite dark chocolate cake.  Its a simple thing that improves with time, the perfect dessert to make-ahead when you are busy putting together dinner for a group.  Easy on the sugar and heavy on the chocolate, the cake is very dense.  It cuts well into small servings for a large group, and is just perfect its own, or can be dressed up with a little powdered sugar and served with fresh fruit as shown here.

Eggs, sugar, flour, sea salt, raspberries, dark chocolate, butter

Eggs, sugar, flour, sea salt, raspberries, dark chocolate, butter

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Gateau Therese in The Sweet Life in Paris.

  • 9 oz bittersweet chocolate (roughly 2.5 bars) broken into squares
  • 8 tbsp butter (1 stick)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temp, separate whites and yolks into separate bowls
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter the sides of a 9′ inch spring-form pan. Trace bottom onto a piece of parchment paper and cut out circle. Place circle on bottom of spring-form pan; use a little dab of butter to hold down the corners, if needed.

Use a double boiler to completely melt the chocolate and butter.  I improvise a double boiler by filling a sauce pan with an inch of water, setting a stainless steel steamer basket in the pan.  Bring the water to a light boil.  Put the chocolate and butter in a glass dish and set the dish in the steamer basket.

Remove the chocolate and butter mixture from the heat.  First stir in half the sugar, then the egg yolks, then the flour.

Use a mixer to whip the egg whites with the salt until they form soft, droopy peaks.  Add the other half of the sugar and whisk until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks.

Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture to the melted chocolate/butter mixture and use a spatula to lightly fold them together.  Then add the remaining egg whites and fold gently until there are no more white streaks.  Be careful not to overmix.

Transfer batter into the spring-form pan, using the spatula to even out the batter and smooth the top.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Improvised double-boiler

Improvised double-boiler

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A few tips:

I love this cake because it is very chocolatey without being too sweet.  The chocolate content is high in proportion to the rest of the ingredients, so the better quality chocolate you use, the better the cake.

Before firing up the double boiler, break the chocolate into small squares and cut the stick of butter into half tablespoon chunks.  This will create more surface area and allow them to melt a little more quickly.

The original recipe calls for baking in a loaf pan.  I’ve made that recipe a number of times and it works well.  The only difference is to extend the baking time to 35 minutes.

If you possibly can, cover the cake and leave out overnight.  Its even better on day two.

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Rosemary olive oil cake

Garnished with a little powdered sugar and chopped pistachios

Garnished with a little powdered sugar and chopped pistachios

A few years ago I lived in a large, beautiful group house with several wonderful housemates.  We had an incredible kitchen in which we spent all our time, laughing and cooking and sharing food.  There were a number of cookbooks left in the kitchen by the landlords, journalists who traveled most of the time, and one of the roommates became obsessed with a recipe she found for rosemary remembrance cake.  She spent months thinking and talking about that recipe, and though she was an excellent cook, put off making it until just before she moved away to the other coast.

Flour, pistachios, lemon, eggs, rosemary, yogurt, olive oil

Flour, pistachios, lemon, eggs, rosemary, yogurt, olive oil

When she finally decided to make the cake, for her going away dinner if I remember correctly, we realized we didn’t have any rosemary.  Our house was next to a co-op with an amazing garden.  They had a the largest rosemary bush I have ever seen and the neighbors had told us to help ourselves if we ever needed any.  My roommate relieved the giant bush of one long branch of rosemary and this was baked right down the center of the cake.  It was so beautiful we even did a little photo shoot with it on our front porch.

It’s been about five years since she made that cake, and though I can’t recall the name of the cookbook in our old house, I’d done a little research online to try to find something similar.  The original cake was baked in a loaf pan, but I wanted to bake a round cake, and ended up choosing this recipe from Cayuga St. Kitchen.

In general, I’m more of a savory person who enjoys sweets in small quantities, so this warm, aromatic cake is right up my alley, and was the perfect accompaniment to morning coffees and afternoon tea.

Rosemary branches baked on to the cake top

Rosemary branches baked on to the cake top

A few tips:

While I did follow the recipe in adding two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the cake, I saw a number of other recipes with branches of rosemary baked into the top, so I felt safe amending this one.  I selected three 5-in branches of new growth from my rosemary plant, choosing the new growth so that the branches would be flexible enough for me to shape them a bit and arrange the rosemary in a circle around the cake.  Fresh rosemary should have lots of natural oils that will be released while baking, so the leaves will dry out, rather than burn, as it bakes.

I felt that the cake might have benefited from a little more lemon zest.  Next time I make it, I might try zesting another half or whole lemon.

The powdered sugar and chopped nuts topping suggested in the recipe were a nice addition to the cake I remember.  Raspberries or fresh sliced pears would also pair nicely when serving.

The original rosemary cake

The original rosemary cake

Blueberry Plum Upside-Down Cake

Blueberries and Plums

Blueberries and Plums

Summer fruits seem to be peaking.  Peaches are heaven right now and blueberries are just about gone.  I’m wishing for another slice of this blueberry plum upside down cake.  I’m more of a savory person, than sweet tooth, so desserts that go easy on sugar are just right for me.  I believe this recipe came from Martha Stewart.

Fruit in the Springform pan, pre-batter

Fruit in the Springform pan, pre-batter

Blueberry plum upside-down cake

Blueberry plum upside-down cake

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