On Pflaumenkuchen and 'My Berlin Kitchen'
Inspiration can be awfully hard to come by, don't you think? I mean, maybe I'm really just speaking for myself, here--sometimes getting inspired is a serious challenge, sometimes the wheels start turning with a bit more ease with just the spark of a new idea, but overall, the well can run dry far too often. And when it does, it always seems like everyone else is living in a state of eternal Pinterest Brain, constantly ticking off what they want to write or photograph or refinish and paint or who the heck knows what and it can really start to get depressing, seeing all these perpetually creative people out there. I admire you, Constantly Inspired People, and yet I am annoyed by you. Does anybody feel me?
But I'm starting to come out the other side of my most recent creativity block, and like so many other similar moments in life, I have a fabulous fellow blogger to thank for it. Luisa Weiss, you and your new book have dusted the cobwebs off my brain and I celebrate you for that. Luisa's blog was one of the first I ever laid eyes on, and certainly one that inspired me to start my own blog more than five (!!) years ago. I was so pumped to finally meet her in person last month during the tour for her new book, and find that she is every bit as warm, funny, charming, and fabulous as her writing.
(Also, it's worth mentioning that she gave birth to her first child about four months ago, and was somehow glowing--glowing!--in spite of all her book tour international travelling madness with said child in tow. At four months post-partum, if I could make it to Target and back without weeping, I rewarded myself for a solid week. See, I told you Luisa was an inspiration.)
Anyway, if you're looking for a sweet, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, totally food-centered memoir to cozy up with this fall during the ten freaking minutes you can find for yourself, I really must recommend this book--it's a can't-put-it-down-so-JUST-DON'T-BUG-ME-I'M-READING sort of thing. Furthering the awesome is all the great-sounding recipes that I can't wait to try. First up, though, had to be the yeasted plum cake (or Pflaumenkuchen, if you're feeling particularly German), because, hello, you guys know me by now. Also, I'm not so sure I've ever made a cake with yeast. Have I? I really don't know. Drama, intrigue!
Adding to the decision to tackle this recipe first was the Kind of Ridiculous San Francisco Food Person Enthusiasm about finding some fancy Frog Hollow Farm plums, right around the time that this idea of a yeasted plum cake was first presented to me. And what emerged from the oven was glorious: a puffed, golden cake, crowned with spiced, sugary fruit, with the kind of fragrance that makes you pound the countertop in anticipation. If you can find the last few remaining early autumn plums rattling around at your local market, this is the way to celebrate them. But really, any kind of plums will work.
When served with a little whipped cream, this is the kind of fruit-forward, not-too-sweet cake that, while perfectly wonderful for dessert, would be even better at 3:00 p.m., with a huge coffee, when you feel your inspiration waning. It's really something, I'm telling you.
Yeasted Plum Cake Adapted from Luisa Weiss's My Berlin Kitchen
The original recipe calls for fresh yeast, which I had some trouble finding, so in it's place I used active dry. The online conversions for different yeasts vary wildly, as do the amounts used by other bloggers who have made this same recipe. In a fit of confusion after reading a few charts with different yeast equivalent amounts, I just sort of ended up throwing up my hands, abandoning my "precision matters, especially with leavening!" baker's mentality, and went with two teaspoons active dry yeast, a little less than one envelope. No one died, the cake rose beautifully, and we ate the whole dang thing. So there you have it.
For the dough: 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting 1/2 cup whole milk, lukewarm 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (see note) 3 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 large egg yolk 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled 1/8 teaspoon salt Zest of 1 lemon (2-3 teaspoons)
For the plums: 1 1/4 pounds Italian prune plums or other variety, pitted and quartered (larger plums should be sliced in sixths) 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I live for Vietnamese cinnamon) 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in about half the milk, then sprinkle in the yeast and a pinch of sugar. Use a fork to mix together the milk, yeast, and sugar, incorporating just a little of the flour into the mix. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it sit until it gets foamy, 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining milk, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, egg yolk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, salt, and lemon zest; the dough will be shaggy.
Dust a work surface lightly with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth (you may need to add a touch more flour to keep the dough from sticking to the board, but be careful not to add too much flour--you want the dough to stay soft and kind of floppy). Form the dough into a ball and place in the buttered pan. Cover the pan with the tea towel, let rise in a warm place until the dough doubles in bulk, about an hour.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Use your fingers to gently press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan, and about 1 inch up the sides.
For the plums, starting around the outer edge of the pan, push the sliced plums into the dough at a 45° angle, making concentric circles and fitting in as many plum slices as you can. In small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle evenly and generously over the plums (you may have just a little cinnamon-sugar mixture left over, but you do want a fairly substantial layer over the fruit). Drizzle the melted butter over the top. Let rest (uncovered) on the counter for 20 minutes. (Full disclosure: I totally skipped this step and just put the pan in the oven at this point. No negative repercussions were experienced. Perhaps with a rest, the fruit would've been juicier or something?)
Bake until the cake is puffed and golden brown and the plums are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let the cake cool on a wire rack until the furit is no longer hot. Cut into wedges and serve with unsweetened (or ever-s0-slightly sweetened) freshly whipped cream.