Thursday, August 23, 2007

Plum Crazy

I don't know much about plums. I'll just make that clear right now.

Of course, I know they're stone fruit, related to peaches, and they come into season roughly around the same time. But I've never quite developed a taste for plums like I have for peaches, partly because I haven't been exposed to them all that much.

That's not to say that I haven't wanted to try. The few bites of plum I've had over the years have been... adequate and not terribly inspiring, but I've thought over the past couple of years that perhaps under the right conditions, plums might just win me over.

Call me a romantic, if you will, but I had hope for plums. And for the past few years, I've had to swallow a bit of disappointment come fall when I realized that I simply would not find plums at the local farmers' market... and I would not get that second chance.

But on Saturday, that all changed.

The dear, sweet older folks who don't appear at the market often were back for a second week in a row. I had hoped to find more of their juicy Red Haven peaches, but they were all out. Instead, they had quart baskets of small, rosy, light purple plums, the name of which they didn't know as this variety was a volunteer in their garden. (Does anyone recognize what kind of plums these are? Let me know!) When she offered me a sample, I decided to accept, and I sank my teeth into a dark golden flesh that oozed a sumptuous sweetness.

With a broad smile on my face, I begged them to hold back two quarts for me as I continued to make my market rounds, and as I walked on, I polished off the rest of the plum, slurping the last bits off the pit before wiping my hands and mouth with blissful glee. And when I brought the plums home at last, I immediately rifled through my dessert notebook to find two recipes I knew I had tucked away for the very occasion.

While I've been clinging to a recipe for a Spiced Plum Crisp (courtesy of Mr. Clean) for a couple of years, I decided to start with a cake recipe I found last year in The Cake Book for a Jasmine and Ginger Plum Upside-Down Cake. Knowing my love of ginger and my fondness for jasmine tea, this seemed to be a no-brainer for me and an ideal dessert to share with friends.

After work today, I came home and immediately got to work, halving and pitting the plums and making the local-honey-laced jasmine tea for soaking the fruit.

While they marinated, I started the sweet gingery topping for the cake and whisked together the cake batter, using some organic local spelt flour, local eggs, and local milk.

Once everything was ready to assemble, I layered the plums in the cake pan and sprinkled them with candied ginger.

I poured and smoothed the cake batter over the top and slid the pan into the oven, daring to raise the temperature in the loft even on such a hot and muggy day just for the delight of what was to come.

The cake came out looking brown and angelic, seeming to hover over the plums below, and when I flipped it onto a serving plate, I knew right away I had a winner.

But I don't expect you to take my word for it. I had invited Persephone for dessert, and she found the cake as tender and as invitingly plummy as I had. Since I modified the recipe somewhat, I doubt it was quite as sweet as the original, and that suited us both just fine.

I think I may have a slice of cake for breakfast, and then I plan to give away several slices to a few friends so that I can move on to the next plum recipe sometime this weekend.

As for me, I think it's now safe to say that I'm crazy about plums, and I hope it's a love that will last a long while.

Jasmine Ginger Plum Upside-Down Cake

The original recipe from The Cake Book has been modified slightly to accommodate my preference for whole grains and less refined sweeteners as well as to showcase some local foods. Instead of using large black plums, I used these smaller ones and halved them instead of slicing them. I also replaced granulated sugar with honey, brown sugar with maple sugar, and all-purpose flour with a 2:1 blend of spelt and unbleached flours. Some of the tea used to soak the plums ended up in the batter: I was down to the bottom of the honey jar, so I rinsed it out with the warm tea and dumped the mix into the batter. While the obvious beverage of choice with this cake would be jasmine tea (hot or cold), you might also find that a sweet white wine or a splash of dandelion wine would do very nicely, too.

12 or so small plums
1 c boiling water
2 tsp loose jasmine tea
2 T honey
4 T unsalted butter
1/4 c maple sugar
2 T mini diced crystallized ginger
1 c spelt flour
1/2 c unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c maple sugar
1/4 c honey
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c milk (or 3/4 c milk and 1/4 c tea from soaking)

Cut each plum in half, removing the pit. Place halves in a medium bowl.

Pour boiling water over the jasmine tea and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain into a mug or small pitcher and sweeten with 2 T honey. Pour warm tea over the plums and let them stand for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Put 4 T butter in a 9" round cake pan and set the pan over low heat. When butter has melted, stir in 1/4 c maple sugar until mostly blended. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Arrange plum halves in concentric circles in the pan, cut side down. Sprinkle crystallized ginger on top of plums.

In medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, ginger, and salt, whisking until combined. Set aside.

In large bowl, cream butter. Gradually add maple sugar and honey, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk. Mix until just blended.

Scrape batter over the plums, then smooth it into an even layer. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until cake is golden brown and springs back lightly when touched. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Carefully invert the cake onto a cake plate. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for up to 3 days.

Serves 8-12


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