The radiators in both of our apartments kicked on last night. Fall is almost here. Figured we probably should make a cake to celebrate.
Plum cake sounds like something that grandmas would make. All brown sugar sweet and homey, studded with tender chunks of fruit, barely perfumed with ginger. Rustic and charming without being contrived, but still fancy enough for company. Of course, my grandmothers rarely baked. One was too busy teaching swimming classes at the YMCA and the other… well. I found out her “famous German Chocolate Cake” that was so precious it could only be made for Christmas came from a box mix and life’s never been quite the same.
But, if I really try, I can see my Grandma Shaw putting a plum cake on her table– right next to the jar of butter mints that were somehow never empty (except for when I ate them all). It’s a false memory I can invent with enough effort. Like the time I got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas, or definitely 100% did not cry in public like a frantic idiot because I got lost in New York City and there were just so. fucking. many. people. In that world, this is a recipe handed down from generation to generation. Lovingly dog-eared, with a coffee-ring obscuring a few keywords, ensuring the family’s secret will stay ours alone forever.
In the real world, where I baked in a regular oven like a very dangerous 8 year old and a stranger had to put me in cab, this recipe is adapted from Edward Lee in his book Smoke & Pickles. And we just might like this real world better. After all, our grandma’s recipes would never include nearly this much whiskey.
We are obsessed. With Edward. With this book. With buttermilk and sorghum, just like he is. It’s, hands down, one of the most wonderful cakes we’ve ever had. It’s rich and molassesy without sacrificing a light, delicate texture that makes it easy to eat four slices. It’s not syrupy sweet, either. This cake barely needs any frosting. In fact, we skipped it completely and opted for a thin veneer of barely sweetened whipped cream.
- 6 small, ripe Plums, about 2 inches in diameter
- ¼ cup Olive Oil-- canola or whatever is fine, too, but the olive oil lends a little seriousness to the honey-sweet plums.
- 5 tbsp Unsalted Butter, softened
- 1½ cups Brown Sugar, packed
- 2 Eggs
- 1 cup Buttermilk
- 200g Cake Flour, sifted-- we always weigh cake flour because it's real dang hard to measure accurately with a scoop BUT will be about 2 cups.
- 1½ tsp Ground Ginger
- 1½ tsp Baking Soda
- ½ tsp Salt
- 1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
- 2 tbsp Honey
- Preheat your oven to 325° and grease a 10" round cake pan or 13"x9" casserole and line the bottom with parchment.
- Wash 5 of your plums and cut them into quarters, discarding the seeds. Save the other to slice thinly for the top of the cake later.
- Cream the butter, oil, and brown sugar for at least 3 minutes on high speed. Scrape down the sides well, and beat for another 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating them completely and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula before adding the next.
- Whisk together the cake flour, ginger, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
- With the mixer on low, add ⅓ of the flour mixture to the egg mixture, followed by ⅓ of the buttermilk, and scrape down the sides.
- Still on low speed, add ½ of the remaining flour, followed by the buttermilk, and give 'er a scrape again.
- Turn off the mixer, add the remaining flour and buttermilk, and mix the last bit in by hand.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and evenly drop in the plums.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center, and let cool completely.
- Whip the cream with the honey, spread on top of the cake, and serve garnished with remaining plum, which should be sliced very thin.