The concept of stairs in the traditional sense was also something the world no longer needed. Stairs represented a teleological view of the universe, of one thing leading to another, whereas now everyone knew that one thing didn’t lead to another but often nowhere at all.
-Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex)
Maybe things can sometimes lead nowhere, but, in my world, they often lead to cake. For example, a few weeks ago, right after I returned to California, the Greek and I went to San Francisco to a free symphony performance in Golden Gate Park. It was a slightly planned, but spontaneous outing (keep in mind, this is when I was battling the cold that seemed like it would never die, but how can you say no to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony when the sun is shining? Exactly; it’s pretty near impossible). We ended up driving and, as always happens in San Francisco, parking is just plain hard to find. After about 20-25 minutes of circling the same neighborhood looking for that oh so elusive spot, we turned up an obscenely steep hill and struck gold. That is, if you consider gold a hillside spot a mile away from where you’re trying to go. Like any reasonable individual, the Greek didn’t and, as he turned to me, he jokingly said: “You owe me a cake.” And as I’m never one to turn down a challenge (or a baking request), the game was on. Cake there would be.
Granted, it took me a little time to fulfill the request. I would have happily done it the day the request was made had I not been so stuffy and had we not gone out for tapas and paella in the Mission at Esperpento. Even sick, I can never say no to paella! And then life, as they say, just got in the way.
But once mentioned, cake often sticks in your mind (much like it can stick to your waistline) and the thought just won’t go away. Before you know it, you’ve got the mixing bowls out, you’re waiting for butter to reach room temperature and the kitchen, due to the pre-heating, is getting hot (this final detail reminds you of what summer is supposed to be like if only the fog would take the hint). And if, in your search for the perfect summer cake, you decide on something with, let’s say, plums, you might also end up at Whole Foods. That’s how summer baking glamour is achieved.
To fulfill the Greek’s fantasy, I decided to use a recipe from Vefa’s Kitchen. Ever since Greek Easter I’d had my eye on walnut cake, but, as soon as I saw the recipe for plum cake, I knew my plans had changed. I just didn’t expect that I’d take Vefa’s recipe and feel so inclined to change it. Four cups of white flour in one cake seemed a bit excessive to me; similarly, I wasn’t so into the idea of two cups of sugar. So I went a little wild with the flour combination–one cup of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, cake flour and, last but not least, all-purpose. Did it work? I think so; it was nutty and thick, but thanks to the cake flour and all-purpose, fluffy and moist–and erred on the side of caution with only one cup of sugar. I was banking on the sweetness of the gloriously juicy black plums to do their magic and fruit never fails. Some vanilla bean also seemed essential to my inspired baking moment and, last but not least, since I didn’t have a 14-inch cake pan (who does besides Vefa or professional bakers?), I went with my trusty springform pan…
What did I end up with? A gorgeous, yet crumbly concoction that is vanilla ice cream’s true love. Forget pie! Plums in a cake. It’s so simple and so right.
Greek-Style Plum Cake
Inspired by Vefa’s Kitchen (Fresh Plum Cake)
Yields thick slices of plum-flavored joy
I truly believe the more plums the merrier; the next time around, rather than adding plums only to the top of the cake, I would also line the bottom of the cake pan with them before pouring in the batter. I also think that whatever your flour preference, go for it. The combination I used works nicely, but, for those of you who love white flour and won’t bake with anything else, there’s no need to change your habits for this recipe. And, as for sugar, 1 cup, 1 1/2 cups, 2 cups; do what your sweet tooth tells you. Mine was clearly on vacation for this baking endeavor; next time, though, who knows?
1 cup butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 1-inch piece of a vanilla seedpod with the beans scraped out
1/2 cup mik
2 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
2 lb. plums, pitted and quartered (but not peeled)
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling
-Preheat the oven to 350.
-Grease either a 14-inch cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour.
-Beat together the eggs and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale.
-In a large bowl, add the flour and then either whisk or sift it.
-At this stage, add the vanilla bean to the flour and whisk to combine.
-Lower the speed and, beating constantly, add the melted butter and milk, a little at a time, alternating with the flour.
-Fold in the lemon zest.
-Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. (N.B. to achieve this, I like to either hit my pan a few times or to lift it a few inches from the table and then drop it down; trust me, it works.)
-Arrange the plums on top, cut sides up.
-Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
-Set on a rack and let cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy. The cake is best served warm.
-N.B. Vefa recommends that the cake be eaten the day it’s made or to freeze the leftovers. I did a little of each; I’m saving one half of the cake for a rainy day when the plums have left us.