This is quite a lovely recipe a version of which was originally printed in The NY Times with the title “Plum Torte”. It is deserving of all its devoted followers. It’s very like a cake my Sicilian grandmother used to make with apples. I made it last week and again this week. I’m obsessed! Fortunately, the season for Stanley plums, commonly known as Italian prune plums is coming to an end.
The NY Times recipe has a few versions, published at varying times. Depending on the publication, the cinnamon varies between 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon. The sugar varies between 1cup and 3/4 cup. I think 3/4 cup of sugar is plenty sweet and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon is likewise enough. The recipe doesn’t call for any flavoring in the cake, just cinnamon sugar on top. I love a combination of cinnamon, star anise and lemon zest and vanilla with plums and often make plum preserves with these flavors. So I added a bit of vanilla to the batter and added some star anise to the cinnamon and sugar that’s sprinkled on top. I also changed the granulated sugar to sanding sugar for the top as I like a bigger crunch.
The original recipe also gives you a choice of baking in an 8″, 9″ or 9″ springform pan. I think 10″ would be too big because the resulting cake would be very flat and 8″ too small because there wouldn’t be enough of the crusty top or enough plums. 9″ is just right. The original recipe calls for unbleached AP flour but I prefer bleached for cakes. It gives a more tender crumb. Finally, the NYT recipe doesn’t call for any salt. I salt everything so I added a pinch.
150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine granulated white sugar
114 grams, 4 oz unsalted butter, softened
125 grams (1 cup)bleached AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
12 italian plums (Stanley variety), halved and pitted (24 halves)
Pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground star anise
3 tablespoons of sanding sugar or granulated for sprinkling on top.
Daniel is in a cook off with another boy in another fraternity, to raise money for charity. They are allowed a hot plate, a grill and a sous vide, since they both have one. I have to chuckle here as it’s not the customary possession of a college boy and yet, Daniel found possibly the one other boy in this huge University that owned one as well.
The boys were to prepare an entree using pork tenderloin, a side dish and dessert. Daniel is making prosciutto wrapped tenderloin which he will cook to temperature in the sous vide and finish in a hot pan. We discovered this technique at one of Jean-George Vonderrichten’s New York City restaurants, “Nougatine”. We had some unbelievable Berkshire pork chops which were tender with a crisp surface. The sous vide Is perfect for tough cuts of meat, like pork chops, because you can cook them for a long time to tenderize them without overcooking them. In addition to the pork, Daniel will make a butternut squash risotto with rosemary and sage.
I was tasked with finding a desssert that could be made solely on top of the stove, that didn’t require any pre made items or special equipment and could be cooked in 30ish minutes. Hmmm!
My family loves Earl Grey tea and begged me to try and tackle an ice cream cake with that flavor. Earl Grey tea is a black tea flavored with Bergamot, a citrus fruit. I love the combination of Earl Grey and chocolate. It also works well with other citrus fruits and with nuts, particularly walnuts. So I thought a moist walnut and chocolate cake would be a nice base for the cakes. If you don’t want to make a cake and prefer something crunchy, you can make a chocolate cookie crust. Or, you can do none of the above and just scoop some in a dish and eat it plain or drizzled with sauce
Finding a chocolate cake recipe proved tricky. I didn’t want something too rich, like a brownie. I thought about using my favorite chocolate butter cake recipe but butter cakes don’t like to be cold. They get hard and dry with refrigeration and I wanted to be able to assemble the ice cream on top of the cake and freeze the whole thing. So I started trying chiffon cakes which use oil instead of butter. Oil doesn’t freeze so I figured the cake wouldn’t freeze hard. One recipe by Rose Levy Barenbaum in “The Cake Bible” caught my eye. Apparently when her mother gave her the recipe she told her the texture was perfect even right out of the freezer. So I gave it a shot but it didn’t have a deep enough chocolate flavor and the texture was too fluffy so I tried again, adding another 25 grams of cocoa powder and that seemed to do the trick. It had a deeper chocolate flavor and the texture improved as well.
This recipe makes about a pint of ice cream. The number of cakes you get depends on the size of your molds. I use molds that hold about 4 oz so I get 8 cakes.
Earl Gray Ice Cream
Chocolate walnut chiffon cake
1/2 cup Caramelized walnuts ( see my post on Caramelized nuts)
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel (see my post on candied fruit)
I’ve always been a person with a major sweet tooth. Whenever someone asked me what my favorite food was I would always reply with my favorite dessert of the time (usually ice cream). However, I really wasn’t much of a cake guy. I thought chocolate cake was too dense and rich, and vanilla was too dry and bland. I was the kid at birthday parties who ate more than their share of pizza, and then didn’t eat any cake. Every year for my own birthday, my mom tried a new version of cake that she hoped I would like. One year it was vanilla buttercream, the next marble cake, the next devil’s food cake. Each year, to her dismay, I took a bite, smiled, told her it was pretty good, then took a second bite and said I was done. Then, when I was 10 I fell head over heels in love with a cake. It was just any cake though, it was ruby red velvet cake with luscious fluffy cream cheese frosting.
My mom was at her friend Patty’s house (who now owns a cupcake store in Chicago) and whenever she goes out I always ask my mom to bring me something home. On this particular day she brought me a slice of red velvet cake. Looking back, it comes as no surprise that the first cake I ever liked came from Patty’s house because all good things come from her house like my first video games or tickets to Cirque du Soleil. Even though I didn’t like cake, I liked trying new things and the cake’s red crumb contrasted by snow white frosting was hypnotizing so I had to have some. After that first bit I sighed and my body melted as I entered cake nirvana for the first time. It was moist and delicate and the frosting was fluffy and just a little bit tangy. I found my perfect cake and every year since then, my mom has made me red velvet cake for my birthday.
There is a lot of confusion people have when it comes to red velvet cake. Many people think it is just a chocolate cake that’s dyed red, which is far from the truth. Traditionally a southern cake, it has it’s own unique flavor. There’s some cocoa powder in it, but also vanilla. The unique flavor can’t really be described in any other way than yummy and unique. The tangy cream cheese frosting that is a must for the cake perfectly complements the moist and flavorful cake. While my mom is the one who makes me the cake for my birthday, I make red velvet cake and cupcakes as often as I can. I’ll find any excuse to whip up a batch of red velvet bliss.