Italian Spiced Plum Cake

This is quite a lovely recipe a version, of which was originally printed in The NY Times with the title “Plum Torte” and 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 vanilla for 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.

Ingredients:

  • 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), halved and pitted (24 halves)
  • Pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  •  teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 3 tablespoons of sanding sugar or granulated for sprinkling on top.
  • 1/2 a small lemon (this yields roughly 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Wisk together the 3 tablespoons of sugar and the spices
  3. Line the bottom of a 9″ Springform pan with a round of parchment. If it’s nonstick, you needn’t grease the sides otherwise grease and flour the sides of the pan.
  4. Cream the sugar and butter until light and silky
  5. Add in eggs, one at a time, reading until light and fluffy
  6. Wisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Sift over top of batter and beat gently to combine.
  7. Spoon batter into your greased springform pan, leveling the top with an off set spatula.
  8. Place plum halves on top of the batter with the skin-side up.
  9. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top
  10. Sprinkle with the spiced sugar.Bake for about an hour, until the top is brown and a toothpick come out clean.  I have some more ideas for this cake and for me this is the most interesting part of cooking and baking: using a tried and true recipe as a jumping off point for more exploration. Let me know if you try them:
  • Put the spices and vanilla in the cake and sprinkle the top with lemon sugar ( rub grated lemon rind in the sugar) It will be prettier than using cinnamon in the sugar you sprinkle.
  • Use some almond extract in the batter instead of vanilla. Substitute almond flour for some of the AP flour. This would be good with plums, peaches and apricots. You’d have to play with this. Almond flour will give the cake less structure and is less absorbent than AP flour. It might result in a denser, more buttery cake.
  • Walnuts are also great with plums. Use some ground walnuts in the batter and substitute some walnut oil for the butter. It won’t be a 1-1 ratio. Butter has some water and oil does not. I would suggest using about 2 tablespoons of oil and cutting back the butter to 5 tablespoons. Same caveats as above with substituting almond flour.
  • This cake might work well with apricots as well although apricots are dryer than plums. I’d try poaching them in a soaking syrup with lemon rind and juice just until they soften a bit, then drain them and use the partially cooked apricots. I’d put ginger or almond oil or both in the batter.
  • Sour cherries might be good but you would probably need a bit more sugar on top. Also, cherries are very juicy and for opposite reasons than the apricot, one might need to roast them in the oven for about five minutes and drain them so as to eliminate some of the juice.

Happy exploring!

Julie

Skillet Lemon Cake

imageDaniel 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 immediate thought was poached fruit served with creme fraiche or Greek yogurt, sprinkled with some lightly toasted nuts for crunch.  Too easy!  Serious Eats has a skillet cobbler that sounded good but I wanted something that was more Mediterranean in nature.  I’d been looking at Mark Bittma’s skillet lemon/almond tart and decided to try that.  However, it would have to be adapted as it was cooked for a few minutes in a skillet and spent the rest of the time in the oven to which Daniel would have no access.  I’m going to refer to the Bittman tart as a cake because in my mind it’s closer to a cake than a tart. There was also a discrepancy between Mark Bittman’s video and the recipe published by the New York Times that would have to be addressed.  The article gives you the option of using 1/2-3/4 cup of sugar and the video calls for 1/2 cup.  Since I was going to bake this entirely on the stove top I opted to go with 1/2 cup of sugar in the batter and save the 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top and caramelize. The recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, which I find to be unecesarily imprecise.   I did in fact use the juice of a lemon but it was a huge freakin lemon and I think it was more juice than necessary.  When I looked at the video it looked like there was twice as much cream as lemon juice and the recipe called for 1/2 cup of juice, so, I figure, 1/4 cup of juice is fine.

The next issue was the cooking method.  My Italian grandmother never used her broiler and taught me how to make a frittata using only the stove top and a covered pan. I thought that might work for this dessert which seemed to be essentially a sweet frittata.  They key is to put the batter in  a non stick pan with sizzling fat (butter or olive oil) so it doesn’t stick and so you can slide it out and flip it back into the pan to brown the other side.  Now, if you don’t want to mess around with flipping the cake I don’t think it’s critical.  Just make sure you place the cake in the plate so that the browned side is up.  This can easily be done by placing a plate on top of the pan and flipping the plate and pan as a unit so the pan ends up on top, the plate on the bottom and the cake drops out of the pan in one piece.  If if the cake does’t come out in one nice piece, don’t panic.  Smoosh it together, sprinkle some toasted almond slices on top and dust it with powdered sugar, or place the reserved sugar on top and hit it with a blow torch.

Julie

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  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds plus more for decoration
  • 1/2 cup cold whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar for batter plus 3 tablespoons for the top
  • 1/4 cup cold lemon juice
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

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  1.  Mix eggs until well combined, but not fluffy, into a homogeneous yellow mixture.
  2.  Add the cream, salt, and lemon juice to the eggs and mix well.  (Combining lemon juice and cream can curdle the cream. Keeping the ingredients cold reduces the likelihood that will occur. Also, the longer you let the cream and juice sit together the more chance you give the juice to curdle the cream so don’t let the mixture sit around).
  3. Rub the lemon zest into 1/2 cup of sugar and add to the eggs along with the almond meal and sliced almonds. Combine well
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to an 8″ skillet and melt over medium heat foaming subsides
  5. Pour batter into the pan and cover it.
  6. Lower the flame to low.
  7. Cook for about 5 minutes and check it.  You are looking for the liquids to be set.  If you stick a wooden skewer into the mixture it should come out with mois crumbs but not wet.  If it’s not ready, cover the pan for another 5 minutes and check again.
  8. When the tart is completely set, loosen the edges from the side of the pan.  Take a plate and place it on top of the pan.  Take a deep breath, cross your fingers and flip the plate and pan unit upside down so the pan is now on top.  With any luck, the tart will release cleanly.  If it’s doesn’t scrape out the remainder in the pan and pat it on top of the cake.
  9. Now you have two options:  you can scatter some toasted sliced almonds on top and dust it with powdered sugar or you can sprinkle the top with granulated sugar and caramelize it with a blow torch.

Earl Grey Ice Cream Cakes

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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.

Julie

Earl Gray Ice Cream Cake Componants

  • 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)
  • 1 cup Bittersweet chocolate sauce
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • Chocolate/Walnut Chiffon Cake

    • 38g (7 Tablespoons) Cocoa powder
    • 88g (6 Tablespoons) water
    • 87g  bleached cake flour
    • 187g (3/4 plus cup 2 tablespoons)superfine sugar
    • 1/4 salt
    • 1 tsp  baking powder
    • 1tsp vanilla
    • 80.5g (3 Tablespoon) walnut oil
    • 27g (1 Tablespoon) Canola oil
    • 3 eggs separated (55g)
    • 2 additional egg whites (150g)
    • 2 grams (1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon) cream of tartar
    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a 17″x12″ aluminum jelly roll pan lined with a silpat.
    2. Wisk together flour, salt, baking powder and all but 2 tablespoons of sugar.
    3. In a separate bowl pour 6 Tablespoons of boiling water over the cocoa powder.  Wisk until smooth.  Wisk in the three egg yolks, oils and vanilla.
    4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the chocolate mixture in the middle
    5. Beat for 1 minute until smooth and glossy.
    6.  In a clean, grease free bowl beat the 5 egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar. When egg whites are at soft peaks add sugar in a slow stream. Raise beater speed to high and beat to whites to stiff peaks.
    7. With a balloon wisk fold one quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen up the batter.  Fold in the rest of the whites just until blended.
    8. Pour batter gently into the sheet pan. Keep the bowl close to the pan so your not deflating the batter by pouring from a great height.  Even out batter with an off set spatula.
    9. Bake for 13 minutes until a tooth pick crumbs out with a few moist crumbs attached to the toothpick.  image
    10. Cool to room temperature and freeze. You get a cleaner edge when you cut it frozen.
    11. Cut to fit the bottoms of your molds.
    12. Freeze the rounds, separating each one with parchment paper.
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • Earl Grey Ice Cream

    • 3 Tablespoons Earl Grey loose tea (I like the Earl Gray Royal from the Tea House which I buy on line. It has real pieces of dried bergamot as opposed to bergamot oil. I think it makes a difference).
    • 400g (2 cups) whole milk
    • 300 g (1.5 cups) cream
    • 50g (1/4 cup) glucose
    • 150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
    • 100g (5) egg yolks
    • 1 tsp commercial stabilizer pereferably Cremodan 30 (optional but recommended)
    1. Wisk together stabilizer, if using, and sugar.  Place milk, cream and glucose in a pot and wisk in sugar.
    2. Bring to a simmer and stir in tea leaves. Remove from heat, stir in loose tea and cover. Let steep three minutes
    3. Strain dairy through a fine mesh sieve into a clean pot.  Press firmly on tea to release as much flavor as possible. Discard tea leaves.
    4. Wisk egg yolks in a heat proof bowl. Stir about 1/4 cup of the base into the egg yolks to temper them and gradually wisk in the rest of the base.
    5. Place mixture in a clean pot and stir constantly on a medium low flame.  Cook the mixture at least until 145 degrees to pasturized the yolks. When the mixture coats the back of a spoon and you can draw a line down the center of the spoon’s back and the edges don’t flow back together, the base is done. I’ve seen a lot of ice cream books say you need to cook the mixture until 180 degrees but I don’t think that’s necessary.
    6. Strain once again through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of any particles of yolk.
    7. Chill overnight in a covered container.
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

    I have other hot fudge and chocolate sauces but this one is good for this dessert because it’s a little thinner and has a more delicate chocolate flavor

    • 8 oz fine bittersweet chocolate ( not chips but callets are fine.  For this sauce I like Callebaut semi sweet chocolate callets)
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1/4 cup glucose or corn syrup (I prefer glucose as it’s not as sweet and is more viscous)
    1. Chop chocolate into fine pieces and place in a heat proof container.
    2. Place glucose and cream in a pot and bring to a simmer.
    3. Pour hot cream over chocolate.  Cover and let sit about five minutes.  With a wisk, start from the center of the bowl and gently mix together the chocolate and cream, widening the circle as the mixture begins to amalgamate.  The purpose is to get a smooth mixture without air bubbles.
    4. Refrigerate until needed but warm it up before using.
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • Assembling

    1. Freeze whatever molds you are using whether it’s silicone or a stainless steel loaf pan or ring. I love, love, love silicone as the ice cream pops right out.  If I use a loaf pan, I line it with parchment paper. I prefer it to plastic wrap, which wrinkles. Of course, you can go commando and not use a liner but then, in order to unfold, you need to blast the mold with a blow torch or dip it in hot water. Too messy!
    2. Churn the ice cream and fill the molds.
    3. Take the cake and presss it gently on top of the mold. When you unfold, the cake will be your base.
    4. Freeze at least 6 hours
    5. Unfold and plate.  Garnish with toasted walnuts and candied orange peel.
    6. You can garnish with other sauces as well: fresh oranges poached in orange marmalade and fresh juice, rhubarb compote perfumed with lemon or orange zest.  Anything with citrus will work. Just don’t use too much or it will overwhelm the flavor of the tea.  In the top photo I used some pink grapefruit which I poached for a minute in some of my blood orange marmalade and a bit of fresh orange juice. If you don’t have blood orange marmalade hanging around strain some Seville orange marmalade, thin it with a bit of fresh juice until you have a saucy consistency and throw in some supremed orange segments.  Easy, peasy.

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    Best Red Velvet Cake

    10372774_10204552244420897_9083352211704006813_nI’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.

    Daniel

    Ingredients

    • For Cake
    • 2 ¼ cups (11 ¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
    • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
    • pinch salt
    • 1cup buttermilk
    • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder (NOT DUTCH PROCESSED)
    • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce bottle) red food coloring
    • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 ½ cups (10 ½ ounces) granulated sugar
    • For Frosting
    • 16 (2 sticks) tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    • 4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
    • 16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
    • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
    • pinch salt

    Instructions

    1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans and put a round of parchment on the bottom. ProTip: Use a slurry of 1:1 butter to flour to grease cake pans to ensure there is no sticking.

    2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl.

    3. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup. ProTip: Make sure your wet ingredients are all at room temperature to allow for better mixing and no clumps.

    4. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a smooth paste forms.image2

    5. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary.

    6. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally remaining flour mixture.

    7. Scrape down bowl, add cocoa mixture, and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. ProTip: Once all the cocoa mixture has been incorporated mix as little as possible so you don’t end up a tough cake.

    8. Scrape into prepared pans and bake about 25 minutes. ProTip: To check doneness insert a toothpick into the center and if it comes out clean then the cakes are ready, if there is mush or lots of crumbs then they need to continue cooking. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

    9. For the frosting: With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

    10. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.

    11. When cakes are cooled, spread about 2 cups frosting on one cake layer. Top with second cake layer and spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days.

    Variations

    For Cupcakes: Follow instructions for making the cake above for making the cake and frosting. Cook in ½ cup cupcake tins lined with extra tall paper cupcake liners that have been filled with a 2 ounce scoop. Cook for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Pipe on frosting onto cooled cupcakes. (Link to buy special liners: https://www.etsy.com/listing/179965695/200-chocolate-brown-greaseproof-taller?ref=shop_home_active_1)

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    For Sheetcake: Follow instructions for the cake and frosting above multiplying all ingredient proportions by 3/4. Cook in a 2 inch high 9 inch by 13 inch straight sided aluminum pan for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool then frost on the top and cut into squares.

                                                                                                                                       image1Recipe derived from Cook’s Illustrated