Monday, September 14, 2015

Italian Purple Plum and Almond Cake

At the farmer's market, Italian prune plums are finally in season!

Smaller, denser, and a little less juicy then the summer plums you usually see, their flavor truly blossoms in dessert, concentrating wonderfully when they're baked or cooked.

The most famous recipe using these plums is the Purple Plum Torte by Marian Burros, originally published in the New York Times in 1982.  They were so popular that the Times published the recipe every year from 1982 to 1989. When the editors stopped, the paper was flooded with angry letters, protesting that the appearance of the recipe every year was a tradition to mark the end of summer.

But today, I'm not going to talk about that recipe (not yet, at least!) but another recipe also making use of these delicious purple plums. That's the Torta di Prugne e Mandorle or Plum Almond Cake from Rustic Italian by Domenica Marchetti. It's a easy recipe (no stand mixers needed!) that befits the rustic nature of the cake. I could imagine eating a slice, or two at a local trattoria in a local Tuscan village. The cake is full of sweet, nutty, almond flavor with a toothsome, tender crumb, and a burnished crunchy almond top. My family devoured half the cake the very day I baked it.

Italian Purple Plum and Almond Cake
Adapted from Domenica Marchetti's Plum Almond Cake

The cake sticks the pan, so I would using parchment paper on the pan, before oiling and flouring it. 
The batter is quite wet, but don't worry, the plums won't sink to the bottom of the cake.   

Although the original recipe says that any plum will do, I strongly recommend prune plums because they'll exude less liquid when baked, and thus make the cake less soggy.

The original recipe included weight measurements that didn't quite add up to the volume of the ingredients given, so after a few tests, I found that something in between those given amounts created a sturdier (but still light!) cake, which accounts for the addition of a tablespoon here and there.
I used barley flour, which accentuated the nuttiness of the cake; it has a silky texture that gives the cake a lightness to the otherwise moist batter. But if you don't have it, you can use exclusively all-purpose flour (a total of 1 cup + 1 tablespoon or 127 grams).

There is a slight lemony scent that only accentuates the almond flavor. If you want more lemon zing to shine through, use the juice of a whole lemon.

The original recipe also specified the plums should be placed cut-side up on the cake, which as you see in photos above what I originally did. But from the recipe's photos, and my own experience with Marian Burros' cake, plums are usually placed cut-side down. That's what I did the subsequent times I made the cake, which has no change in flavor, but makes what I think is a prettier end result. 
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (70 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (55 grams) barley flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (65 grams) almond flour
2 teaspoons (7 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Zest and half the juice of 1 large lemon
3/4 cup (170 grams) sugar
1/2 cup olive or other neutral-tasting vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup half-and-half or whole milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
10-12 purple Italian purple plums, halved and pitted
1/3 cup (40 grams) sliced almonds
2 tablespoons (30 grams)
2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter, room temperature

  1. Preheat over to 375° F.  Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper, and then dust with flour. 
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, barley flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, rub together the 3/4 cup of sugar and lemon zest with your fingers so the lemon flavor really comes out. Add the oil, egg, half-and-half, lemon juice, and almond extract. Whisk to blend thoroughly.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, and whisk until just combined. 
  5. Pour the batter into the pan. Arrange the plum halves, cut side down, on top of the batter.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the sliced almonds, 2 tablespoons sugar, and butter. Mix well. Dot the almond topping all over the cake.
  7. Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes and remove the ring from the pan. The cake keeps 5 days, well-wrapped at room temperature (if you can make it last that long!).

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