Pluot Cake

6 12 2009

It all started with this recipe: plum cake.

I (sous chef, here) came across it a month or so ago, and became almost immediately obsessed with the idea of making it. First, I thought I’d make it just in time for the chef’s return from his two week vacation, as  welcome back surprise. When that didn’t pan out, I wanted to make it the week before Thanksgiving, but there really wasn’t time.

As the days went by and frost covered the grass and everyone’s windshields in the morning, I began to despair. What if plums were out of season already? What if they were still in season, but the frost ruined them all and I’d never find them again? Yesterday, in a fever of sudden desire to bake, I visited two grocery stores – I figure grocery stores always have out-of-season or non-regional fruit, grown in secret labs or shipped in from South America – surely I could find some plums! However, I found none. Had I totally missed plum season? What, was it like two weeks long? Was I going to have to wait a whole year to make my plum cake?!

Today, the farmer’s market pulled through. After several loops around the market, I spotted them: pluots.

Beautiful bowl of pluots in the window, where the light is good.

Pluots are – fairly obviously – a blend between plums and apricots. You can learn more here. They aren’t entirely plums, it’s true, but this is all there was, and I was sold. (Thanks, Tiny’s!) I picked out 8 pluots, paid the friendly vendor, and went on my way.

There were a few other minor hurdles standing between me and my cake. The recipe called for an 8 x 8 cake pan, which I did not have. Although I could have been patient and waited for the chef to be available so I could borrow something, I instead decided to buy a cheap one-use guy from the grocery store. It being the week after Thanksgiving, however, they were short on all one-off pans — in the end I bought an oblong pan and hoped it would work. Additionally, the recipe I was using called for everything to be blended with a mixer, which I don’t have. Obviously things can be mixed by hand, but it takes a lot longer – and I was worried I wouldn’t get everything mixed together well enough.

Top: mixing by hand! Below: making a mess!

As usual, I managed to get flour all over myself and all over the floor. No surprise there! The recipe makes a pretty small amount of batter, and as I poured it into the pan I really started to feel concerned. It was very thin, and when I put in the plum slices, they were taller than the batter. However, my brain reminded me that the batter would expand and rise as it baked. The recipe called for baking it about 30 minutes, but since the pan was larger, the batter more spread out, I knew to be careful for quicker baking. I checked at ten minutes, then at twenty, and in the end it was done at about 25 minutes.

The finished cake!

It’s a little browner on top than the one in the picture, and thus not quite as beautiful, but it still turned out pretty attractive! At this point I was still worried about the pluots – had the baking dried them out? After letting it cool, I sprinkled the top with a little powdered sugar.

From reading the recipe and some comments on it, and talking to the chef, I think the challenge with this cake is making sure your plums – or whatever fruit you use – is good and juicy. These pluots are definitely ready for eating, but a little firm – when you cut into the cake with a fork the fruit is still firm enough that it sometimes just slides right out of the cake rather than easily slicing. It sounds like pluots are always like that.

The batter here is very simple: the standards of flour, eggs and baking soda, combined with brown sugar, orange zest and vanilla. It’s a great cake for eating with coffee, I’d wager! The chef and I agree, the cake is tasty. Finally, success!

Have a slice!

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