Plums are severely underrated in the US.
Maybe it’s the association with prunes or the lack of plant-based foods in much of the American diet. Personally, I think both prunes and plums, of any variety, are delicious.
You’ll usually find black plums in the big supermarkets. I’ve spotted Red plums and Italian plums here in New York, but even they seem less favorable to the classic apple or banana.
Growing up, we often had plums in the house, mainly because one of my dad’s favorite German cakes is plum cake, also know as Zwetchgenkuchen (Schwetz-gun-coo-ken) or Pflaumenkuchen (Flau-men-coo-ken). Kuchen (Coo-ken) means cake in German. Insert whatever fruit or topping you like in front and you’ve got Apfelkuchen (Apple Cake), Kasekuchen (Cheesecake), or even Rumkuchen (Rum Cake). Easy enough.
Back to my Dad; my Dad doesn’t cook. He has no interest in cooking, never has, never will. He could survive on store-bought tuna salad sandwiches alone, seriously. Besides soft-boiled eggs, he can also make plum cake. It’s one of the few things he’s deemed worthy of spending some time in the kitchen, which means this cake is damn good.
Before you proceed, know that kuchen is not your average cake. What it lacks in frosting and decorations, it makes up for in simple, homemade, deliciousness (real descriptive I know). There’s nothing complicated about this recipe, no fancy ingredients, no gadgets, just super traditional German cake topped with ripe fruit.
Adapted from Elizabeth Schuler’s German Cookery, here’s what you’ll need:
For the Topping
- 2 lbs plums
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup almonds, sliced, Optional
TIP Adjust the sugar for the topping to your liking. If your plums are sweet, use less sugar, if they’re tart, use more.
For the Dough
- 4 cups flour (I used half all-purpose, half whole wheat pastry flour)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup white sugar
- pinch salt
- 1/2 lb butter or 2 sticks, softened
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk)
Step One: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut the plums in half, remove the seeds and stems, and slice into wedges.
Step Two: Toss the plums in sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
Step Three: To make the dough, start by mixing your dry ingredients, that’s the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Resist the urge to eat the sugar-coated plums.
Step Four: Add your butter and eggs to the dry ingredients. Using your hands, mix until incorporated. If your dough feels dry, add a tablespoon of milk until everything comes together. Knead until the dough is no longer sticky. Then roll it into a ball.
Wait, knead the dough? What kind of cake is this?
Don’t worry, we’re not making bread here. Just knead till evenly mixed, don’t over work it.
Step Five: Grease a baking sheet. On a clean, floured surface, using a rolling pin or a clean wine bottle, roll the dough out to the size of the baking sheet, about 1/4 of an inch thick. If you don’t have a rolling pin or wine bottle, never fear, you can simply press the dough directly into the pan with your fingers (this is my dad’s technique).
If you’ve rolled your dough out, transfer it to the pan by rolling it up (see below). If it’s the right consistency it shouldn’t stick to itself and you should be able to unroll it in the pan. Remove any excess and use it to fill in the gaps and corners, pressing the dough down into the pan till it’s full. If you have more excess, use it to make a crust around the edges. We’re not going for perfection here.
Step Six: Arrange the plums on top of the dough, gently pressing them in. You can arrange them however you like, crowded, sparse, in rows, in circles, in a mosaic. Do what makes you feel good. My family has always arranged them neatly in rows, so I honored tradition.
Step Seven: Dust those babies with some more cinnamon (and sugar if you dare). Top with the sliced almonds (mine were already toasted so I added them at the end).
Step Eight: Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway during cooking to ensure an even bake. When the dough is firm, the plums have softened, and the edges are brown, it’s done.
Step Nine: Top with almonds (if they were already toasted), let cool, slice into squares and serve with coffee.