Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Based on what I've been posting recently, you'd think I was made up of about 75% sugar. There was the blueberry buttermilk cake, the honey and vanilla pound cake, the almond rhubarb snack cake, and amidst those I was able to loosen my belt for some rhubarb streusel bars and chocolate chip cookies. I have no business eating like this, but look at me go.
Recently, I had some plums that needed attention. Now, while I'm a friend to the crisp and the cobbler, over the last few years I've really developed a love of baking cakes. There's something infinitely satisfying to me about the simple steps involved -- creaming the butter, smoothing the batter into the pan, pulling the warm and fragrant cake from the oven -- and it never causes me the anxiety I feel with pastry dough. So while I may not be 75% sugar, I do think if I were a cartoon character and you could see clear through me, I'd be 50% cake, with the other half neatly split into quarters of wine and pork products. Sometimes I find it amazing that I open my eyes to live another day.
My most recent cake escapade took retro form: an upside-down cake. I have a few memories of upside-down cakes from growing up in the 70's; for some reason I never much cared for them. I wonder if it's because they were by and large pineapple, with freakishly bright maraschino cherries tucked inside the rings, which were themselves plucked from a can. I love pineapple, but I like it fresh and raw: hot pineapple seems weird to me.
I'm not afraid of other hot fruit though (although the phrase hot fruit sounds horrible) and after a bit of searching, I found a delicious-sounding recipe in Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food for cranberry upside-down cake. I would have swapped the fruit anyway, but even the divine Ms. W. herself suggests you try whatever fruit you like.
The cake was both rich and light--a nice payoff from the effort of whipping and folding in the egg whites. And while I had to make the caramel in a saucepan and then transfer it to my cake tin, as I don't have either an 8-inch cast iron skillet or a flame-proof baking pan, it posed no problem. The sweet-tart caramel-soaked plums settled into the moist, buttery cake just the way I hoped they would, and to my surprise, the entire thing lifted easily out of the pan without leaving a single stray plum behind. Though it would have been doubly good with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream, it was perfectly delightful on its own: for dessert the first night, and breakfast the day after.
Please note that the original recipe (for Cranberry Upside-Down Cake) calls for 2 3/4 c. fresh cranberries cooked in a saucepan with 1/4 c. orange juice until the cranberries start to pop. Remove from the heat and pour over the cooled caramel.
Since I used plums and the recipe did not indicate how many, I used 8 or 10, which was plenty.
Upside-Down Plum Cake
From The Art of Simple Food
1 1/2 sticks (12 T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. brown sugar
8-10 plums, depending on the size, pitted and cut into eighths, lengthwise
2 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 c. whole milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350.
Melt the brown sugar and 4 T. butter in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet or heavy-duty cake pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. (If, like me, you had to make the caramel in a saucepan, go ahead and pour it now into an 8-inch round or square cake pan.) Arrange the plums, rounded side down, in a ring around the outer edge. Working inward, make concentric circles with the plums until you fill up the pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, beat the remaining 8 T. of butter to lighten. Add granulated sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
When well mixed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with one-third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated.
Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter and then gently fold in the rest. Pour the batter over the plums and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. (Mine cooked for 45 and came out perfectly but I'm starting to wonder if my oven runs cool). Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate.