Hello. Hi. How are you? We in much of the U.K. are going through what my friend Maggie calls “fake bullshit summer.” It’s almost a week until autumn really begins and there are absolutely no signs of it cooling down; perhaps this is compensation for our earlier British summertime, where it was hot and sunny all at once for 5 minutes.
We’ll soon be entering the dreadful stretch of time before December where it is some combination of muggy, rainy, and/or indifferent. For us, autumn is the petulant two-note dismissal of summer. Maybe there will be a few good autumn days where the sky is blue and there are crisp brown (yes, just brown) leaves and it’s mild but with something fresh and earthy in the air. Possibly. I mean, who knows. Mostly it is grey and it’s always a challenge to decide whether it is trodden leaves or dog shit on the pavement.
Anyway, this plum cake. It’s derived from Burros’ classic purple plum torte, which I understand has become a New York Times tradition, heralding the beginning of autumn with its appearance.
Plum season is short and sweet, like the fruit itself, and they are, as Nigel Slater says, often not worth eating until you have to shoo the wasps away with a tea towel. Wasps are angry bastards and you mustn’t let them have any of your fruit, so what to do with the leftover ripe plums? There’s only so much raw fruit your teeth and guts can take (well, mine anyway). Plum crumble and plum cake are legitimate options.
To my mind, it’s not yet crumble season, so cake it is. I loved the idea of a simple, buttery cake full of tangy-sweet plum, and I just really wanted to bake something with cardamom. On its own, it was too hay-like and harshly medicinal, but just a little sweet cinnamon and warm ginger brought out the more delicate floral aspects. It goes so well with the fruit, lending a sort of perfumed fizz rather than the deep, low register that most autumn spiced cakes go for. It has enough buttery heft to comfort on a dull day, but still appeals in brighter weather.
It took several tries to get this right. Hopefully it will be much more straightforward for you to enjoy this cake, whatever kind of late summer or new autumn you’re having.
PLUM CARDAMOM LOAF CAKE
Serves 4 – 8, in small single half-plum squares or more generous wodges. Keeps in an airtight tin for at least 2 – 3 days; if your home is very warm, it may be better off in the fridge.
Halved from Smitten Kitchen. This is adapted to work in a loaf tin and a UK kitchen: I used a little more flour and a bit less butter and sugar in the batter. If you’re baking in the U.S., it would be most prudent to halve the source recipe (viz. 1/2 cup AP flour, 6 tbsp granulated sugar, 4 tbsp unsalted butter, etc).
It took several tries to successfully adapt this to loaf form but it was worth it. Also, I’ve had to adjust my cake technique to cope with this fake bullshit summer (it gets very humid on my little island) and there are extra notes to reflect this.
1/2 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds (from 15 – 20 pods), or packed 1/2 tsp ready-ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 to 1 tbsp granulated sugar, less if your fruit is very sweet
Small pinch of salt
3 – 4 plums, halved and pitted, any stage of ripeness (taste a sliver to determine sweetness)
alternatively, use 1/2 to 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon if preferred. You can also either just cinnamon or ginger in combination with the cardamom.
75g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
75g granulated sugar
50g unsalted butter, cool and pliable (in hot weather, fridge door butter is often at the perfect temperature, or cut cold butter into large chunks and watch carefully as it briefly sits at warm room temp)
1 UK medium egg
Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F. Line a 1 lb loaf tin with a sling of baking paper or foil. (7 inches x 3 inches, anything around that would do.)
Grind cardamom seeds in a mortar & pestle or spice/coffee grinder. In a small bowl, mix the ground cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, 1/2 tbsp sugar, and small pinch of salt. Set aside.
Whisk 75g flour, salt, and baking powder in another small bowl. In a larger mixing bowl, cream butter and 75g sugar together until fluffy and light in colour. This takes a few minutes with a wooden spoon. Add the egg, scraping down bowl and mixing until smooth. Tip in flour mixture, stirring until just combined. You should have a smooth, thick batter.
Spoon batter into the lined loaf tin and smooth until the base is completely covered. Prepare your plums if you haven’t already, tasting a sliver to see how sweet they are. Lightly arrange the plums cut side-down over the batter. It’s fine, ideal, even, if they overlap. Sprinkle with the spiced sugar, adding up to a further 1/2 tbsp sugar (or more) if your fruit is very tangy.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until cake is golden from edge to centre and has risen to enfold the fruit. A tester poked into the thicker parts of the cake should come free of raw batter (fruit juice acceptable); if it comes out with wet crumbs, it’ll just need 5 more minutes. Go for a truly baked cake: the crumb will draw moisture from the fruit as it sits, so don’t fear dryness.
Lift the cake by the paper sling and cool on rack, gently sliding the cake off the paper once it’s firmed up so the bottom airs and doesn’t get too soggy (most of an hour in a hot kitchen). When completely cold, transfer to an airtight container.
This cake is best after a day at room temperature; if it’s warm where you are (like my 29 C/84 F kitchen), the cake tin can stay out for 1 night before going in the fridge for the best texture. But if it’s really very hot, tropically so, it can go in the fridge right away. If it’s average or cool where you are, keep it at room temperature.