[Red plums, white(ish) cake, blue(ish) other plums–Happy 4th of July!]
Our recent visit to Montreal last week, like most of our road trips, involved a hamper of food to stave off starvation en route. As is my wont, the night before travelling, I basically ransack the kitchen and tote along anything that’s hardy enough to last the voyage. The list of provisions usually includes any leftovers from the previous two days, a stash of homebaked scones/muffins/bread, a container of homemade trail mix and any transportable fresh fruits or vegetables that would otherwise transform themselves into unrecognizable mush, green fuzz, or oozing fermentation if left to their own devices while we’re away.
Well, since Fridays mark our regular organic box delivery, and since we departed on a Saturday morning, there was plenty of produce to accompany us. We returned the following Monday to a near-empty refrigerator. I was poking around for a snack that evening when I first noticed it: a plain brown paper bag propped on the counter, its wrinkled top curled under in a makeshift closure. Feeling fairly certain that the HH hadn’t ordered something untoward off the Internet (or at the least, that he wouldn’t leave it on the counter in plain view if he had), I headed over to peek inside. And then, with a pang of remorse, I remembered: it was the bag of fresh plums from our organic box!
I’d completely forgotten the shiny, plump and purple spheres before we’d left, and they had started to wither a bit inside the paper bag (which, as you know, actually encourages fruit to ripen faster). They appeared to be nearing the end of any period of natural firmness left in them (sort of like Madonna’s face these days). What to do?
I could no longer eat them raw, but I was darned if I would toss them, either. Our first plums of the season–I knew I just HAD to find a good use for them! Besides, neither the HH nor I are huge plum fans, so we most likely wouldn’t have consumed them all in any case. I figured I could make jam, but that seemed like a cop-out. I could dehydrate them and convert them into prunes (the better for my recent diagnosis), but I’d just bought a 500-gram bag of the things the week before.
I thought about it for a moment. Then, as I tend to do when faced with most quandaries in my life, I opted for my usual course of action: bake something.
I was sure I’d seen a recipe on one of the blogs I regularly frequent (the list now tops 150–must update that blogroll!), but when I did a Food Blog Search, I couldn’t find it again (though Dorie Greenspan’s version made several appearances). I had some extra cornmeal in the cupboard from another recipe I’d made (more on that in a later post), so decided to combine the two and form a hybrid of sweet cornmeal muffins and plum cake.
I was very pleased with the final appearance of the experiment, sort of like a coffee cake studded with mounds of gorgeous, glossy purple and garnet fruit-gems. Well, the cake looked pretty, but how did it taste?
I cut a huge hunk of the still-warm confection for the HH and trotted outside, where he sat, dogs panting at his feet on our patio, reading the outdated newspaper we’d forgotten to cancel before the trip.
“Whoa, I can’t eat all that!” he wailed when he saw the size of the slice. “That’s way too much for me.”
“Don’t worry, that’s fine,” I acknowledged, “I’ll share it with you. Just let me go inside and get my book.”
I headed back inside to retrieve my latest read, Shopgirl by Steve Martin (Steve, man! There’s a reason for all those creative writing class clichés. “Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell.” Did you miss the intro lecture or something?). By the time I returned to the yard, the HH’s plate was empty. All that remained of the cake was a subtle smudge of pink juice and a few errant crumbs, the only evidence that the plate had ever held anything at all.
“Where’s the cake?” I asked. He shrugged a little, looking positively sheepish.
“It was so good, I just ate the whole thing,” he said.
Now, how could I possibly balk at that? Even as I headed back in a second time to rustle up my own slice, I was smiling. And I felt no regret whatsoever about forgetting those plums at home, after all.
Since Sia over at Monsoon Spice is asking for breakfast dishes with fruit for Weekend Breakfast Blogging (the event originated by Nandita at Saffron Trail), I’m sending this off to her. (And I can assure you, this makes a wonderful breakfast!).
Rustic Plum-Topped Cornmeal Breakfast Cake
Neither too sweet nor too delicate, this cake is perfect for breakfast or brunch as well as a summertime dessert. If you prefer muffins, simply chop the plums after removing the pits and fold into the batter before spooning into muffin tins instead of the flan pan (and bake for slightly less time).
1-3/4 cups (245 g.) light spelt flour
3/4 cup (135 g.) cornmeal (preferably organic)
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) sea salt
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) baking powder
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) baking soda
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) finely ground flax seeds
finely grated zest of one small orange
juice of one small orange plus enough soymilk to equal 3/4 cup (180 ml.)
1/3 cup (80 ml.) agave nectar
1/4 cup (60 ml.) organic sunflower or other light-tasting oil
10-12 small fresh, ripe purple or red plums (not the European prune variety), cut in half and pitted
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) extra agave nectar mixed with 1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) water, optional
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Lightly grease a flan pan or 9-inch (about 20 cm.) springform pan.
Cut each plum in half and remove the pit. Place skin down on a plate or cutting board.
In a medium bowl, mix the flax, juice and soymilk mixture, zest, agave nectar and oil. Whisk to blend and set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and mix to combine. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan.
Arrange the plum halves skin side down over the surface of the batter in a decorative arrangement. Press the plums into the batter slightly.
Bake for 25 minutes, then glaze the top if desired (prepare the glaze while cake is baking). Return the cake to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until the top is golden and cake part tests done when a toothpick or sharp knife is inserted into it. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 10 servings.
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]