Updated: Sep 9, 2021
As a service to my readers, food & feast posts will always feature the recipe first, with history, folklore, and cooking tips toward the bottom of the page. For background on this recipe and helpful hints for navigating technique, scroll down! Otherwise, dive right in with the recipe below.
french red plum cake
Yields one 9-inch cake
Serves 8-10 guests
Contains flour, egg, dairy
Prep time : 20 minutes
Cook time : 40 minutes
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, soft
⅔ cup granulated sugar
Zest of ½ lemon
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons plum liqueur or reduced plum wine (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ pounds myrobalan or cherry plums, halved OR red plums, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons large-crystal sugar
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a nine inch cake pan, and set a circle of parchment paper into the base of the pan (you may be tempted to skip this step, but please resist- or you'll be scraping this tender, soft cake out if it's tin).
In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, cream together your soft butter, sugar, and lemon zest until well combined and fluffy. Add your eggs, mix, and then scrape down the walls of your bowl to ensure even incorporation. Add your liqueur and vanilla extract, and beat for one more minute. In a separate bowl, sift together your flour, baking power, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three batches, mixing just to combine in between. Scrape your bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated, and transfer your batter to your prepared pan.
Spread the thick batter evenly into the pan, tapping the pan on the counter to level its contents. Poke your plums down into the batter, skin side up. Sprinkle with large-crystal sugar and bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out dry. Serve within 3 days.
I must admit, it was the myrobalan plums (Prunus cerasifera) that seduced me. These are a plum-cherry hybrid native to Southeast Europe & Western Asia. A touch overripe and glistening like jewels, they were perfectly ready to be a part of my weekly ritual of cake baking. Plums of all shades, but especially these mini treasures, err on the tart side, and so nestling them into soft, buttery vanilla cake seemed like the natural progression. I had the first slice hot out of the oven- a perfect bite of summer.
As cakes go, you could not imagine a more effortless bake. Mix, pour, tuck in your fruits, and voila. What is "French" about this recipe is nothing traditional- just that it is based on a classic French apple cake recipe. Replace our precious myrobalans with diced apples, add a little spice, and you have a brilliant fall bake for every occasion. In that way, this recipe is extremely versatile, and I've experimented many times with different spices, liqueurs, and fruits to various degrees of success. None quite as pleasing as this one, which marries tart, jammy baked plums with sweet, pillowy, tender butter cake.
The calorie counters among us may scoff at a weekly cake ritual, but they're the ones missing out. I bake two dishes every week- one loaf of bread, and one cake. These often reflect seasonally available produce & forage, and allow space for a level of play and experimentation that can only happen when technique troubleshooting can fall away, and the only remaining question is "what do I want to bake this week?" This keeps my eyes open at the grocery, and has me sending friends and family home with half-loaves and cake slices every chance I get. And if you want to get truly good at anything in life, do it often, and do it from a place of pleasure and play.