10.15.13 Easy Bake

Cake 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
Today would have been my father's 89th birthday. He died when he was 64 and I was 26. A long time ago. Of stomach cancer. He collapsed on the tennis court, where he was known for the scrappy form he had acquired playing handball on the streets of Brooklyn. He had a leather jumprope that he used his whole life. It kept him fit. He could do this extraordinary trick of hoisting his body absolutely perpendicular to a lamppost and holding it there for an impressively long time. His hands were warm and tanned, with raised veins; they always reminded me of walnut shells. He had a beautiful singing voice and as a youth he earned money singing at weddings. His mother told him to stuff food in his pockets before he came home. They took in a border who was a page-turner for the Metropolitan Opera and he would give my father a nickel for every classical piece he could identify whenever they listened to the radio. Needless to say, my dad knew his Beethoven from his Borodin from his Bartok. He didn't go in for sweets so much, preferring to nibble on Spanish peanuts or salted almonds or cashews while he worked at his desk. Though he did have a weakness for chewy black licorice. And, paradoxically, sugary pecan pie. (I think it was the nuts.) He would have liked this simple cake. Not too sweet, not too fussy.
Crust 790 xxx
upper crust
It's basically this cake from Marian Burros, originally published in the New York Times in the early 80s. It appears all over the blogosphere at this time every year, due to the seasonal availability of Italian plums, those dark purple and rather dusky fruits with a yellowish pulp that are better cooked (or turned into prunes) than eaten out of hand. It's an elemental cake, satisfyingly dense and studded with soft, sweet-tart fruit. Just sweet enough, with a hint of spice. 

What's new here, as you may have noted above and in the top photo, is that I baked mine in a cast-iron skillet this time. It created a rustic golden crust that really complements the spongy batter. And now I don't feel like calling it a torte any more. Too Viennese. This feels more like an honest farmhouse cake.
Plums 790 xxx
sublime seepage
I love the way the plums—which you slice in half and plop onto the batter skin side up—sink down with a sigh as they bake and release their lovely juices. These seep into the cake most delightfully. I substitute cardamom for the cinnamon in the original recipe. Its floral spice is truly ideal with plums, but then I will put cardamom in almost anything. Don't feel you have to go along with me.
Bite 790 xxx
perfect mouthful
But do sprinkle some crunchy turbinado sugar over your cake before you pop it in the oven. And be sure to eat your slice with a dollop of Greek yogurt sweetened with a little maple syrup. Wrap any leftover cake in foil and store it on the counter, not in the fridge where it will suffer. Then eat another slice in the morning. Cake for breakfast doesn't make up for being an orphan, but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye. And that's all the wisdom I have for you today.

*This post is dedicated to a friend who recently had a major legal victory. Congratulations, Veen. If you were here, I would serve you a big slice.

Plum Skillet Cake

lightly adapted from Marian Burros
serves 6
  • — 1 stick plus one tablespoon (and a little extra for greasing the pan) unsalted butter, softened
  • — 3/4 cup sugar (I used light brown)
  • — 1 cup unbleached flour (I used C4C)
  • — 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • — pinch salt
  • — 2 eggs
  • — 7-10 small Italian plums, halved and pitted
  • — 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • — 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • — 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8" cast-iron skillet.

Cream the stick of butter and 3/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat to combine after each addition.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Then beat into sugar and eggs.

Spoon the batter into the prepared skillet. Arrange the plums in a nice pattern on top, skin side up. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, then the cardamom and then the turbinado sugar. Dot with remaining tablespoon butter.

Bake for about 50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool.

Serve at room temperature from skillet or reheat at 300 degrees until warm. Delicious with yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


Laura, my mom is from Vienna and used to make this cake all the time for us and I love it! I am going to try this recipe out this weekend!! On a side note, would love to see you in NY next time you are here if you have the time. Love your blog!! Take care, Christa
Christa Cavanah on October 15, 2013 at 7:27 am —
What - you live in New York?!
laura on October 15, 2013 at 10:56 am —
Thanks, I will skillet ths plummy cake this weekend!
Roy on October 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm —
Just do it!
laura on October 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm —
Oh I wish we lived closer because I'd be right over for a slice of that. I will bake my own though. I really love those plums. I have already put by two large batches of my favorite jams with them-one Plum Lemon Jam and the other a Tomato Plum Jam...let's see, the latter is from the Blue Chair Preserves cookbook and the former, I think I kind of made it up based on a recipe from Christina Ferber. Laurie Colwin has a grand plum jam recipe that is my first and foremost favorite. I think I developed a taste for plums from feeding my little sisters Gerbers Plum Puree. Yum. I will be baking this cake ASAPlum xoxox S
Suzi Banks Baum on October 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm —
You invoke so many great names here - wonderful. Hope the cake lives up to the other recipes!
laura on October 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm —
What a treasure of a post, Laura. I can see your dad like a stiff lean flag from the lamp post flying parallel to this wholesome mouthful. Good tribute to him, hope he knows. Did you see that Oscar Hijuelos died on a tennis court on Saturday? I believe it was just across from us at the clay courts in Riverside Park. So sad. Small Italian or Long John or Damson or German or whatever they call them plums are my favorite things to put in a cake, right up there with lemons. I only use cinnamon to repel moths in closets, not in cooking. Have an aversion to it. So am with you on cardamon here. Will try and let you know. PLEASE see if the type in the comments can be darker and bigger for us ancients. xxx
Anne on October 15, 2013 at 9:06 pm —
Did not know that about Oscar. Sad. I have sent a note to my programmer about fixing the type - promise. xo
laura on October 15, 2013 at 9:44 pm —
While your recipe sounds great and I'm sure it would taste absolutely divine, what I really enjoyed the most was the imagery in your words. Hands that reminded you of walnut shells, plums sinking down with a sigh--thanks so much for the great read. Loved it all.
Elaine on October 15, 2013 at 9:36 pm —
Thanks, Elaine. xo
laura on October 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm —
That's some pretty fine wisdom.
Peggy on October 15, 2013 at 11:46 pm —
Bart's mom makes this cake all the time, from a recipe his grandmother gave her in Holland. I can taste it in the picture. xoxoxoxxo
Janet on October 15, 2013 at 11:54 pm —
So it's a Dutch treat?!
laura on October 16, 2013 at 11:13 pm —
I swear you just get better and better. How I love your blog. I can taste this cake, feel like I can see you father's hands as he hoists a piece of this delicious cake to his lips, and hear his voice singing its praises to his wonderful daughter.
tanya on October 16, 2013 at 10:51 am —
Thanks, honey! xo
laura on October 16, 2013 at 11:12 pm —
Love it in the cast iron skillet and I don't use mine enough. Now to get some yummy plums. Thanks for the suggestion. Robert
Robert on October 16, 2013 at 9:49 pm —
Trapani may still have them this weekend!
laura on October 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm —
Thank you, Laura! The color and size of this type is way better.
Anne on October 17, 2013 at 10:13 am —
What a beautiful story. Made me cry... x s
s on October 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm —