I've mentioned many times the fact that we had five Italian prune plum trees in our back yard when I was growing up. As a result, I'm pretty nostalgic around this time of the year when they come into season. I buy them by the kilo, to the bemusement of the vendor at our market. What she doesn't know is that neither the Boy nor the Critic really help out eating them, unless I do something special with them. I generally get at least halfway through the week's kilo before I start considering that option.
And so last weekend, I indulged my nostalgic urges to the limit by baking a coffeecake that I fondly remember my grandmother making when I was younger, a thin round or square cake, richly studded with juicy purple fruit. It's juicy and tart and sweet all at once, with a pillowy soft interior and a crunchy sugar top. I loved it then and I love it now.
Although I will be eternally grateful to my mother and my cousin for bringing my grandmother's recipes into a bound home-published book (future generations of our family will fight over the limited edition copies) I have noticed one small flaw. Well, two, actually. The first is that there is no table of contents, making it difficult to go to, say, the dessert section. The other is that for the most part they simply copied the recipes word for word, warts and all. Occasionally this leads to charming little side comments like "KEEP YOUR KIDS OUT OF THIS -- YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!" (on a particularly good peach cocktail recipe). But it has also led to my jotting down notes in the margins where vital information is missing. In the case of this recipe, there was no indication of what size or shape pan to use. I thought I remembered it was a flattish round or square cake, but when I came to make the batter it seemed far too little for the pan. I put it in a smaller rectangular pan with higher sides and although the result was tasty, the proportions were somehow not quite right and the cake didn't hold together as it should. The second time I made the cake, I trusted my memory instead of my instincts (sometimes that is wiser!) and the result was exactly as I remembered. Delicious.
Grandma Kehoe's Plum Coffeecake
I love two things about this coffeecake: it's relatively quick to make (and so perfect for a weekend brunch) and it relies - in season - on ingredients I tend to have in my kitchen every day. The original recipe calls for fresh peach slices instead of plum, but that's not how I remember it. So for me, the plum is the original and the peach is the variation.
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup milk
3 Tbs melted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice (or 1/4 tsp lemon extract)
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 cups plums or peaches, washed, stoned and cut in thin wedges (12-15 plums or 2-3 ripe peaches)
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter and flour a classic sized round layer cake pan (mine measures 22 1/2 cm). Beat the egg, add the sugar and beat well until thick and creamy. Add milk, butter and flavorings. Add dry ingredients and mix. Pour into the cake pan. It will not look like much, only a little over a centimeter high. Press the fruit into the batter, keeping the fruit very close together. You want them close enough to touch, but with just enough space for batter to ooze between them and hold the cake together.
Once all - or as much as possible - of the fruit has been added, sprinkle the remaining quarter cup of sugar over the cake. Bake for 40 minutes and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Eaten warm, it is absolutely heavenly for breakfast. Eaten cold, it's still pretty darn delicious. The plums retain that wonderful sweet and tart balance and the sweet cake serves as the perfect background. Although it's called a coffeecake, it's also extremely good with tea. Or a tall glass of cold milk.