There are too many recipes I bookmarked in Luisa Weiss’s memoir, “My Berlin Kitchen,” which I went out and bought about as soon as I could. Besides her lovely blog, that beautiful book cover drew me in. I wanted to own this one.
As for the recipes, I had my eye on the swiss chard and Gruyère panade, the poppy seed whirligig buns, the elderflower syrup with champagne, and the braised chicken and the pea soup, but when I noticed prune plums at the store for the first time ever, I knew I had to try the plum cake with yeasted dough first.
This version of the pflaumenkuchen helped sealed the deal, too. My cake did not rise as high, but mine also turned out beautifully. The yeasted dough dotted with lemon zest smelled fresh and slightly sweet, and it puffed up even under the weight of the plums and their bubbling juices. The scale at the store must be off because when I weighed them again at home I was short of the 1 1/4 pounds I needed of the prune plums. I had a couple everyday plums hanging around and used those without a problem.
Have you seen a prune plum before? They are more oval shaped and delicate than the stout and taut plums I usually see at the grocery store. They feel like they are barely held together by their peel, and a cut reveals the inside of a fruit that is an otherworldly shade of yellow-green and the texture of jelly. They are the plums used to make prunes, of course, but their chance to be in this cake is a much better fate.
The plums are quartered and dusted in cinnamon sugar before roasting in the oven until the cake batter cooks underneath. The fruit intensifies with juicy, sweet-tart flavor. This cake makes me wonder why plums don’t get more of the glory. Taste this cake and try and tell me a strawberry could do the same.
This recipe for plum cake shows up at the end of one of the shorter chapters in the book. Growing up divided between several cities, Weiss cooks certain recipes to remind her of other homes. This German cake, perfumed with the scent of lemon and cinnamon, made her feel closer to Berlin while she baked in her New York City apartment.
I tweaked a few things for this pflaumenkuchen. I couldn’t find fresh yeast, so I used a smaller amount of active dry yeast, which worked well to produce a light, airy cake. I went for the zest of a whole lemon rather than half. I reduced the amount of cinnamon and in the end didn’t sprinkle all of the cinnamon sugar on the plums. It just seemed to me like it would bury the plums, but you can add as much as you like. I’m sure it’d be fine with the full amount, as it wasn’t too sweet or spicy with cinnamon when baked.
Beyond the love story of this book, I loved the glimpse into German culture and food. Germany is not a city as romanticized as France or Italy with its beautiful words that roll of the tongue. How many friends of yours have Berlin near the top of their list of cities to visit? It may not be the first one to come to mind, but Weiss has me thinking about it a lot more lately.
Her stories of celebrating holidays in Berlin make me want to book a flight for New Year’s Eve to Germany so I can see people shooting Roman candles out of empty champagne bottles days before the 31st and drink Feuerzangenbowle, a mix of wine, rum, and caramelized sugar. I want to melt lead over fire and into a bowl of cold water to see what little sculpture forms to indicate what my coming year will be like. A shoe, apparently, promises happiness. I can get behind that.
For now, I’ve got my beer-obsessed friends, Oktoberfest beers, pork schnitzel, and Accordion Joe at my new favorite place. The same day I made this cake, we went out for dinner and shared latkes, German potato salad, red cabbage, and quite a few German beers as we fantasized about a future trip to Munich. Until then, I’ve also got plenty of other recipes inspired by Berlin to try in my kitchen. Thanks, Luisa.
The Wednesday Chef aka Luisa Weiss says this plum cake pops up seasonally around Germany. It is a cake best served in generous slices and with whipped cream on top of the intensely flavored, sweet-tart plums. It’s a cake that is not overwhelmingly sweet and lightly scented with lemon. Weiss uses fresh yeast, which I couldn’t find and replaced with a reduced amount of the easy-to-find active dry yeast. Store covered in plastic wrap on the kitchen counter, though it’s best served the same day.
for the dough:
1/8 ounce (3/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk, lukewarm
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the board
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for buttering the pan
pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 lemon
for the fruit topping:
1 1/4 pounds (6 or 7) Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
unsweetened whipped cream
Stir the yeast and 1/4 cup of the milk with a pinch of sugar in a small bowl. Give the yeast about 5 minutes to dissolve. Small bubbles will start to form and it will smell yeasty. Place the flour in a large bowl and create a well in the middle. Pour the yeast and milk mixture into the well. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it sit until it gets foamy, 15 minutes. Use a fork to stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of milk, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, egg yolk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, salt, and lemon zest; the dough will be shaggy.
Drop the dough onto a cutting board lightly covered in flour and knead the dough for a few minutes to smooth it out. Form the dough into a ball. Rub a stick of butter around a 9-inch (springform) cake pan. Place the dough in the buttered pan, cover with a tea towel, and place in a turned-off oven until the dough doubles in bulk, about an hour.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Use your fingers to gently push the dough out to fit the pan, leaving 1-inch high sides for the cake to rise. Now would be a good time to melt the rest of the butter.
Start at the edge and push the sliced plums into the dough at a 45-degree angle, making concentric circles and fitting in as many slices of plum as possible. Combine the cinnamon and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl, and sprinkle it over the plums. Drizzle sugared plums with the 2 tablespoons melted butter. Let it hang out (uncovered) on the counter for 20 minutes.
Place the pan in the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown and the plums are bubbling with juice, 35 to 40 minutes. It may be hard to tell what color the crust is when it’s covered in rich plum juice, so stick a tooth pick in the middle and if it comes out clean of cake batter (not plum juice) then the cake is done. Let the cake rest until the fruit is cool. Cut into generous slices and serve with fresh whipped cream.