I wait all year for Italian Prune Plums season. I try my best to be patient, but I get antsy. I try to use other stone fruits in an old family cake recipe, and while the cakes are great, they just aren’t plum cake.
This recipe is family treasure. I have talked about it before. It’s one of the few things I hope my future children will learn and keep passing down the way my dad’s mom taught my mom and she taught me. I feel like I’m part of a bigger picture when I make this cake. I know where it comes from, and it came a long way. The original recipe was written down in Hebrew with measurements in handfuls and made with what was available. My grandma translated and standardized the recipe in terms of cups and ingredients when she moved to America.
Theres a special tang to this cake. The mixture of lemon, butter, sugar and plums is not quite sour, but creates a little pucker. The dough underneath is sweet and yeasty. The fragrance of the sweet yeast, and tart plums overwhelms you as you take it out of the oven. It’s always a game to see how long it takes for my dad to find his way to the kitchen when one of these are baking – usually somewhere in the range of the oven door opening and the cake being placed on the counter.
My dad refer’s to this as “the holy grail”. His mom used to make one in late summer and freeze it until his birthday on Christmas. Legend has it, my grandfather would keep a knife close by the cake and cut sliver by sliver to eat, until half was gone in a day. My dad has continued the tradition. He eats it for breakfast, after lunch, for mid-afternoon snacks and dessert…how he is not overweight is beyond me.
While my dad has never baked a single thing in his life, he loves to supervise the plum cake process. “Make the dough sweeter”… “you need more lemon” and my personal favorite, “Make a nice DRY dough” are some of his usual contributions as he steals my halved and pitted plums out of the bowl they sit in with lemon juice. (I threaten to take fingers off when he does this, but I’ve started to realize it’s a battle not worth fighting).
He really loves this cake. I make several of them during the 2 or 3 week window around late August to September when they are available. I really should freeze one this year for his birthday, or maybe freeze the plums. But I have a feeling he would find it and eat it before then.
I’m scared generations of German grandmas are rolling over in their graves as I share this recipe that has never been shared with non-family members, but how could I not share my favorite thing ever. This one is going to yeastspotting too!
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup warm water
½ cup milk
3 Tablespoons butter melted
1 package yeast
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 lbs italian prune plums, or as many as fit in your pan
½ cup sugar
juice of 1½ a lemon
6 Tablespoons melted butter
To make cake:
- Grease a 13 x 9 glass baking dish
- Take the dough out of the proofing bowl and roll out into a rectangle and press into the baking dish
- arrange the plums on top of the dough pressing them down firmly
- pour the lemon juice over the plums along with the butter
- Sprinkle with sugar
- Cover with plastic wrap; let proof for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350° F
- After it has risen for a second time bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until the top is golden, the juices are bubbling and the dough the glass is nicely browned
- Serve warm, or have it room temperature for breakfast the next morning, or really anytime