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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Winter Plum Cake

I have actually made this before and posted about it, but not to the correct specifications. It the Winter Plum Cake from Nigella's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess', and it's something I flicked over when I first got my own copy. However, my friend Beck received a copy a few months later and I think this was the first recipe she made in it. She saw something more appealing in the recipe than I did (I was probably focusing on the chocolate recipes...) and I'm glad she did because it's really excellent.
It's a 'winter' plum cake in the sense that it uses tinned plums rather than fresh, and this means you get big chunks of sweet, tangy plum in almost every mouthful. The cake itself is made with brown sugar and some ground almonds, so it's very soft and moist, but still light rather than heavy. It's dead easy to make and it fills your house with the most wonderful aroma of almonds and general cakiness when it's baking.

But the absolute star of this cake is the icing, made with unrefined icing sugar and I have to say, I'm sorry, but if you can't get unrefined icing sugar you cannot substitute plain icing sugar. It's not the same thing. The unrefined sugar is not as harshly sweet as the white powder and has a very distinctive caramel & molasses taste, a bit like brown sugar. When mixed with just a tablespoon of water it turns into absolute toffee bliss. You would never know that plain sugar and water could have so much flavour. And just look at that colour! That's just sugar & water, folks. I know I've written about this topic on a few occasions, but I'm almost evangelical about it! I use the Billington's brand of unrefined sugars, from the UK, which I admit are not available everywhere; I get mine from a local gourmet/European supermarket. From comments on other blogs, I understand that those in the US can't get unrefined icing sugar, but I do stress that substituting white powdered sugar wouldn't work. A soft brown sugar frosting or buttercream could be a good approximation though.

So, this is another offering for the hen's party this week, for which I had a big weekend of baking. And the flowers? Well, Melbourne smells like jasmine at the moment. Wherever I am, when I walk outside I can smell sweetness. I think every jasmine plant in Melbourne has burst into flower during the last week of warm, humid, springtime weather. I, on the other, hand am thoroughly revelling in the return to cold, wind and rain that is the weather this week!
Read on for the recipe:

Winter Plum Cake
from How To Be A Domestic Goddess - Nigella Lawson

567 gram tin red plums
125 grams self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
75 grams ground almonds
125 grams butter, softened
125 grams light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 scant teaspoon almond essence

20 cm Springform cake tin.

For the icing:
160 grams unrefined icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons hot water

Preheat oven to 170 c.
Drain plums, then chop and leave in a sieve to drain once more. Mix the flour, baking powder and ground almonds. Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs, adding a tablespoon of the flour mixture after each one. Beat in the almond essence, then fold in the rest of the flour mixture and the drained, chopped plums. Turn into the prepared tin and bake for about 1 - 1 1/4 hours. Remove from ove, cool in its tin for about 10 minutes, then turn onto the rack.
When cool, ice with brown-sugar icing, which you make by mixing the sieved icing sugar with water till you have a caramel-coloured shiny paste. Pour over the top of the cake to cover thinly, and leave to drip down the sides.


  • That looks marvellous! I have to admit, I also skimmed over that recipe in her book, mainly because "tinned red plums" are not something that are readily available here...your description sounds wonderful though...and I love the jasmine on the cake! Makes it look saucy and coy ;)

    By Anonymous joey, at 9/13/2005 06:18:00 pm  

  • that's such a lovely photo. Yep, I skipped past this one too, but I'm tempted to have a second look at it now. Do you get the sugar from Leo's?

    By Blogger cin, at 9/13/2005 11:42:00 pm  

  • Yes, it's an easy recipe to flip past without noticing, but it's a real winner.

    Joey - I hadn't thought of Jasmine as looking coy and come-hither before! Just smelly!

    Cin - Yes, I get it at the Leo's in Heidelberg, but I've also seen it at Piedemontes in North Fitzroy. And my friend, who was living in South Yarra at the time, got hers from some supermarket in...erm...South Melbourne? Prahran? Somewhere over that way...

    By Blogger Niki, at 9/13/2005 11:45:00 pm  

  • Hi Niki - I cannot believe this! I have had the book for years and love it, and regularly cook several recipes from it. But I have no recollection whatsoever of a Winter Plum Cake. I guess I've never been on a plum cake mood and hence have just unconsciously ignored this recipe?
    Not anymore. Your creation looks lovely and I'll definitely stop and read this one next time I wanna feel and act like a domestic goddess..

    By Blogger Pille, at 9/14/2005 12:12:00 am  

  • This is another one of those recipes I'd love to make...but I'm not sure who'd eat it!

    Matt does not eat fruit...especially not in things. Apple pie being the exception.

    Perhaps the in-laws????

    Looks (and reads) fantastic.

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 9/14/2005 02:08:00 am  

  • I was intrigued when I saw this in that cookbook, but I dont think Ive ever seen tinned plums at my grocery store. Nor unrefined icing sugar for that matter! Alas, Ill just have to imagine what this tastes like

    By Blogger T, at 9/14/2005 03:56:00 am  

  • This looks delicious! I wonder what I could substitute for tinned plums - I don't think I could find those here in NYC... As for Billington's sugar, every time I read about it, my mouth waters.

    By Anonymous Luisa, at 9/14/2005 05:08:00 am  

  • The cake looks smashing Niki! And the jasmine looks beautiful! I can just imagine the gorgeous fragrance :)

    By Blogger Kelly, at 9/14/2005 09:53:00 am  

  • Pille - I think the name is a misnomer cos when I think of plum cakes I think heavy plum puddingy things, and this is quite light and afternoon tea-ish. It's a good one.

    Stephanie - the plums in this break down and distribute, so it's not like finding an entire fig or something, and the tangyness really works. I am amazed that there are people around who don't eat fruit! Although, my dad wouldn't eat it from the bowl, but if we cut it up and put it on a plate, he was happy to do so. Whole fruit - too hard. Somebody else do the work!

    Tanvi & Luisa - I find it very difficult to believe that a big country like the USA (and especially one of the biggest cities in the world) doesn't have something basic like tinned plums? Really? I know plums are grown in the US; they must tin them! In many countries nearly 90% of the plum (and apricot and peach) production goes straight to the canneries.
    If they're really unobtainable, my friend and I thought that stewed plums would work, as long as they don't get too sloppy. Also blanching plums also works (bc that's what I did in my first post about the cake) but the texture is a little different. Still good, though!

    By Blogger Niki, at 9/14/2005 11:00:00 am  

  • That is a beautiful looking cake Niki.

    By Blogger Ana, at 9/14/2005 12:33:00 pm  

  • Niki - When you mentioned recently that you couldn't get baking chocolate in Australia, I was feeling bad for you, now I'm feeling bad for me! I have been hunting on the internet to no avail - I cannot find that unrefined icing sugar. I've never seen canned plums either. I'll be keeping an eye out for both, though, because this cake sounds fantastic!

    By Blogger Cathy, at 9/14/2005 12:50:00 pm  

  • For those in the United States with access to a Trader Joe's -- they carry Billington's muscovado sugar (light and dark), organic turbinado sugar, and, on occasion, organic unrefined icing sugar (also known as confectioner's or powdered sugar). Also, I've tried this recipe using tinned apricots, which are easier to find than tinned plums, and the cake turns out great.

    By Blogger Hailyn, at 9/14/2005 01:35:00 pm  

  • Niki, a few days ago I bought icing sugar and I hesitated before picking up the supermarket brand, thinking, well I hardly ever use the stuff and surely I don't need Billington's for this! And now I am all regretful and thinking I should go get myself some of that "caramel and molasses taste"!

    By the way, USA Foods here stocks bakers chocolate at times and Kennedy & Wilson do a 99% cocoa couveture - I don't know if that is the same thing though.

    By Blogger plum, at 9/14/2005 01:50:00 pm  

  • How utterly gorgeous! I so hope I can find this "unrefined icing sugar" you speak of. I must track it down. Looks like another work cake is soon to be on offer.

    By Blogger Lushlife, at 9/14/2005 05:24:00 pm  

  • Hi! Just found your recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes from April. Since that's the name of my site, I thought I'd check it out. I must post a note on my site - funny - someone way over in Australia making these.

    By Blogger Idgie @ the "Dew", at 9/14/2005 10:02:00 pm  

  • Gorgeous...of course now I'm going to have to search for unrefined icing sugar in Canada...yet another quest...thanks, Niki!

    By Blogger Jennifer, at 9/14/2005 11:32:00 pm  

  • Ana - thank you

    Cathy - thanks to Hailyn, now you know where you may be able to get it. I do hope so; I think it's my biggest 'foodie find' of the year. It's fabulously good stuff! And the tinned plums thing still confounds me....it's a basic food item! How can they not be available/popular in the USA?!

    Hailyn - thank you *so much* for this information. It's just the sort of thing you hope for from a reader comment! Now, lots of you in the US can have fun with Billington's sugar and make this cake, even with fruit variations!

    Plum - Yes, I read that about the unsweetned chocolate and Kennedy & Wilson in the Epicure article about brownies, but USA foods is way over in Bentleigh, and Kennedy & Wilson are not much more easily available. I think using dark chocolate is ok for us, as long as we remember to reduce a bit of the sugar. The type of recipes that feature unsweetened chocolate are usually the types that wouldn't fare too badly, texture-wise, from a reduction in sugar, I think.

    Lushlife - this is a perfect cake for work. My friend used to bring it to uni for us to eat between classes, and it was great for that purpose!

    Idgie - thanks so much! I'm pleased you found me. I've noticed I'm getting quitea lot of hits for fried green tomatoes at the moment; must be the season for it in the US!

    Jennifer- I do hope you can track it down. I think it's the type of ingredient you'd really enjoy working with!

    By Blogger Niki, at 9/15/2005 12:54:00 pm  

  • I'd like to post this cake and recipe to Cake Fun. It's a fun blog about all things cake related! Let me know if this is a go! Thanks. :)

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