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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Winter plum cake...in summer

This is another of the things I took to Ballarat with me last weekend. A friend of mine has been making Nigella's Winter Plum Cake from Domestic Goddess, for the last few months and bringing in pieces for us to have in between classes at uni. It's an excellent cake - moist and not too rich, with a fantastic icing made of unrefined icing sugar. This type of icing sugar really makes the cake; it gives a completely different flavour, quite fudgy and nutty. A hint of bitterness and a tang of...hmmm...caramel? We use the Billington's brand of sugar, imported from the UK, and all it takes to make the beautiful coffee-coloured icing is a few teaspoons of water. I never knew plain sugar and water could taste so spectacular!
In my usual tradition of not being able to follow a recipe to the letter, I changed this recipe a bit. As it's summer and I had a lot of fresh plums (as evidenced by my jam making extravaganza) I used fresh, rather than tinned plums. However, I think I'd recommend the tinned. I blanched my fresh plums to remove the skin, and they ended up disintegrating amongst the cake. I prefer the chunks of purple tinned plum studded through the cake, as I've had it when it's been made properly. Additionally, I didn't have any ground almonds on hand, and was too lazy to go to the shops. I did have a lot of pistachios, however, so I ground up equal weight of them in my food processor. It worked extremely well, although I do acknowledge it was not the cheapest option!! I also had a bottle of extremely good hazelnut essence, instead of almond essence, and used that. I love hazelnut, so for me, that worked well. So, yeah....Nigella's or my winter plum cake? Who knows? I say it's hers. A laughs at me and says it's anything but hers.

As a special bonus, you can witness my APPALLING cake decorating skills below. I mean, seriously, how old am I? How artistic do I think I am? From looking at that piece of atrociousness below, anyone would think I was 4 years old! Ok - I was lazy and impatient and didn't bother putting a nozzle on my tube of cake decorating icing, so it's all my fault. But geez, it's harder than you think to pipe something goey onto a cake with any neatness! In the event, on the trip up to Ballarat the icing melted and my "beautifully" rendered letters turned into something even more childlike.
But the photo below does show my wonderful, funky, red Italian kitchen scales A. bought as a surprise for me on a sick day last year. A sick day he spent drinking coffee and buying books in Lygon St...yes, the great Australian tradition of "chucking a sickie". (In our defence, we have far fewer public holidays here than other countries!) He had heard me complaining about my cheap, nasty and innacurate 5 kg kitchen scales (the lines were so close together I couldn't judge anything) and came over that evening with these for me. They only measure up to 1 kilogram, so each gradation on the dial is clear and makes it much easier to measure things with greater accuracy. I smile each time I lift them down, not only with anticipation that I'm going to make something tasty, but also with fondness that A. gave me such a thoughtful and useful present.

Winter Plum cake
for the cake:
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 beeat in the eggs, adding a tavlespoon of the flour mixture afte reach 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.
Serves 6-8


  • i have been searching for a good aussie baking book. there was an article maybe a couple yrs ago in LA times about lamingtons and anzac biscuits with a recipe for each which i was happy about but looking on amazon it seems like the baking books from australia which are pretty scarce to begin with are very internationalist. do you know of one i might be able to get a hold of in the states?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/20/2005 08:54:00 pm  

  • Ahhh...a challenge! We have a lot of Australian baking books, but not many of them get overseas. Also, the best ones are old or very local. The absolute best examples of the genre are the Country Women's Association and the Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union (!) cookbooks, which are in nearly every Australian kitchen. Unfortuntately, they are difficult to get overseas. The PWMU one appears on Amazon.com, but is unavailable. Buying them from Australian websites means a high freight charge (but is halved when converted to US$).
    Try here: http://www.harpercollins.com.au/title.cfm?ISBN=0207180717&Author=0009226

    Also, there are fantastic, really cheap books published by the Australian Women's Weekly. They publish complete trash in their magazines, but they sure know how to bake a cake. My favourite books are their big encyclopaedias from the 1970s, which are no longer in print (I got my cornflake cookies and jam recipes from them.) What they seem to do now is make smaller cookbooks. Clothilde at Chocolate & Zucchini has a Japanese one she bought in Paris! Their Best Food Desserts looks to be a compilation of all the good stuff: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/index=books&field-author=Australian%20Womens%20We/103-7703765-3439828
    and: http://magshop.com.au/Department.asp?DepartmentID=2

    There are a lot of others out there on Amazon I found just by typing in "Australia Cookbook". It's a pity that my favourite, "Recipes my mother taught me" isn't available. It's by the doyenne of Australian cooking, Stephanie Alexander. Well worth getting if you find it!

    The internet is also good for finding Australian recipes. Many will have been taken from the CWA or PWMU cookbooks anyway! Good luck!

    By Blogger Niki, at 1/20/2005 09:35:00 pm  

  • Hi Niki,I came across your blog through google while searching for plum cake.That cake of yours sure looks inviting!I have one question though:Can I use fresh plums instead of canned plums?If so,how much in weight?Please clarify.Thanks.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/25/2006 05:30:00 am  

  • Hi there. I have used fresh plums once before, but I didn't find it very successful. Mainly because the sugar levels of the plums I used were much lower than tinner plums; my fresh plums were quite sour in comparison. Also, I blanched them first so I could remove the skins (you don't want that tough skin on), which was fine, except my plums then collapsed into a kind of unnattractive greeny/brown much that dispersed through the cake. If you go that route, make sure you don't over-blanch your plums. Let me know how it goes.

    By Blogger Niki, at 4/25/2006 11:52:00 am  

  • I only discovered this recipe recently and love it - I make it as a dessert so don't ice it and serve it warm with custard (ice cream works well too).
    It's a beautiful cake.

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