By Barbara Beltrami
When little Jack Horner sat in a corner, stuck his thumb in a pie and pulled out a plum, I wonder if he knew what a prize he’d managed to get his hands on. There is something about cooked plums that far supersedes fresh raw ones, in my opinion. No matter how delicious the fresh fruit’s pulp may be, that sour skin is unpleasant. But when plums are cooked, stewed or poached with a little water and sugar, roasted or baked in a pie, cake, tart or crumble, they go through a magical metamorphosis as they release their sweet purple juices and become velvety and succulent. The recipes that follow are especially good made with plums but are also delicious when any stone fruit is substituted.
Plum Upside Down Cake
YIELD: Makes 8 servings
12 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
¹/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 to 8 medium plums, halved and pitted
1½ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
3 large egg yolks
½ cup sour cream
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter an 8½-inch round springform pan. Line bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Melt two tablespoons butter; pour into pan and tip to distribute evenly over bottom. Sprinkle brown sugar over butter. Arrange plum halves, cut-side down, over brown sugar; leave as little space as possible between plums to allow for shrinkage during cooking. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In an electric mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment cream together the remaining 10 tablespoons butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and almond extracts, then the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each one. Beating continuously, add half the flour mixture, then the sour cream, then the remaining flour mixture. Pour batter over plums and spread evenly. Place on rimmed baking sheet on middle rack of oven and bake one hour or a little more until cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for one hour. Run a sharp knife around edge of cake, loosen ring of cake pan, then place plate on top of cake and invert onto plate. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Carrie’s Plum Crumble
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
Nonstick cooking spray
1¼ cups flour
¾ cup oats (not quick cooking)
¼ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
2 pounds plums, pitted and cut into wedges
1 tablespoon apple or cranberry juice
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep 9-inch round or square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a medium bowl combine flour, oats, nuts (if using), half the sugar and cinnamon. Add the butter and with fingertips rub it into the flour mixture until it forms moist clumps. Toss plums with remaining sugar and juice together; transfer to baking dish. Sprinkle crumb topping over plums; bake until top is golden brown and fruit bubbles. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Roasted Plums with Balsamic Vinegar and Mascarpone
YIELD: Makes 6 servings
2 pounds plums, quartered and pitted
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons sherry or port wine
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup mascarpone
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the plums, butter and brown sugar; toss well to coat. Place plums with any remaining butter and sugar on parchment. Bake 15 minutes or until plums are softened and release their juices. Meanwhile in a small saucepan bring sherry or port to a boil, over medium heat; continue cooking until liquid is considerably reduced, to about 2 tablespoons. Add balsamic vinegar and rosemary and simmer until mixture is reduced to about ¼ cup, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove rosemary and discard. Stir in granulated sugar and vanilla until sugar is dissolved; remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes or until thickened. Place plums on individual plates, spoon balsamic mixture evenly over each serving, then top with a dollop of mascarpone. Serve with biscotti.