It’s January in Australia, and you would be within your rights to expect that the weather would be swelteringly, painfully hot and sticky. But you’d be wrong, because this is Melbourne we’re talking about, so it’s cool and drizzly, and pretty much the perfect weather for staying inside with a book. Or several books. Like the ones I accidentally bought when I went looking for calendars today.
But that really wasn’t my fault. I mean, nobody could seriously expect me to pass up a book about Richard III and finding his grave. Or Gail Carriger’s newest YA offering, Curtsey and Conspiracies. And really, if you had just discovered that Joan Aiken wrote Jane Austen fanfic, wouldn’t you be heading straight for the nearest bookshop to find out exactly what it was like? (Very good, as it turns out – she has the voice down just about perfectly, and while I found that it did have a certain amount of Victorian sensibility and wish fulfilment, Aiken definitely wasn’t taking liberties with the characters.) And I may possibly have bought a cookbook, too. I have no self-control when it comes to bookshops.
(You will note that actual calendars are conspicuously missing from this list. There’s a reason for that.)
But I digress. And also spend a lot of money in bookshops.
Do you know what’s really great about this weather, though? It’s summer, so all the most beautiful stone fruits are in season, but it’s cold, so you can bake with them. And baked, stewed, roasted and caramelised stone fruits are one of the great joys of life. I am a very happy Catherine right now.
I am also a Catherine who has been baking upside-down plum cake, and this is a kind of weird cake for me, because I love plums, and in fact I grew up with a plum tree in the back yard, so stewed plums are a bit of an emblem of summer for me, but I really hate walnuts, and especially walnut cakes. So when I started making up this cake, it was going to be an almondy sort of cake, but some part of my cooking-self was *positive* and *certain* and really *very sure* that plum cake required walnuts, not almonds, and in the end I had to obey. I couldn’t quite bring myself to make it all with walnut meal, so I went half and half.
In retrospect, I think it might actually have been better with all walnuts, which is sort of unnatural, really, but true nonetheless. The walnuts have an earthiness that goes well with the plums. But I have no idea how my cooking-self figured that out, frankly. And I’m still deeply suspicious of the whole idea.
It’s a good cake, though. Nice and afternoon tea-ish, and it should keep for several days, assuming it lasts long enough to do so. And it is really perfect for a Melbourne summer.
Your Shopping List9 plums 10 g butter 3 tbsp vanilla sugar 75 g walnuts 75 g almonds (or more walnuts) 175 g caster sugar 200 g self-raising flour 1 tsp bicarb of soda 1/2 tsp cardamom pinch of salt 2 eggs 150 ml olive oil 250 g Greek Yoghurt
Now what will you do with it?
Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Use the butter to grease the bottom and a bit up the sides of a 23cm round springform pan. Sprinkle the pan with a good coating of vanilla sugar.
Cut the plums in half, and remove the stones. Put the halved plums cut-side down in the vanilla sugar.
In a food processor, whiz the nuts, sugar, flour, spices, salt, cardamom and bicarb of soda until the nuts are ground into a meal and incorporated with the other dry ingredients.
(If you start with almond meal and walnut meal, you can make this whole recipe in a bowl with a fork – since I had whole nuts, I decided to just use the processor for everything.)
Break in the eggs, and pour in the yoghurt and oil, then process briefly until you have a really rather lovely-looking cake batter.
Pour and scrape the batter into the tin over the plums, and bake in the oven for an hour, or until the cake passes the skewer test. It could take longer. In fact, it could make you an hour late for a dinner party, because it turns out that plums are quite wet and the cake *does not want* to cook through. But perservere, because it’s worthwhile.
Leave the cake in the tin for ten minutes before attempting to turn out. If you discover, as I did, that it still looks a bit underdone on top, you are permitted to swear. I also suggest putting it under the grill for 5-10 minutes, which will be sufficient to fix the underdoneness without burning the plums.
Serve warm or at room temperature with yoghurt or double cream. Be happy, because even if the baking process made you cry, this is a seriously good cake, and you will not regret it, I promise.
I admit, this is not my most allergy-friendly cake, and I’m sorry for that. Just occasionally, I find myself cooking for friends who are not vegan and not allergic to anything, and it’s pretty exciting and I use all the dairy and all the nuts and all the eggs. Though having said that, this one would work quite well with soy yoghurt if you wanted it to be dairy-free. It would also work well with just about any nuts you felt like using, especially, I think, hazelnuts, so if you are allergic to walnuts but can eat other nuts, don’t give up on this entirely. The flour could be replaced with a gluten-free self-raising flour mix, but I don’t have a good fix for the eggs yet. One day, I’ll figure out a vegan version of this cake, I promise (in case you haven’t notice, this is about the eighth variation on a yoghurt and almond cake that I’ve made so far).
In terms of flavour, I’ve mentioned the options for other nuts. Other stone fruit would also be lovely here – nectarines or apricots in particular, or if you would like to drive yourself completely mad, you could try cherries. But I wouldn’t, if I were you, because that really is the path of insanity.
Besides, it’s really nice with just plums.