Thursday, 18 August 2011

Plum Season I: Plum Cake

Yesterday, I made the first plum cake of the season. My parents got a bag full of plums from a friend on Tuesday, way too many to eat, so I offered to take them off their hands and make some cake.

Now, German plum cake is a strange beast. It's usually made as a tray bake and the base is most commonly a yeast dough. On top of that, the plums are arranged tightly and upright in more or less neat rows, and quite often, that's all there is. The only variation that's common is a kind of streusel topping, called "Datschi". Often, these datschis are made as individual servings as small hand sized "flatbread", with the plums less neatly and tightly stacked. My favourite recipe however combines the two into one large streusel traybake.

(adapted from Basic Baking by Cornelia Schinharl and Sebastian Dickhaut)

for one large baking tray, you need:

Yeast dough:
  • 350g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g sugar
  • 150-180ml milk
  • 30g fresh yeast (about 7g dried)
  • 50g softened unsalted butter
  • 1 egg

  • 2kg ripe plums

  • 130g cold unsalted butter
  • 100g flour
  • 100g ground hazelnuts
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 130g brown sugar

  1. Crumble and rub the fresh yeast into the flour in a large bowl, until well distributed. If using dried yeast, stir it into the flour.
  2. Add the salt and sugar and give a quick stir to mix it in, then rub the soft butter into the flour.
  3. Warm the milk to lukewarm and add to the flour together with the egg. If you want to prepare the dough in advance, leave the milk cold and proceed with a cold mix, leaving the dough to rise in the fridge (overnight for example).
  4. Knead the dough well until it becomes stretchy and doesn't stick to the edge of the bowl.
  5. Cover the dough and leave to rise for an hour in a warm place (or overnight in the fridge).
  6. While the dough is rising, it's time to prepare the plums. Wash them and slit them down one side to take out the stone. Don't cut them all the way through, leave them slightly attached on one side, like an opened book.
  7. Butter a large baking tray (ideally one that's at least 1.5-2cm/half an inch deep) or line it with baking paper.
  8. Knead the risen dough briefly, then either roll it out or simply use your fingers to press it out into all corners of the tray. The dough will probably be very thin, depending on the size of your tray, but that's okay, because it will rise again. Mine is usually less than 5mm in most places.
  9. Cover the dough again and set aside for 15 minutes to rise again.
  10. For the topping, you need to cut the cold butter into cubes.
  11. Either in a food processor or by hand, combine all topping ingredients until you have a crumbly mixture.
  12. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
  13. Arrange the plums upright on the dough, pressing them gently in a little bit.
  14. Bake in the middle of the oven for at least 35 minutes (possibly more, mine usually needs at least 50-60 minutes), until the edges are a deep golden brown and the topping is starting to brown.
  15. Leave to cool and enjoy with a big dollop of whipped cream.

I had more than the 2kg of plums the recipe required, so I made a double batch, and ended up with one tray and two tart-sized cakes (only one of which I baked straight away, the other one I've frozen raw, as an experiment).

Monday, 13 June 2011

Making a Virtue of Necessity...

Public holidays in Germany can be a challenge for the impulsive cook. All shops except bakeries and travel essentials at stations and airports are closed, meaning you have to either plan ahead, or make do with the contents of your cupboards. Sometimes this can lead to quite satisfactory results.

Today, I had the urge to bake or cook something to serve me as packed lunches for the rest of the week, or failing that, at least a sweet treat. At first, I thought about making cupcakes, but as they don't keep well, I eventually decided on something savoury. Lasagne and other pasta bakes had to be ruled out, as I'm out of cheese, and most other recipes were ruled out for similarly lacking ingredients.

A raid of the fridge and cupboards came up with a pack of low-fat cream cheese (just gone past its sell-by date but still sealed and looking fine when I opened it), 2 eggs and some onions, as well as staples such as milk, butter and flour. After begging a friend for her shortcrust recipe (thanks, Natalie!) and making sure it didn't use egg to bind, I had quickly settled on a simple onion and cream cheese tart. Adding a bit of thyme from my herb pots (a sprig of lemon thyme and a few more of regular thyme) turned it into a very satisfying lunch, and there's plenty left for me to have at work for the rest of the week.

Onion tart with cream cheese and thyme

225g flour
100g cold butter
1/4tsp salt
40-60 ml cold water (just enough to bind)

200g cream cheese (mine had 17% fat)
2 eggs
splash of milk
6 medium onions
fresh thyme (6-8 small sprigs)

  • First, slice the onions and gently fry in a little olive oil on a low heat with a pinch of salt until soft, sweet and lightly browned. Preheat the oven to 200-220°C.
  • For the pastry, sift together the flour and salt into a food processor and add the cold butter in small chunks. Whizz together until it resembles breadcrumbs, then slowly add the water until the dough starts to come together. Roll out the pastry and line a 22-24cm round tin.
  • Once the onions are cooked, turn off the heat. Beat the eggs briefly, then mix well with the cream cheese and enough milk to give a runny consistency like buttermilk. season well with salt and pepper, and mix in the thyme.
  • Fill the uncooked pastry case with the cooked onions and pour over the egg mix.
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-35 minutes, until the filling is set and starting to brown on top.