My tiny two-shelf fridge has been overflowing with fruit recently. I can’t resist the half-price rhubarb from the supermarket, then there’s farmers’ market cartons of raspberries and cherries and all my neighbour’s ‘I’m going on holiday’ cast-offs: a huge segment of watermelon, a big bowl of ripe plums and every strawberry that the birds don’t get on his balcony.
But my over-enthusiasm for all things summer fruit usually means I don’t have time to eat it all before the tipping point between ripeness and fruit-fly-heaven kicks in and I end up wasting it. And I hate waste, particularly of food. Even though I’ve attempted to rein myself in a little this year, I still found myself last week with raspberries, plums, watermelon, strawberries, four overripe bananas and two bunches of rhubarb.
My attempt to deal with the rhubarb, by making rhubarb and almond muffins, failed miserably: they tasted, well, of nothing. I’m not sure what I did wrong but I think it would be better to use raw not cooked rhubarb next time. I won’t bother sharing that recipe…
It rather put me off experimenting for a bit. So even though my colleagues gamely ate them (cake is cake after all, however plain) I wanted this week’s cake to be a bit more reliable. So back I went to the Slater books, to find a plum cake recipe that I earmarked ages ago. It’s very similar to his blueberry and pear cake (creamed butter and sugar, add eggs bit by bit, fold in dry ingredients, tip into tin, add chopped fruit, bake) bar a few tweaks. Very simple, very satisfying and very scrummy.
The only thing I will say, as Miss South posted here a few weeks ago, is that his oven doesn’t appear to behave like anyone else’s. Or maybe mine doesn’t. The recipe says ‘bake for forty to forty-five minutes’: at forty my cake was still pale, interesting and sticking to the knife but by forty-five, and I exaggerate not, it was looking a little burnt round the edges (see the picture). It only needed a short back and sides and it tasted fine but how on earth can three or four minutes make that difference? I advise caution with those last five or ten minutes in the oven.
Plum cake (adapted from The Kitchen Diaries)
You will need:
150g unsalted butter (again, he doesn’t specify but I prefer unsalted), chopped into small cubes
150g golden caster sugar
ripe plums (he says 16, I could only squeeze about 14 in once chopped); halved, de-stoned and then quartered
3 eggs (again, he says large but I used a mixture of large and medium because that’s what I had)
75g plain flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
100g ground almonds
50g shelled and chopped walnuts (I used what I had: pecans with a few walnuts)
a 20cm square cake tin
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (or 160C if a fan oven); gas mark 4.
2. Line the bottom of a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment (you could grease the tin first, then line it but I find it’s not necessary with fruit cakes).
3. Cream together the chopped butter and sugar (in a bowl if you’re feeling fit; in a processor if you’ve been to a ceilidh the night before and you’re not…) until it is pale, thick and sticks up in peaks (almost like whipped cream).
4. Break the eggs into a separate bowl, beat them lightly and then add them, little by little, to the butter-sugar mix. You might, like me, just shove them in all at once but, I warn you, it will curdle. Still seems to work though.
5. Sift the flour and baking powder together then fold into the mixture.
8. Now fold in the walnuts or pecans…
10. Bake, with abandon, for the first 35-40 minutes then, depending on the reliability of your oven, watch it like a hawk if you don’t want it to look like mine…it’s done, like most cakes, when something sharp stuck into the middle comes out clean.