Plum Kuchen (Butter cake)

Plum Kuchen2

If you have been following my blog then you know that I get REALLY excited when for a brief time each year Italian prune plums are available at the market. Check out the Caramelized Plum and Rosemary Polenta Pound Cake or my Italian Prune Plum Cake. I have been making this particular Plum Kuchen (basically a butter cake) for probably 50 years. YIKES! It is simple and wonderful and can easily be adapted to use apples or other stone fruits. It takes no time to whip up and is actually better the next day. It also can successfully be frozen, thawed and gently reheated just to freshen it up. Just leave off the powdered sugar until you are actually ready to serve it. But act fast – prune plums are only available for about 3 weeks and this year they came early.

Plum Kuchen (Butter Cake) 

Plum Kuchen4

Yield: One 9-inch cake


10 – 12 Italian Prune Plums

1 scant cup of granulated sugar

1/2 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature

Zest of one small lemon

1.5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of Kosher or sea salt

2 large eggs

2 Tablespoons milk or cream

1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 Tablespoons of sliced raw almonds (optional)

About 1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar for sprinkling on top

1-2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

Powdered Sugar for garnish (optional)


  1. Butter and lightly flour (or better yet, use one of those sprays that already has flour in it) a 9-inch spring-form pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This can be done by hand, but unless you have powerful arms, you will achieve a better result with a standing mixer. Add the lemon zest and mix through.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well after each addition, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  4. Add the baking powder, flour, salt and milk or cream and beat until fluffy. There is not tons of batter, but it is enough. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Cut the plums in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Sometimes this is very easy and other times the pits really are stuck in there. The irony is that the tastier and juicier the plum, the harder it is to nicely remove the pit. Work with a small sharp knife and make as clean a job of it as you can. (You can always sprinkle the almonds across where it isn’t so perfect.) 
  6. Place the plums, cut side up in concentric circles across the top of the batter. Get as many plum halves on top as you can manage and nibble any disasters! Sprinkle with sugar and scatter with the sliced almonds. Dot with butter.
  7. Bake for 60-75 minutes (In large part it depends on the fruit you use and the quirks of your particular oven) or until the fruit is bubbling and the parts of the cake you can see are nicely browned. It is really difficult to over-bake this when using the prune plums since the cake only gets moister over time. Remove the cake to a cooling rack and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, loosen the latch on the spring-form and carefully remove the ring. Finish cooling the cake completely on the rack. At this point you can either wrap the cake carefully for freezing or get it ready to serve. Plum Kuchen3
  8. When you are ready to serve the cake, remove it from the bottom of the spring-form and place on a cake plate. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. The sugar will absorb into the fruit the longer it sits.

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake

Raisin walnut cake1

My husband really loves raisins in his sweets – so much so that we have had a running joke for over 30 years that whenever I ask him how he likes a dessert I have just made, he says the only thing that could make it better would be if I added some raisins. So, I thought I would finally surprise him with a cake where raisins are the star, instead of a grace note to the apples that they are generally paired with. I looked through many recipes but none seemed quite right, and then I came across this unpretentious cake by the noted cookbook author and journalist, Carol Field. It’s simple and delicious with raisins spiked with rum or Marsala and toasted walnuts. Try some with your morning or afternoon coffee or after dinner, accompanied by a glass of dessert wine. And a bonus is that this makes the house smell AMAZING!

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake by Carol Field, Italy in Small Bites, Harper Collins, 2004 

Yield: One 10-inch tube cake


1/2 cup raisins

6 tablespoons Marsala or rum

10 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon walnuts or blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado or demerara sugar


1. Soak the raisins in the Marsala or rum for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

2. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating each one well before adding the next. (I used a standing mixer, but you could do this by hand if you prefer.)

2a. Mix together the milk, reserved Marsala or rum, and vanilla.

3. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. If using a standing mixer, on low speed beat the milk mixture into the butter mixture in three additions alternating with the dry ingredients. If doing by hand, use a rubber spatula to accomplish the same thing.

4. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. With the rubber spatula, stir one quarter of them into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the nuts and raisins. Once these have been incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites with the spatula just until there are no more white streaks.

5. Turn the batter into a buttered and lightly floured 10-inch, straight-sided tube pan, sprinkle the top with the turbinado or demerara sugar, and bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a tester comes out clean. (This is what I used.)

6. If you prefer to use a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack, and cool to room temperature. This is even better the next day after the flavors have a chance to really permeate the cake.

Raisin walnut cake3


Ciambella al Anice: Use 1 tablespoon anise seeds instead of the raisins and nuts. Substitute Sambuca for the Marsala or rum, or omit it altogether and increase the milk to 1/2 cup.


Sour Cream Coffee Cake


I have been making this uber-rich, super simple coffee cake for almost 50 years. Yikes! And it is still one of THE best coffee cakes I have ever had. I recently thought I had lost the recipe and went trolling the internet for it. While I found recipes with the same ingredients, the proportions were entirely different. I wish that I could say that I recall where it originated but in checking, I couldn’t find this exact recipe anywhere. Fortunately, I found the recipe in one of my hand-written cook book collections that I had made years ago. So my apologies in advance to the creator of this wonderful cake.

Because the ingredients are few, it is essential that you use only the best quality unsalted butter and sour cream that isn’t filled with guar gum or other thickeners. And please don’t substitute margarine or light sour cream or even thick yogurt. They might make a decent cake, but it won’t be THIS cake. Yes, it is rich. No, it will not be on the approved heart healthy diet. But it is sooooooooooo good that if you are going to splurge once in a while, do it right. And this cake can easily be frozen. It also lasts a long time on its own when properly wrapped. And because it is so rich, even small slivers are incredibly satisfying. This cake is the real deal.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake  IMG_2996

Yield: 1 bundt cake


1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature – I used Kerry Gold

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup, full-fat sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used walnuts this time but have also used pecans other times)

1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons granulated sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (This can be done by hand, but is much easier if you use a standing mixer on low speed.) Beat in eggs one at a time.
  3. Add sour cream and vanilla and beat on low speed just until mixed.
  4. Slowly add the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the bowl as you go.
  5. Combine the 4 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon and chopped nuts in a small bowl and set aside.
  6. Grease and sugar a bundt pan or use one of the sprays like PAM or Baker’s Joy that has flour in it. (I recently discovered these and I am never going back to anything else. Nothing sticks.) Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a few tablespoons of the nut mixture. Add about 1/3 of the batter and spread it evenly. Sprinkle about half of the nut mixture over the batter. Cover with another third of the batter and cover that with the nut mixture. End with batter. Give the pan a tap on the counter to settle things.
  7. Bake about an hour or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. My oven needs to be calibrated so it actually took me 1.25 hours this time.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and wait 10 minutes before turning out of the pan. IMG_3001

Pear and Walnut Cake

I’m always intrigued by dessert recipes that sound hearty and rustic, so when Matt found this recipe in the Financial Times one weekend, it was a no brainer to try it out.  Of note, I had no idea which pears to use, and was surprised to find five different varietals at the store.


I went with my gut of getting a crisper pear (Bosc pears) and it seemed to turn out fine. In fact the little bit of crunch went very nicely with the texture of the walnuts in the cake.

For the topping
(which starts as the base)

4 small pears (I used Bosc, and I think only about 3.5 ended up fitting)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter cut into six pieces

For the cake batter

2 sticks and 2 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground walnuts
1/2 tsp ground nutmet
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
zest and juice of an orange
3/4 cup easy cook polenta
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt


  1. Heat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line your 9″ cake tin with paper, and then wrap the outside with foil (in case it leaks, don’t want it leaking into the oven which makes a mess)
  3. Peel the pears and halve them. Use a teaspoon to remove the seeds. Sprinkle the sugar on the base of the tin. Cut the butter into eight small pieces and place them in the pear cavity you created by removing the seeds. Place the pear on to the bottom of the tin in a flower formation so the butter touches the sugar and the flat part of the pear also touches the sugar. It should look like seven petals around and one in the middle. You may need to trim the pears so they fit snugly.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar, using a mixer with a paddle attachment or by hand with a large spatula, until they are well-combined but not too fluffy. Add two of the eggs and mix well, then add the remaining ingredients including the last two eggs and beat together until you have a smooth mix. Spoon the mix over the pears to cover entirely and use the back of a spoon to smooth it out as much as possible.
  5. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 30 minutes before rotating to assure an even bake, and continue for a further 20-25 minutes. This cake is a little tricky; the texture will feel rather soft when it comes out but it will settle and firm up after 20 minutes. Check the cake after the provided times — the centre of the cake should feel like the outer rim. The best way to tell if it’s ready is to poke the sides, then poke the centre — they should feel the same. If your finger sinks immediately, add another 10 minutes to the baking time.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave the cake in the tin. If you try and turn it out straight away, it will collapse. Set a timer for 20 minutes, then take a serving plate and place it on the baking tin, flip the cake and ease it out, peel away the baking paper and serve. It is lovely warm but will also keep well at room temperature.

Adapted from The Financial Times, Pear and Walnut cake

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

vegan-apple-cake6My niece and nephew hosted Friday night dinner and I agreed to help by making dessert. Because of dietary restrictions, the dessert needed to be vegan. I decided to use this as an opportunity to come up with a new apple cake recipe that would be good enough for Thanksgiving or anytime you wanted something special for a crowd. I am using the Smitten Kitchen Apple Cake and my own Vegan “Honey” Cake as the source for this inspiration. This cake will not only feed a crowd, but is actually better made ahead so the flavors can fully develop. I find when I am preparing for a big holiday dinner, I like things that I can make ahead so I am not exhausted on the day when everyone descends. This cake could even be frozen without the Applejack sauce which could then be made the morning of or the night before you are going to serve it. Just defrost the cake fully before serving. And if you don’t want the Applejack sauce, you could simply dust this with confectioner’s sugar when you get ready to serve it. After a day, the center of this cake takes on an almost bread pudding-like consistency, fragrant with apples, raisins and spice.

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

Yield: About 10 servings  vegan-apple-raisin-cake


For the cake

5-6 flavorful baking apples (There are so many varieties out there and they differ locally so choose something other than Granny Smith. It could be McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Jazz, Jonagold, Braeburn, Ambrosia…) I used Jonagold and because they were on the biggish side, I used 5 apples.

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups plus 5 Tablespoons granulated or Demerara sugar

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt

1 cup Canola or other vegetable oil

Zest of one lemon

1/4 cup apple cider or apple juice, preferably fresh

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

3/4 cup raisins soaked for at least 1 hour in 1/4 cup Applejack, Apple Brandy or Apple Cider

Aquafaba from one 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas (This is the liquid from the can that has been strained. Use the chickpeas for a wonderful salad or in homemade hummus.)

For the Applejack Sauce

1.5 cups of confectioner’s sugar

4 Tablespoons Applejack (Hard cider) or apple cider

2 to 3 Tablespoons apple juice or cider OR reserved liquid from apple-raisin mixture

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Either butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan with straight sides or use one of the cooking sprays with flour (Baker’s Joy or Pam – these have been a revelation for me and have made cake baking so much easier!)
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples into 1/2-inch dice. Toss them with the cinnamon, 5 Tablespoons of sugar and the lemon zest.
  3. Using a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, apple cider, vanilla and remaining 2 cups of sugar.
  4. Drain the chickpeas, placing the liquid in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, whip the aquafaba on high for 10 minutes. You should have soft white peaks.
  5. Stir the oil mixture into the dry ingredients. The result will be quite stiff. Drain the raisins and add them to the apples. Pour the remaining liquid into the batter. Now scrape all of the whipped aquafaba into the stiff batter and mix thoroughly with a heavy spoon until you have a smooth, workable batter. This takes a little elbow grease!
  6. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan. Using a spoon or your hands, take 1/2 of the apple-raisin mixture, straining any liquid that may be in the bowl and reserving it and place the apples-raisins over the batter in the pan. The reserved liquid can be added to your Applejack sauce. Cover the apples with the remaining batter and gently smooth it out so the batter is even. Now take the remaining apples-raisins and cover the top of the batter, gently pushing the mixture into the batter.
  7. Place the pan in the hot oven and bake for about 1.5 to 1.75 hours or until a tester comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. The top will sink down some but don’t worry – it’s fine. When you are ready to serve, turn out the cake and carefully flip it over onto a serving platter so that the apples are now on top again. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve the sauce on the side, if you are using it.

For the Applejack Sauce

  1. Sift the sugar to get rid of any lumps.
  2. Whisk all of the other ingredients together. Taste and adjust the sweetness by adding more confectioner’s sugar, if desired. Just before serving, give it a good stir with a fork or whisk. You can zap it in the microwave briefly, if you like- just enough to warm it without killing off the alcohol.  vegan-apple-cake5

Orange Currant Pound Cake

orange-currant-pound-cakeIf you read my previous post, you will know that I am into comfort food right now. Since I mentioned that the fruit compote would be wonderful with pound cake, I decided that I really should make a pound cake to go with it. This cake comes from Classic Home Desserts by the late Richard Sax. It is a wonderful cookbook by someone who died way too young. This cake would be delicious on its own, but serving it with the fruit compote kicks it up just a notch. The recipe makes two 8 x 4-inch loaves and freezes well. It’s perfect to have on hand for any last-minute guests.

Orange Currant Pound Cake

Yield: Two 8 x 4-inch loaves, each serving about 8


1 cup dried currants soaked in 1/2 cup orange liqueur (Cointreau, Triple Sec, Grand Marnier, or even Sabra which is chocolate-orange)

2.25 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2.5 sticks (1.25 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature

Grated zest of 1 large orange, preferably navel

1.33 cups granulated sugar

5 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (NOT Greek-style)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish


  1. Soak the currants for at least 1 hour, stirring once or twice.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously butter two loaf pans and then dust with flour, shaking out any excess. Alternatively, use a cooking spray that has flour in it like PAM or Baker’s Joy. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl sift together 2 cups of the flour, the salt and the baking powder.
  4. Using either a standing or hand mixer, beat the butter and orange zest at high speed until light. Gradually add the sugar and beat until very fluffy – about 6 minutes.
  5. Lower the speed to the first notch and gradually add the sifted flour mixture. Just beat until the flour is mostly incorporated. Do not over beat.
  6. Increase the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  7. Add the sour cream or yogurt, vanilla and any unabsorbed liquid from the currants after draining the currants well. Just mix until blended. Do not over mix.
  8. Quickly toss the well-drained currants with the remaining 1/4 cup flour. This prevents the currants from all sinking to the bottom of the pan. I do this with chocolate chips as well.  Fold into the batter by hand, using a spatula.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, tapping each pan gently on the counter to settle the batter.
  10. Bake until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted int the center comes out clean. This should take about 1.25 hours, but ovens vary so be sure to check it starting at 50 minutes. Do not over-bake.
  11. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then invert onto the rack and turn them right side up. Sift the confectioner’s sugar over the tops while the cakes are still warm and then cool completely. Return the cakes to the pans, tightly cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours before serving. You can add more confectioners’ sugar when you are ready to serve. Alternatively, you could make a simple orange icing from orange juice, vanilla nd confectioners’ sugar and use that.

Olive Oil Cake with Orange and Pine Nuts

olive-oil-cakeYou know how you learn a new word and all of a sudden you hear it everywhere? Well sometimes that happens with recipes. Lately I have seen LOTS of recipes for olive oil cakes and I thought that was a sign that I should try making one. I read a recipe by Mario Batali and one by Michael Chiarello which seemed interesting, but the one that really got to me was on one of my favorite food sites – Food52. I tried it yesterday and for a first try it produced an incredibly moist cake that was not overly sweet, but had complex flavors of bitter and sweet orange, toasted pine nuts and wine-soaked raisins. I happen to love candied orange peel, especially if it is coated in very dark chocolate. While this recipe calls for fresh oranges – both the fruit and the peel – it may be a bit much for someone who does not enjoy the sweet/bitter notes of that part of the fruit. DO NOT wash your oranges – it will make them more bitter. If you must, wipe the skin with a slightly damp cloth. This goes for any citrus fruit you cook with. The recipe also called for fresh rosemary, which while very pretty did not seem to add any real flavor in my opinion. In the coming weeks I will try this recipe again with some changes that I want to try. In the meantime, I think this version is still worth making.

It calls for Paneangeli, which is an Italian leavening that has vanilla built in. Since I have another recipe that calls for it as well, I was willing to order it through Amazon if you are not fortunate enough to have an Italian grocery store nearby. It can be used any time you have a recipe that calls for a mix of both baking soda and baking powder. Italians swear by it. The original measurements must have been in metric which would account for the strange amounts. This cake will last for days without drying out and even by day 2 the flavors have melded and intensified. It is definitely worth indulging in this with your favorite dessert wine, which in our case is a Ferrari Carano Eldorado Gold. Vin Santo, the Italian dessert wine, is of course, the classic wine to serve. If you are not a fan of dessert wine (Then you haven’t tasted the right one yet!) coffee or tea will do.

NOTE: I have been passing by the cake and taking bits as I go by. This cake is seriously delicious!

Olive Oil Cake with Orange and Pine Nuts by Food 52 and slightly tweaked by me


Yield: One 10-inch cake that serves 10 to 12

Ingredients img_2362

1/2 cup very moist raisins

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons vin santo or other sweet dessert wine

1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan saute pan until fragrant

1.5 medium navel oranges, unpeeled and cut into small dice

2 large eggs

1 packet of Paneangeli OR 1 teaspoon baking soda plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup of granulated sugar plus 2 Tablespoons

Generous pinch of salt

1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon EVOO (a good fruity olive oil but not a super-fancy drizzling oil)

1.75 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Rosemary tufts from 2 long fresh rosemary sprigs

 1/4 cup granulated sugar


  1. Bring the raisins and dessert wine to a simmer in a small saucepan over high heat. Turn it off, cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes but up to overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Just before pouring the batter in, generously coat a 10-inch angel food (or straight-sided bundt pan) generously with a non-stick cooking spray that contains flour.
  3. Put the eggs, Paneangeli and 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of the sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, at which point the mixture will be light and thickened.
  4. Gradually add the EVOO in a slow steady stream that you pour down the side of the bowl. Mix until the EVOO is incorporated.
  5. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add the flour and salt, alternating with the raisins and dessert wine in 3 batches, scraping down the bowl each time. Only mix enough to incorporate the flour and distribute the raisins.
  6. Turn off the mixer and using a rubber spatula, mix through the oranges. img_2365Set the batter aside for 10 minutes. This allows the leavening to start taking effect and will make it easier to get the batter out of the bowl.
  7. Scrape the batter into the generously sprayed pan. Scatter the pine nuts evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar over the top and distribute the rosemary, gently pushing the tufts lightly into the batter.
  8. Bake the cake for 10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 325 degrees F. and bake the cake for another 35 to 38 minutes, turning twice for even browning.  It’s ready when the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into it comes out clean. Allow it to totally cool in the pan on a rack.
  9. Once cool, turn the cake out onto a plate or board and immediately flip the cake over onto a cake plate. You will lose some of the sugar, pine nuts and rosemary. It’s OKAY! The original recipe said to dust with confectioner’s sugar, but I think it is totally unnecessary. Cut with a very sharp knife. Because of the bumpiness of the orange pieces, the cut may not be perfect, but when you and your guests taste it, no one will care. img_2371