Back in the days when I was a bored corporate drone, I was a competitive cook. I had a large group of friends who were all also bored corporate drones, and we relieved our boredom by entertaining one another with wildly complex and fussy gourmet dinners. Foodie fundamentalism of the Everything from Scratch manifesto. Reduction sauces that took four days to make. Carefully stacked towers of --- well, pretty much everything. Every piece of cookware crusted with dreck and later handwashed, because my corporate dronehood was not the sort that came with an enormous Bateman-style crib of chrome, glass and dishwashers.
So much for that stage of my life. Now I'm into more deliciousness, less palaver.
The instruction to watch out for the case of a cake is the dead giveaway: "In another bowl ..."
No no no. No other bowls, thank you very much. Before you know it there will be exhortations to add four different kinds of mixture alternately with a cooled melted batch of something which must then be folded gently into some eggwhites whisked to soft peaks. Whisked in another bowl, naturally.
My stalwart and justly famous chocolate cake requires a single bowl, and doesn't even need me to break out my fire-engine red KitchenAid mixer. (Although I confess this may be a demerit). In general, I'm prepared to tolerate two bowls. That rules out almost everything which requires whipped eggwhite, and I court controversy now by telling you, one and all: forget any cake which would have you whip eggwhite. So not worth it. Right now there is a cake waiting for you to bake it which is just as delicious and twice as impressive as any of those which preciously claim to be light and fluffy on account of the blessed whipped albumen. And this from a chick with a mixer that whips three of the gelatinous little bastards into soft peaks in 55 seconds, so trust me.
All of this, cooks and cake-lovers, to introduce a cake I baked for the first time last week which at a stretch meets the Two-Bowl Limit, but it's rather moot by dint of being a palaver. But oh, mercy -- it is so worth it. The wonderful, wonderful moody dark sweet-and-sourness of autumn English plums, zinged up with sugar and cinnamon and baked onto an almondy, buttery puck of batter like a rich fruity openfaced sandwich. Pink plummy stains in the slices, warm spiced air all through the house.
The recipe is named after a German friend of great Australian chef Stephanie Alexander's family, who first gave it to them. The recipe is for a 28cm springform, which is an enormous tin -- the typical one is about 23cm. I baked mine, appropriately, in my fabulous dark-blue enamel Dr Oetker 26cm springform which Pluvialis brought back from Germany for me -- that was the trip where she and JH Prynne greeted a goat in a German forest.
I didn't cut down the quantity, figuring that I could leave aside what batter was oversupplied. Alexander cautions that it is important there not be too thick a layer of cake, an admonition I endorse having made it. On consideration, I'd reduce the quantities by a third for my tin. If you have an everyday springform, I'd halve this recipe.
Ripen your plums really well -- arrange them on a plate and admire their dusky-cheeked bloom for a few days. Eat one or two. Do you see those tiny rednesses, like miniscule plummy blood vessels? Your plum is ready.
You must serve the cake warm. The recipe (which is from The Cook's Companion) suggests that you can warm leftover cake in the oven for 15 minutes wrapped in foil, so I did that for my dinner guests. But since then I've had brilliant tea-break success whirling a slice in the microwave for 25 seconds. Indistinguishable. And ready before the kettle boils ...
Mieze's plum cake
275g softened unsalted butter 250g sugar 200g plain flour 200g self-raising flour pinch of salt 3 eggs, lightly beaten 100ml milk 1 cup ground almonds 12-15 plums, halved and stoned
Preheat oven to 180°C and lightly grease a 28cm springform tin. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then mix in flours and salt. Add eggs and milk to make a soft dough. (The mixture should drop easily off the spoon). Spoon batter into prepared tin (it should not fill more than a quarter of the depth as the cake rises a great deal) then sprinkle over ground almonds. Arrange plums, cut-side up, on the top, starting with the outside edge and working toward the centre. For the topping, melt butter and stir in sugar and cinnamon, then allow to cool. Whisk eggs well and stir into cooled butter mixture. Spoon over and around plums. Bake for 1 hour until cake tests done in the centre. Serve warm with cream or icecream.
Xtin's Extra Notes
I never bother to whisk eggs that are about to be added to batter in my mixer. Gratuitous waste of Another Bowl. The instructions are interesting because you would usually add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar and then the flour and milk to that. I found that the order suggested gave a different texture than my usual buttercake batters, so I'd stick to the instructions. One day I'm going to do it the other way to see if it has an impact.
The genius of this cake is the layer of ground almonds which separates the plum-and-cinnamon layer from the cake beneath -- otherwise the plums would just sink to the bottom of the batter. Pile the almond a little more thickly at the edges of the tin, or your plums will fall down the outside edge. Not that this happened to me.
At the traffic light, sometimes, the one in the next car. You look and he is there, not like usually, so many crash-test dummies in real people clothes. Eyes through the road and out the other side, sad folds in the blink, a scrape of jawline razor burn like a washed jam stain. The deoderant tossed hastily onto punch-drunk sheets before he ran out the door wondering about the call he hasn't gotten yet, not realising that a fragment is paying attention to the blue silk tie he saw on some guy on the tube last night which even then he didn't know he thought was pretty but his mind watched it for four stops.
This other person, this other life, and you are sad like you never are for yourself.
Ospita is terribly, terribly sad; musically, mountainously sad, a blackbird sotto voce in a frosted hedge for the spring which seems impossible. It is dying and human voices calling desperation and imperatives and hope and faith shot down again and again until we wish that nothing were left but instead they stubbornly drag themselves through the rooms of the poem smeared with blood and rage. On the cover, a figure in a coat leans in to the receiver in a telephone booth. Merciless instruments of hope and grief and the promise of connections, voices into nothing. The gobsmacking truth of:
......Anger the oxide of faith
The typesetting is large and dark and unpredictable, the first leaf near open-faced, the inside leaves bleeding through the paper, inky petechiae in the right margins of the page before, the moment after you hurt yourself but before the pain.
But it is not the personal, bodily, intimate hurt of reading Prynne, the hot, dry-eyed grief of his rhythms. Ospita is a sadness taken apart, audible but unseen, glimpsed but muted through a window of rhyme and delicate, lilting melody in language, torn-off papery streamers of Shakespearean heroes that never were:
......The ear tips and clouded underwing ......Swoops across the sky. Then where and where ......In this globe of health we balance and bear ......From room to room, where is a lasting thing? ......Where is a good done that also stays it? ......Someone attempts the new soft swing but out ......In the earthglow between mind and chest ......Brilliant metallic birds like kisses dive to rest.
And skyward, birds -- birds everywhere in flight: lapwings, plovers, gulls, swallows, exquisite in their obliviousness, perfect in their presentness.
The poem is thick with houses and landscapes, ground, grass, rooms, fields, doors, sky, and wonderfully, in a moment of spectacular evocative flight, tree-top sarcens. Everywhere is dark and unpromising, slamming and stripping, empty and loud, far and threatening. But at the last, a walk. A walk dredging soil and walls, roofs and grass from the cold and muck and putting them back under our feet and over our heads. No voices but a silent piano waiting.
......Thick with languages I walked without stealth ......The fields of angry farmers, proud ......To be harmless and legal, half and half, ......No one could fathom my strong shoes
In the cover sheet there is a wrinkle in the paper, the odd slashy crease you iron into your shirt when you're in too much of a hurry. Faint and flattened like an old scar.