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Baby Vanilla Plum Cakes

I’m in love with plums. Sweet, tart, juicy and flavorful – they are all that summer fruit aspires to be. When they’re at their best I want to spend as much time as possible with them. Also? They’re pretty. Especially when halved and roasted or plopped into the top of a tiny cake and scattered with sugar before baking. I recalled an image of little plum cakes spotted in a cookbook years ago. Flipping through my mental files (and the overflowing shelves of cookbooks in almost every room of my house) I found it – in Baking with Julia, a beautiful tome dedicated to all things that come out of the oven. And the fact that it’s a big hard-cover book with Julia Child’s smiling face on the cover just inspires me to bake even more.

You don’t want enormous plums for these, lest they displace all the batter in the muffin tin. Choose smaller ones, even Damson plums, which are more oblong but have a wonderful flavour. Besides plums, apricots would work well – or pluots; a cross between the two – a sort of plum-apricot hybrid.

Serve them warm with a scoop of ice cream, or cool like you would a muffin. In fall, when plums are in season, they make a sweet little after-school snack.

Baby Vanilla Plum Cakes

adapted from Baking with Julia

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk
4-6 ripe plums

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until well combined; add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well-blended and smooth. In a small bowl, stir together the flour and baking soda. Add half the flour to the butter mixture, stirring or beating on low speed just until combined. Stir in the buttermilk, then remaining flour.

Butter 12 muffin tins or spray them with nonstick spray – put a couple spoonfuls of batter into each, filling them no more than halfway full. If the plums are small, cut them in half vertically and remove the pits; otherwise slice off each cheek and then pull the pit out of the thick middle slice – essentially cut them vertically into three. Place a piece of plum cut-side-up onto each tin of batter, pressing it gently until it’s level with the batter. Sprinkle each plum with brown sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Run a thin knife around each cake to loosen. Makes 12.

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