pflaumekuchen: german plum cake

A few days back, I was thinking about the tiny German beers called “Kolch,” which Lindsay introduced me to on a winter trip to Cologne years ago, when  this recipe for pflaumekuchen posted on David Lebovitz’ lovely site popped up in my Google feed.  The recipe was adapted from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef, and in an all too typical food-related domino effect, enabled by internet instant gratification, I soon found myself with a new book in my possession.

Books, like people, have a strange way of showing up at your doorstep at the precise moment when you need them most, and while I’ve been reading Luisa’s blog for years, I’ve never known much about her life.  A ex-pat with all the inherent identity uncertainties that come with that territory, it turns out Luisa is also an only child who even attended school in the same small suburb of Boston I did.  We weirdly even ate at the same pizzeria.  Coincidental similarities be they as they may be, the real eye widening happened for me about mid-way through a chapter titled “Leap and the Net Will Appear,” where a self-described “square” turns her life squarely upside-down, leaving a relationship and a job to move across the Atlantic.  Right, well, you could say this resonates some.

Seems I’m not the only one who woke up from her good-girl daze one day and finally realized this is it.

Along with a much needed dose of life-decision affirmation, the new read also has me craving good anchovies, dry cured olives, the strangely beautiful stone-grey skies of Paris, and of course Luisa’s pflaumekuchen.  This falls into the genre of sweet I’m easily smitten with – more the kind of thing you would eat for breakfast or an afternoon snack alongside a steaming mug of tea/coffee (or a tiny Kolch!) than a dessert per se; I think most Americans would feel cheated if you presented this beauty after dinner.  It’s essentially a brioche-style (or pain au lait) yeasted bread, topped with fresh plums, dusted with cinnamon sugar, and baked into a ring of golden jammy goodness.  And like anything made with yeast and cinnamon, 40 short minutes in the oven make any kitchen smell wonderfully like home.

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Makes one 9 inch cake, and serves about 8.  

The original recipe calls for Italian prune plums, which I substituted with CA red plums still straggling at the farmers markets in these parts.  I know its well beyond plum season in most areas now, I suspect this recipe would work well with fall fruits like apples or pears also.  This cake is definitely best eaten the day it’s made, though I’ve been enjoying leftovers warmed in the oven too.  

Luisa Weiss’ German Plum Cake

For the Base

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp (one package) active dry yeast
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • one egg yolk
  • pinch of salt
  • finely grated zest of 1/2 small organic (unwaxed) lemon
Butter a 9 inch spring-form pan and set aside.  Heat the milk and butter together in a small pan until the butter is just melted – don’t boil.  Remove from the heat and cool to lukewarm.  Meanwhile, place the flour in a medium mixing bowl and make a well in the center.  Add the yeast to the well along with a 1/2 tbsp of the sugar.  Pour in about half of the milk-butter mixture and mix in a little of the flour just until the yeast is dissolved.  Cover with a dish towel and set aside for 10 minutes until foamy.  Next, add the remaining 2 1/2 tbsp sugar, the egg yolk, the salt, the lemon zest, and the remaining milk-butter mixture.  Mix well and bring the dough together into a sharggy ball.  Dump out on a floured work surface and kneed a few minutes until smooth.  Form into a ball and set in the center of the prepared pan.  Cover with a dish towel and set aside in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

For the Topping

  • 1 1/4 pounds plums, pitted and thickly cut
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar mixed with 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds, coarsely ground
Once the dough is risen, gently deflate it and press into the bottom of the pan.  Top with the plums – arrange in overlapping circles, beginning at the outside of your pan.  Drizzle over the melted butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and the almonds.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set the cake aside to rise again for 20 minutes, uncovered.  Bake ~40 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling.  Cool 10 minutes and then slice and serve.

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