During my first few years in Portland I discovered that this place is crazy for summer fruit: strawberries, cane berries, blueberries, melons, and most importantly, stone fruit. Peaches! Nectarines! Plums! Cherries! They are everywhere in the summer: the grocery stores, farmer's markets, impromptu farm stands by the side of the road, at the u-pick farms outside of Portland in every direction...everywhere! You bet your juicy peach that I dove right into the summer fruit, and that dinner would often be half a basket of blueberries with a side of plum. Unfortunately after a couple of fruity summers I started to notice that my mouth would get all itchy and slightly numb after eating any fresh fruit with a pit. I also noticed that if the fruit was cooked or canned I had no problems whatsoever. Weird, but true. So now, I take home those gorgeous plums and fragrant nectarines and cook/bake them up in stuff (stuff not being pie--I'm not really a pie person). So this week's Heavenly Cake was a wonderful excuse to buy some plums!
July 31, 2010
Name of cake: Plums and blueberries yay!
Occasion: Summertime, and HCB
Constituents: plums and blueberries atop a lovely yellow cake with a little bit of caramel
I was so excited for this cake that I was convinced it was on schedule for last week, so I called Cookie and told her I needed to go pick blueberries and invited her along. She wasn't much for picking blueberries but she's all into pickling this year so agreed to come out to the u-pick farms to pick some cucumbers and green beans. I helped her pick the pickling cucumbers, which were thorny--I wasn't expecting that! We realised we were pressed for time so we skipped the green beans and walked out to the blueberry patch.
Here's Sauvie Island Farms, where we did our pickin'. The blueberries are past the rise in the road after a very large cabbage patch. I was standing in the cucumber patch as I shot this:
Not a bad day, huh?
Out of all the berries, I am a big fan of u-picking blueberries as you don't have to bend over or squat like you do with strawberries, nor do you get attacked by thorns like you do with cane berries, nor do you have to hike into the alpine hinterlands like you do with huckleberries. Blueberry bushes are about as high as a person, all the berries are clustered together in plain sight, and if they are ripe they just fall off the bush and into your eager hands. Easy peasy!
We stopped at a farm stand on the way back into town, and I chose a couple of beautiful purple plums for the cake.
That evening I discovered the plum blueberry cake wasn't until the next week. But the berries! They were freshly picked! By me! I decided I was going to have a two-cake weekend.
This is a super easy cake to make, and can be mixed together in what seemed like 30 seconds. The cake can be made in either a skillet (oven proof of course) or a 10 in cake pan. I opted for the skillet, because that's just how upside down cakes are made. Unfortunately my cast iron skillet was too small so I had to move on to a stainless steel pan. Not as traditional, but I had already committed to cake in a skillet so I stuck to my plan.
First up, the caramel is made. For those traditionalists like myself who believe in baking upside down cakes in skillets in which you've already made the caramel, Rose warns to pull the pan off the heat before the caramel completely cooks so as not to burn the stuff. Trust me, burning the caramel is bad. However I erred on the side of too safe and my caramel didn't caramelize. Alas.
Next, the plums, which have been halved or quartered depending on size and type, are arranged in the pan with the blueberries filling in the gaps. I tried to make a fancy pattern but messed up a bit on the middle.
At this point the cake pan is set aside as it is time to get to mixing up the cake. This batter is unusual as it is made without adding any liquid. BAPF is used as well, presumably to give the cake a little more structure and toughness in order to stand up to all that juicy fruit. The cake is mixed in the food processor, which like I said seemed to take no more than 30 seconds. It is a lovely yellow cake base and despite being thick and a tad unruly, smelled like vanilla and butter, which is to say, delicious.
The batter gets plopped onto the fruit and with an offset spatula smoothed carefully. Then it goes into the oven until the cake is golden and your home smells heavenly.
After a cool down of about ten minutes, every baker's skills are tested as the cake is turned out of the pan. Here's when I regretted being stubborn and insisting on baking the cake in a skillet. The handle prevented me from being able to hold the cake plate flush and center over the pan. I decided I could center the cake once it was on the cake plate, but what I didn't count on was having some of the juicy juices miss the plate entirely. Dangit!
Also, a lot of the barely caramelized caramel stuck to the pan. I scraped it off and plopped it over the top of the cake.
It was so hard not to bust into the cake while it was still warm. I was also really concerned that in 24 hours the cake would be a complete mush from all the fruity juices. My thoughts circled around like this: Maybe I should eat it before 24 hours. Maybe I should wait. Maybe I should eat a slice now and save the rest for 24 hours to compare. I should wait. But I should try a piece now.
Then Cookie came over and told me the whole place smelled like the cake and that we needed to try it RIGHT AWAY. Secretly I cheered, yessssss!
The little crunchy bits that were supposed to be caramel were distracting, but otherwise the cake was excellent. It was obviously very moist, and super flavorful. Tart but not puckery, juicy but not mushy, bright and summery with a mellow yellow cake base to finish it all off. This cake didn't need whipped cream or ice cream but I bet it would be nice. Cookie loved the cake and immediately had a second slice, and took a large chunk home.
The next day, the cake wasn't mushy at all, in fact it had reabsorbed much of the juice that previously was pooling on the cake plate. I should have known that Rose wouldn't have written a recipe for a mushy upside down cake. I almost feel like the caramel is unnecessary and detracts from the clean flavors of the fruit, but maybe I should try again with proper caramel before I make my decision. This is a wonderful cake that would be an easy way to top off a backyard barbecue or for a weekday dessert.