I know it sounds quite ordinary but we are not just talking about just any plum cake. Variations of the German specialty, ‘zwetschgenkuchen’, exist where some versions are made with a shortbread pastry verses a yeast dough, some have streusel – some do not – some are round, other’s are rectangular. One thing for sure is that they all use the plump, sweet, juicy European plums also known as Italian Prune Plums or Empress Plums. This variety is ideal for cooking not only because of their texture but also because their flavor becomes more complex through cooking.
Fruit and yeast-based cakes are a German hallmark with this cake being a perfect example. Its not overly sweet, has a touch of tartness to it, a small hint of cinnamon and that tender yeast dough.
When I was growing up and my mother used Italian Prune Plums in her canning or baking, I just thought it was because they were available at the time. I had no idea that they played such a special part in German baking until I was older.
I realize this is probably not the kind of thing you feel like making on a hot summer day. I suggest putting it on hold for a rainy day because it is well worth the effort. Just to encourage you further, I’ve added an alternate yogurt dough you could use instead of the yeasted one which would speed things up.
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm milk & allow to become frothy, about 5-10 minutes. With an electric hand mixer, beat together sugar, salt, warm melted butter, egg & vanilla. When yeast is ready, Combine with egg mixture. Add flour, 1 cup at a time to wet mixture. Stir well after each addition; dough should become smooth & elastic. It will not be firm enough to knead into a ball, more like thick batter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap & set in a warm, draft-free place to rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk.
In a small bowl, combine streusel ingredients. Using fingertips, rub mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
'ALTERNATE' Yogurt Dough
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder & salt. In small bowl, beat together yogurt, milk, oil & vanilla. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add wet mixture & combine until dough forms a ball.
To make Plum Cake Tarts
Generously butter eight - 4 x 3/4" mini tart pans or press out a rectangle of dough about 8 x 10" size on a baking sheet or a jelly-roll pan could be used. For tart pans, divide dough into 8 pieces & press dough out over bottom & up sides. For the rectangle shape, dough could be rolled out on parchment paper & laid directly on pan.
Lay plums close together in rows, covering the entire dough. If using YEAST DOUGH, set pan in a warm place & let rise rise an hour. Sprinkle the streusel over the top & bake at 350 F. for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden. If using YOGURT DOUGH, evenly sprinkle farina over dough before placing the plums on the pastry ( it helps to keep the pastry from becoming soggy). Arrange plums on pastry; distribute streusel over cake. Bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes or streusel is light golden.
A ‘galette’ (French) or ‘crostata’ (Italian) was an early way to form a pie crust in the absence of pie pans. The dough was rolled flat, the filling placed in the middle with the edges turned up to contain the filling.
The origin of the pie (pye) has been traced to Egypt where savory fillings were baked, using woven reeds as the baking vessel. The concept was brought to Greece and then to Rome. It is believed the ancient Greeks created pie pastry and the trade of ‘pastry chef’ was then distinguished from that of a baker. The use of lard and butter in northern Europe led to a dough that could be rolled out and molded into what has become our modern pie crust. Before the emergence of tin or ceramic pie pans, the ancient practice of using the bottom of the oven or fireplace was used to bake this rustic tart.
Galettes can be made in any size, as well as sweet or savory, using only a simple baking sheet. No technique to create an even, fluted crust is necessary. Rusticity is its charm! No worries about tearing the dough or if the final result is perfectly round or rectangular.
The crust of this galette is made with the addition of a small amount of cornmeal to give it a bit of crunch and is equally as good with a sweet or savory filling.
In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or finger tips, cut in butter until mixture resembles BOTH coarse crumbs & small peas. Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixture over the dough, 1 Tbsp at a time, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it. After you have added all the sour cream, dough should be moist enough to stick together when pressed; if not, add additional cold water, 1 tsp at a time. Do not overwork dough.
Press dough into a disk shape & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two or it can be wrapped airtight & frozen for a month. Thaw, still wrapped in refrigerator.
In a bowl, toss together the fruit, all but 1 Tbsp of the sugar, salt, lemon juice & zest & cornstarch.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the chilled dough into a circle & set on baking sheet. Place the fruit filling in the middle, leaving a border of 1 1/2 to 2-inches. Gently fold pastry over the fruit, pleating to hold it in. Brush pastry with egg wash. Sprinkle the reserved 1 Tbsp sugar over the crust.
Bake 35-45 minutes until the filling bubbles up & crust is golden. Cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack before serving. Best served warm or at room temperature.
Strawberries — loved for their sweet taste and heart shape, have symbolized purity, perfection, love and passion throughout the ages. It is very common for us to give little thought to where our food comes from and the back breaking labor that it took to get it to our various parts of the country.
Travel can always be filed under the category ‘learning experience’. I find it so important to set oneself outside our ‘bubble’ to fully understand and not become complacent about the many things we take for granted.
Over the years, Brion and I have spent many holiday hours travelling along the Big Sur coast of California, USA. While there we would use Monterrey as our ‘home base’ and make little day trips to the surrounding area. Just inland from Monterrey is the agricultural jewel known as the Salinas Valley. This is one of the major valleys and most productive agricultural regions of California. Having a unique coastal environment with its western ocean exposure (less than 10 miles away) provides moderate temperatures year round. Warm sunny days and cool foggy nights are the perfect combination for growing strawberries.
I find myself going back to those years I was raised on the farm when we drive along looking at the fields of produce. I have often felt much appreciation and compassion for the farm workers standing, bent over in the heat of the blazing sun for hours tending these crops.
I have many memories of my own parents working long, hard hours to provide for us on our family farm. I am grateful to have learned to appreciate the efforts of others that make life good.
This STRAWBERRY ROSE with DARK CHOCOLATE PUDDING celebrates those wonderful Driscoll strawberries as well as satisfying the chocolate lover.
Melt chocolate. Whisk together 1/2 cup milk & cornstarch. In a small saucepan, bring remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, sugar, cocoa & salt just to a simmer over medium heat. Add cornstarch/milk mixture; bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook 1 minute. Remove from heat & stir in melted chocolate & vanilla. Spoon into serving glasses. Cover surface directly with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming. Chill.
Before serving, hull 16 strawberries by removing the green stem. Take 4 strawberries & cut the top of the strawberries off. These will be used as the center for the roses. For remaining strawberries, slice into 1/8" slices to use for the rose petals.
Begin arranging the sliced strawberries around the pudding making sure the ends of the slices are facing out & extend slightly beyond the rim of the glass. After the first circle of strawberries is placed, begin making a second circle of strawberries but position slightly more forward toward the center of the glass. Continue with a third layer. Once finished, add the cut strawberry to the center & garnish with mint leaves.
Now comes the time to use up all those remaining tidbits of holiday baking still in the freezer. For those who haven’t tried it, sweet bread pudding is perhaps the ultimate comfort food. It’s simple to make, requires no special equipment and uses basic ingredients. It’s not even particularly beautiful on the plate, but it sure tastes good.
Just about every culture that makes bread has it’s own version of bread pudding. An open textured loaf with lots of holes become little pockets of custard. If you choose a bread that is quite ‘airy’ but has good chewiness, your pudding will strike a satisfying balance between lightness and body. In contrast, a loaf with a tight crumb makes a compact pudding with a dense texture.
The custard is what binds the bread together and creates the pudding’s lusciousness. Milk, eggs, sugar and flavoring are the basic elements but of course, other variations can be layered in as well.
Bread pudding was definitely a dessert my mother made since she baked bread every week. At that time it was pretty basic but nevertheless homey and good.
Today, January 22, our family celebrates the birthday of my sister, Marilyn. Birthdays were always made to be special as we were growing up. Not so much as to gifts but in regards to the family acknowledgement of ‘your’ day. My mother loved having a reason to use her cake decorating skills, so your birthday cake was always very unique.
For something special to mark the occasion, I have prepared STOLLEN BREAD PUDDING with SPICED ORANGE SAUCE on my blog.
Arrange stollen cubes to fit compactly into a buttered 9 x 9-inch baking dish. Do not compress to tightly; set aside any leftover cubes. Whisk together eggs & 1 cup powdered sugar until the sugar is dissolved & the mixture becomes light yellow in color. Add cream, vanilla & Grand Marnier; whisk to combine. Stir in a pinch of salt, nutmeg, lemon & orange zest.
Pour mixture over stollen cubes. Cover & refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove bread from refrigerator, uncover & dot the top of the pudding with butter & sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar.
Set baking dish into a shallow roasting pan, larger that baking dish. Set them onto the center rack of the oven. Pour hot water into larger pan until it reaches about halfway up the side of the pudding dish. Bake until fully set & a knife inserted into center comes out clean, 60-75 minutes. Carefully remove the pudding from the water bath & cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Spiced Orange Sauce
Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in sugar, Grand Marnier, water, cardamom & salt. Over medium heat, stir until sugar is fully dissolved & the liquid is heated through. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, whisk egg until well beaten. While whisking egg, slowly pour 2 Tbsp. of the hot mixture into bowl with the egg. Then, while whisking the mixture vigorously, slowly pour the warmed egg mixture back into the sauce.
Place the saucepan back over low heat, gently stirring the sauce, raising the temperature slowly to medium. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Spoon over pudding & serve immediately.
THUMBPRINT or THIMBLE COOKIES – are such a great little cookie with so many variations that they remain among the holiday favorites. Of course it’s not hard to figure out the meaning behind their name. Similar to filled cookies, you can either fill the divot you make in them either before or after you bake them.
Here is a good example of the phrase ‘the same only different’. Four varieties of thumbprint cookies you might want to add to your office cookie exchange list, if they are not already on it.
In a medium bowl, combine butter with brown & white sugar. Add egg, pumpkin, flour, spices & salt; mixing until a thick dough forms. Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop balls (about 2 tsp size), 1-inch apart from each other. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 25 minutes or until slightly brown. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any of the divots if needed. Place on cooling rack.
In a small bow, combine cream cheese filling ingredients, mixing well. When cookies are completely cool, spoon a small amount of filling into each of the divots. Top each with a bit of crystallized ginger.
Lemon Blueberry or Raspberry Anise Thumbprint Cookies
In a medium bowl, cream butter & sugar well. Beat in egg yolks & extract. Stir in lemon zest, then fold in flour & salt until fully incorporated & a soft dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap & chill about an hour. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form dough into 1-inch balls; roll in hazelnuts & place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any divots if needed. Place on cooling rack & cool completely before filling centers with preserves.
Fig & Flax Thumbprint Cookies
In a medium bowl, beat butter & 1/4 cup brown sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add egg yolk & vanilla; beat until combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds, cream of tartar, spices & salt. Slowly add flour mixture to the batter & beat on low until just combined, scraping down the sides as needed.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, place the egg white. In a small dish, combine 1/4 remaining brown sugar with 1/4 ground flax seeds. Roll slightly rounded teaspoons of dough into balls. Dip one ball at a time into the egg white & then roll in the sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet; press divots in each ball. Bake about 15-17 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove from oven; check if divots need to be deepened. Place on cooling rack & cool completely.
With the Blueberry, Raspberry & Fig recipes, you can bake the cookies for about 15 minutes then add the preserves & bake another 3-4 minutes. I find it easier to store or freeze the cookies if I put the preserve in at serving time -- personal preference only.
I rolled my spiced pumpkin cookies in gingersnap crumbs just for a little added flavor.
Apricot preserves are another good choice for the flax thumbprints and probably easier to find depending where you live.
Christmas without making a few candy treats just wouldn’t seem right. Even if its not at the top of your baking list, they are just so handy to have on hand to add to those holiday gift trays.
There was only one very special candy treat my mother made at Christmas that I remember. A small group of ‘neighbor’ ladies in our farming community had formed the ‘Willonor Club’. It wasn’t just to gather for coffee and chit chat. They were all very hands on women that enjoyed ‘networking’ about a variety of subjects. Each meeting would be hosted by one the members in her home. They would always have a specific focus to learn or do something new. One of the ladies had learned how to make dipped chocolates with her church group. She, in turn taught the Willonor Club members. Now these were not just your average chocolates. They looked every bit as professional as the ‘Pot of Gold’ brand but tasted so much better. None of this sugary sweetness — just a creamy, not overly sweet center, covered in a milk chocolate. Yum!! I came across the recipe in her little file box, written in her lovely handwriting and there I was, reliving the ‘taste of a memory’ by just reading it.
I decided to limit this candy blog to three, tried and true favorites. They are KAHLUA BALLS * PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE TRUFFLES * APRICOT DATE BALLS. Easy to make, taste great and freeze well — perfect!
In a large bowl, combine cookie crumbs, walnuts & powdered sugar. Add Kahlua & corn syrup; mix well. Shape into 48 balls & roll in desired toppings such as cocoa powder, fine colored sugar, sprinkles, finely crushed walnuts or oreo crumbs. Chill overnight then either freeze or store in refrigerator in an airtight container.
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Truffles
In a double boiler over medium-low heat, melt the 55 grams of white chocolate. Transfer to a bowl. Add remaining ingredients & beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Cover & chill until solid enough to roll into balls. Once mixture can be formed, roll into 16 balls.
Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Chop almonds in almond bark then carefully melt in double boiler. Transfer to a small, deep bowl. Drop a few balls at a time into melted chocolate. Working quickly, spoon chocolate over truffle to coat. Using a small spoon or fork, lift truffle out of chocolate & shake off excess, transfer to prepared sheet. Chill truffles until chocolate is completely set. Place in an airtight container & either freeze or store in refrigerator.
Apricot - Date Balls
In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, apricots, dates & eggs. Cook over low heat for 6-8 minutes or until mixture pulls away from the sides of saucepan, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & stir in walnuts & vanilla. Allow to cool until mixture can be handled. Line an airtight container with wax paper. Shape apricot/date mixture into 30 balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Place in container & either freeze or store in refrigerator.
If preferred, use all gingersnap crumbs instead of graham crumbs in the original recipe for Pumpkin Cream Cheese Truffles.
The quintessential summer BBQ dessert! Fruit pizza is like a giant cookie, covered with luscious cream, layered with colorful fresh fruit, topped with glaze and a drizzle of chocolate, if you please.
If you have been following my blogs, you have probably already noticed, choice is something I’m big on. Fruit pizza is a classic dessert with so many possibilities. I have always enjoyed to start with the original idea of a recipe and see how many ways I can vary it without getting too involved or requiring a lot of extra ingredients and time.
Since CANADA DAY celebrations are right around the corner I thought it was a good time to enjoy Fruit Pizza‘personalized’. Here are some ideas to mix and match to your liking.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 12-inch pizza pan or cookie sheet. In a large bowl, cream butter & sugar until light. Add any flavorings. In another bowl, combine dry ingredients; gradually add to creamed mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon or hand mixer until well blended. Press dough into pan & prick with a fork. Bake 10-15 minutes until golden. Allow to cool completely.
Frozen Puff Pastry
Follow package directions. Cool completely & place on serving tray.
Crescent Roll Dough
Preheat oven to 350 F. Pinch together crescent roll dough as you press into a 12-inch pizza pan. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp sugar. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden. Cool completely.
Cream Cheese Topping
In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, lime juice concentrate & sugar until smooth.
Cool Whip/Custard Topping
In a large bowl, whisk together dry pudding mix & milk for 2 minutes. Fold in Cool Whip.
Honey - Yogurt Topping
In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt & honey.
Citrus & Pineapple Glaze
In a small saucepan, combine ingredients. Cook over medium heat until thickens. Remove from heat & cool slightly. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the fruit with glaze. FOR PRESERVE GLAZE: mix preserves with water & brush onto fruit.
TO ASSEMBLE FRUIT PIZZA
Spread topping of choice onto cooled crust & arrange fruit onto. Brush with glaze of choice. Melt chocolate in a bowl over boiling water. Dip a large spoon into chocolate; drizzle, quickly letting the chocolate fall in thin ribbons from the end of the spoon. If chocolate seems to stiff, add a drop of vegetable oil. Let pizza stand until chocolate is firm.