There are books, wonderful books, well-written, which I have enjoyed and appreciated, yet if asked later about the story line, I might only be able to tell you about a bit of food. Plum Cake, case in point, from the recent and excellent novel by Donna Leon, The Golden Egg.
As one reviewer, Ms. Goring at The Herald, stated: "We find ourselves once more in the company of Commissario Guido Brunetti, a gentlemanly, bookish policeman who never takes a short cut if it would impede his ruminations on life." A domestic tragedy, and mystery involving the death of a local boy, a deaf-mute, his neighbors believe. Things are not always what they seem on the surface, and Paola, Brunetti's equally bookish wife, refuses to let things alone. She encourages her husband to find out more about the sad-eyed young man, and why he died.
And she bakes her family a fabulous Plum Cake. Her son equates it with God. I don't know that I would go that far. Though God did give us plums.
Well, I kept on thinking about Paola's dessert, wishing she had included her recipe. That Plum Cake sounded so tempting. .A search on the net ensued; the hands down winner of which was a New York Times featured recipe by Marian Burros, and included in her cookbook, The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook. Also praised on American Public Media’s radio show, “The Splendid Table,” with host Lynn Rosetto Kasper. APM’s Web site quotes Kasper as commenting, “Because of reader demand, this recipe has been published in one form or another in the New York Times almost every year since I went to work there in 1981.”
Coincidentally, is there really such a thing?, or was it kismet? I had found some really small plums on sale at my market, with no idea at all they were Italian plums, the kind featured in Paola's cake. I just thought they were local midgets, and bought them with the idea, maybe I'll cook something. Ha ha.
September 21, 1983: “Food Notes,” By Marian Burros and Published in the The Essential New York Times Cookbook
Plum TorteServes 8
Special Equipment: 9-inch springform pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Large pinch of salt
1 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon, or more or less, depending on the tartness of the plums
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
12 purple plums, halved and pitted (depends on size - I used 9 1/2)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more or less, depending on the tartness of the plums
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Heat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.
2. Cream 1 cup sugar and the butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer (or in a mixer) until light in color. Add the dry ingredients and then the eggs.
3. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Cover the top of the batter with the plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the lemon juice, adjusting to the tartness of the fruit. Sprinkle with the cinnamon. (Note: I forgot this step entirely, the extra sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, and the cake was terrific without it. Just so you know.)
4. Bake the plum torte until the cake is golden and the plums are bubbly, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on a rack, then unmold.
This is absolutely my favorite cake now. In the world. So seriously good, with a tender, moist crumb, and just a bit of crispyness on the sides and bottom; those tart, lovely plums lending a wonderful contrast to the sweet cake, they melt into it like a tangy jam.