I love stone fruits, and with the selection of peaches and nectarines dwindling at Whole Foods, I've been switching to plums and pluots. I went a little overboard buying some organic black plums that were on sale, so I decided use some of them for baking. Last year I made a plum cake that was a little disappointing, so this time I thought I might do better by looking for highly-rated plum cake recipes on epicurious.com. I decided to try a plum streusel coffeecake.
I normally read some (or often, all) of the accompanying reviews on epicurious before making a recipe from the website. In this case, I found some good advice and some not-necessarily-great advice in the reviews. The first step in the recipe is to make streusel, by putting flour, brown sugar, walnuts, butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the food processor. Quite a few reviewers commented that there is too much flour in the streusel, but I made the streusel as written and didn't run into any problems at all. I can certainly imagine that if you tried to make the streusel without a food processor, the recipe might prove problematic. But with a food processor, so long as you keep pulsing, the streusel will come together into nice crumbs.
The cake itself is straightforward -- you cream together butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla, and incorporate sifted dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt). The recipe produces relatively little batter and it was quite thick, the consistency of frosting. I spread the batter out into a thin even layer in my cake pan (I made a double batch of the recipe and baked it in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan), and topped it with sliced plums. I went to the trouble of laying out the plums in neat overlapping rows, only to discover that there is so much streusel that it completely covers the plums -- so it doesn't really matter whether you arrange the plums neatly or not.
The cinnamon streusel gives off an amazing aroma during baking, and it was hard to resist tearing into the cake right out of the oven. The cake rose quite a bit during baking, and the side view of each slice nicely displayed my overlapping rows of plums under the streusel. This cake is remarkably delicious. The cake portion, eaten alone, could easily pass for birthday cake -- it is a refined and tender vanilla cake. I wasn't expecting the cake to be so good, especially because the recipe doesn't call for any of the ingredients that are typically included in coffeecakes to help make them moist (sour cream, buttermilk, or milk). The streusel is, of course, delicious -- you can't really go wrong with butter, sugar, and cinnamon. If there is anything I might criticize, it's that plums are not really the star of this cake. While you certainly get the plum flavor, the thick layer of streusel overshadows the plums a bit.
But I'm not complaining. Although they're not the dominant flavor, the plums definitely make this cake stand out from the run-of-the-mill coffeecake. And the wonderful cake itself could stand alone and definitely puts the "cake" back into "coffeecake." Soooooo good!
Recipe: "Plum Streusel Coffeecake," from epicurious.com.
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