The Fruit Is a Mystery, but the Cake Is a Winner for Sure: Almondy Plum Cake

I enjoy browsing the huge variety of produce offered at the Asian supermarket, and when I spotted some black velvet apricots there back in September, I snapped them up. After I got home and tasted one, I couldn't decide if I had actually purchased black velvet apricots or black plums (to be clear, they were labeled as black velvet apricots at the store). While I could have sworn the skin looked fuzzy when I bought them, it seemed smooth when I inspected it at home. And the bright yellow flesh had the sweet flavor of a black plum, without any trace of apricot flavor. I know black velvet apricots are an apricot-plum hybrid, but I have eaten them before and thought they were much more apricotty. Then again, the fruit I had purchased was freestone, which made me think they might really be apricots, as most varieties of plums I can buy in this area (with the exception of Italian or Stanley plums) are cling fruits. In any case, since I had what looked like a plum and tasted like a plum, I decided to treat it as a plum and make Yossy Arefi's "Almondy Plum Cake."

Arefi says this cake is inspired by the wonderful Marian Burros plum torte, which is famous for good reason. Arefi's version requires the extra step of browning butter, but it's still a snap to make (and unlike the Burros torte, it doesn't require a mixer, since you don't need to cream butter and sugar). To make the batter, you whisk warm browned butter with sugar and eggs until pale and foamy; add vanilla, almond extract, and kosher salt; and incorporate flour, almond flour, and baking powder. You pour the batter into a parchment-lined pan, arranged sliced plums on top, and sprinkle the cake with sliced almonds and sugar (I used sanding sugar) before baking.
The cake looked great, with the dramatic purplish-black color of the plum (or apricot?) skins creating a stark contrast to the batter. And it tasted absolutely amazing. I have made lots and lots of plum cakes over the years, and this is definitely one of my all time favorites. I happen to be a huge fan of almonds and this cake was extremely almondy. I'm not sure if it was the effect of the fruit juices seeping into the cake, but somehow it tasted like there were chunks of marzipan or almond paste in the cake -- dense nuggets of intense almond flavor that were absolutely delightful. And along with the sweetness of the fruit and the crunch of the sliced almonds and sanding sugar, I loved everything about this cake.

The Marian Burros torte is terrific, without question -- but I definitely like this cake more. I would also rank this cake above Gil Marks' Plfaumenkuchen/Ashkenazic Plum Coffee Cake, which is very close to the Burros torte, but with the addition of nuts. I'm still not certain if the fruits I bought were apricots or plums, but without question, I know that this is one extraordinary cake.

Recipe: "Almondy Plum Cake" from Snacking Cakes by Yossy Arefi, recipe available here from Penguin Random House Canada. 

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