The rain came, finally. The hills are misty and the sky is grey and for the first time in over a month the city feels quiet, calm and reflective. We have been high on summer here. Bright days and warm nights, restless without the weight of a sheet or a duvet. There is a sobriety to dull misty rain and while the humidity hangs heavy, for today, this could be the beginning of the end of summer. So to mark the transition of the seasons I sign off to summer with one last plum recipe.
It’s been a bit of a plum summer, really. Plums have been in my fruit bowl more than any other stone fruit this season. There is something humble about the plum quite different to the polished, white-fleshed peaches or nectarines and I don’t feel the plum has the same following of the apricot with their pleasing pink blush, downy skins and child-friendly pull-apart groove. Nearly every piece of food writing or poetry of the plum mentions the bloom – the silvery blue smudge to the skin of the fruit. The obvious association would be with the bloom of a flower, full of the promise of scent and colour. But when I read about the bloom on a plum I tend to think of algae bloom. Moving right along.
This recipe takes a different sort of plum altogether – the canned plum. The slick patent leather-like skins of the dark purple Black Doris have disappeared and the fruit sits in a sweet, lip-staining juice. (Good for a bit of colour and sparkle in a gin and tonic.) The plums are baked with dollops of heartily spiced, almond sponge spreading over the fruit like a winter quilt. The sponge is tinged burgundy in colour, not necessarily from the plums as you might think, but rather from a splash of red wine in the batter. I’ve made this dish sound decidedly wintery, and the ease of canned fruit does lend this dessert well to cold nights, but come back to the plums for they are sweet and light and fragrant.
The fruit, the fruit – plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines – they’re all so lovely and innocent, but sometimes you just need a bad-ass, a rebel. The red wine is robust; it delivers a strength to the sponge that perhaps contradicts with a traditional Victorian sponge and all its typical associations of lightness and delicacy. But the red wine; it works. It adds ooomph and character.
Mum has been making this dessert for a while now; it’s part of our regular repertoire. Like many of the recipes in this rotation, they feel so normal, so regular; delicious for us four perhaps only because of their history in our kitchen. But these recipes are worth sharing and worth eating, no matter the weather.
Plum and Almond Sponge
This recipe comes from a small cookbook from the kitchen of Church Road Winery cook book. Every recipe in here looks great and every recipe lists wine in the ingredients, but we have settled on the plum and almond sponge; it’s our favourite. Time to branch out maybe.
100 grams butter
40 grams brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, separated
130 grams ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon caster sugar
6 tablespoons red wine + 4 tablespoons (preferably a weightier varietal like syrah, merlot or a blend)
1/4 teaspoon ground star anise
1 tin Black Doris plums
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cream butter, egg yolks and brown sugar, then add cloves, ginger, cinnamon and baking powder. Add the first measure of red wine (6 tablespoons), then the ground almonds and stir until just combined. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then whisk in the caster sugar. Fold the egg whites into the creamed butter mixture.
Place the plums in an oven proof dish and pour over the second measure of red wine. Sprinkle the ground anise over the plums. Spoon the almond batter on top of the plums and smooth with the back of the spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
We serve this with cream or yoghurt; crème fraîche would be nice too. The original recipe suggests a slice of blue cheese and a glass of noble semillon. That sounds very nice, indeed.