We make them so

I have something special for you today.

Two somethings special, actually.

This gorgeous creature is Luisa Weiss's Pflaumenkuchen.  Next to it is her book.

We've got lots to discuss on this early Sunday morning, friends.  So pull up a chair and maybe a pillow - pajamas welcome - and help yourselves to a slice.  It's the perfect breakfast sweet, really, light on the sugar, heavy on the fruit, with a yeasted crust that's more pastry than cake and reminds me of cinnamon rolls.  

Pflaumen means "plums" in German and Kuchen means "cake," and this Pflaumenkuchen features the Italian prune plums you see here.  You've probably spotted them at the markets lately with their cloudy purple skins.  September is their time.  They're more oval than round, egg-like, only smaller; when you hold one in the palm of your hand and close your fingers around it, it all but disappears.  Prune plums are nothing to write home about straight from the tree, but put them in the oven and what comes out is worth volumes.  (Don't worry, I'll settle for a few sentences today.)  I'd never thought of plum as a particularly strong or heady flavor - it's no ripe peach or concord grape - until I'd tasted a prune plum, cooked.  I was living in Israel and my Swiss roommate made a cake not unlike this one, and I remember thinking for the first time, I know what a plum tastes like, now.  Since then, even when I haven't eaten one in a long time, I can imagine the flavor on my tongue, the same way I do no-brainers like green apples and bananas.

A cooked prune plum is sweet-tart, floral, rich, and grapey.  It holds its form beautifully in the oven and emerges plump with juices.  I'm sure I've described cakes with fruit baked in as "jammy," but today I say it with extra feeling.  The way the sugar turns to syrup and the plums melt and pucker, the way their insides dissolve as you chew, "jammy" really is the word.  Pflaumenkuchen is one of those cakes with hardly any ingredients that tastes like a million bucks (I have a thing for those; in fact, you might say they're my specialty) and in my next life, I want to come back as a September baby so that I can have this as my birthday cake each year.   

I'd like to say a few words now about Luisa's book, My Berlin Kitchen, because it's so good, and in some very specific ways.  Luisa writes a lovely story, yes, and with courage.  She has you rooting for love, thrilling in the power each of us has to create the life we want to live, and believing in happily-ever-afters that come true because we make them so.  She writes about finding her way home in the deepest sense.  I love all of that.  But what gripped me most of all is her food writing.  It's some of the best I've seen.  You won't find any dew-spangled, glistening-in-the-morning-sun "foodie" talk here.  Luisa's too smart for that, and too sincere.  Her writing about food is darker, more complicated and more precise.  Because the people and places that nourish us are not always who and what we expect them to be.  It's personal.  Luisa's been writing in this vein on her blog for years.  In her book, she does it better and more.  That took me by surprise and blew me away.   

My Berlin Kitchen comes out tomorrow.  You did it, Luisa.  Happy book day.


The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins tonight.  Apples are the fruit traditionally associated with this holiday, but I can't help myself; Luisa's Pflaumenkuchen will be on my table tonight.  If you're looking to go the apple route, here are a few favorite desserts from the archives:

Dutch Appeltaart with Honey Ice Cream
Tarte aux pommes
Teddie's Apple Cake (dairy-free)
Jess's Teddie's (dairy-free)

Starting tonight, I'll be unplugging for a couple of days to spend time with family and friends.  I'll be available today to answer any recipe questions, but then please excuse my silence in the comments. Will be thinking of you in the kitchen, as always, and sending you my best.  This year feels quite happy and new on our end.  Wishing the same for you.  xo.


p.s. Safari users:  I understand that you've been unable to post comments for some time now.  Thanks for bringing this problem to my attention.  I'm working on a fix, and apologize for the inconvenience.   For now, if you'd like to leave a comment, please visit this site from an alternate browser like Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome

Pflaumenkuchen (Yeasted Plum Cake) 
Adapted from My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss

Don't let the yeast here fool you into thinking that this is a complicated recipe.  It's not.   Since you're using instant yeast, you can mix it right in with the dry ingredients.  You can't go wrong.

A note about the yeast:  The recipe in Luisa's book calls for fresh yeast, the kind that comes in foil-wrapped cakes in the refrigerated aisle at the market.  Luisa told me that she could find it, no problem, at the Key Foods just a few blocks from her apartment in Queens, but - despite calling every grocery in the Boston area, from the large chains down to the small specialty shops - I came up dry.  (The closest I got was one place that carries it only seasonally, starting around Thanksgiving.)  So, I did some math, substituted instant yeast, and adapted the method accordingly.  It worked beautifully.  If you'd like to try a version of this recipe with dry (not instant) yeast, click over to Olga's Pflaumenkuchen on her site, Sassy Radish.

For the dough:
1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
Grated zest of half a lemon (I made it once without; still great.)
Pinch of salt
½ cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg yolk

For the fruit and topping:
1¼ pounds Italian prune plums
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  

Make the dough: 
Put the milk and the 3 tablespoons butter into a small saucepan and heat over the lowest possible flame, swirling occasionally, until the butter has just melted.  Set aside to cool until lukewarm.  Meanwhile, blend the dry ingredients - the flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, yeast, lemon zest, and salt - in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the lukewarm milk and butter.  Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a loose dough.  Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.  It won't take more than a few folds and turns.  If your dough is sticky, add a tablespoon or two of flour, only as much as you need to keep it manageable.  Form the dough into a ball, place it in the buttered pan, cover with a towel, and let it rise until it's doubled in bulk, anywhere from one to two and a half hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  (Watch the dough, not the clock.)

Prepare the fruit and topping:
While the dough rises, heat the oven to 350 degrees, and pit and quarter the prune plums.  Stir together the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and leave to cool.        

When the dough is ready, deflate it with your fingertips.  Push it down evenly along the bottom of the pan and about 1-inch up the sides.  Gently press the quartered plums into the dough at a 45-degree angle, making concentric circles.  (Start at the edge and work your way toward the middle.)  If you have extra plums on your cutting board once you've arranged your circles, squeeze them in somewhere.  The more plums, the better.  Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture, spoon the melted butter over top, and set aside, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is brown and the plums are bubbling.  Cool until the fruit is no longer hot.       

Luisa suggests serving with unsweetened whipped cream, but I like it plain.  


olga said...

I'm so excited we'll both be having this at our respective Rosh Hashana feasts! Hooray. And what you wrote about Luisa's food writing - precisely what I love about the book as well. Nothing precious and nothing "trendy". And, oh, so evocative! L'shana tovah!

Susanne said...

I like to read our traditional 'cake-word' pflaumenkuchen :-) in your sentences - greetings from germany s.*

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Again, another recipe right in my wheelhouse. Thank you for testing out a dry yeasted version ... sounds like another Boston area kitchen will be seeing this come to life very soon.

messymishey said...

I just discovered your blog today, and wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying it.

Astrid said...

Enjoy the holidays!

I'm looking forward to reading Luisa's book.

Luisa said...

Sigh...what gorgeous photos, what gorgeous words, what gorgeous praise. Thank you so so much!

emmycooks.com said...

I made a very similar Italian Plum cake this morning and am now eyeing the remaining half. And my daughter, 6, shares your sentiment: she said, "I wish I could have had this for my birthday cake!"

I agree that these plums are lovely baked, but I also encourage you to seek out another source if the ones you've had fresh aren't great. I love them straight off the tree; they are firm and sweet and tangy. I look forward to them all year!

sonya said...

What a beautiful post. What a gorgeous cake!
I am so looking forward to reading Luisa's book.
My mother and I just made pflaumenkuchen today for Rosh Hashanah, too, though with a different dough (murberteig).

Shana Tova. Wishing you and yours a very sweet and happy New Year, Jess!

thelittleloaf said...

I read a lot of blogs and a lot of kind comments people write about other bloggers' books. But somehow your words here really captured my heart and I just HAVE to own this book, it sounds absolutely wonderful. As does your interpretation of the recipe. Beautiful.

la domestique said...

I have 5 pounds Italian (prune) plums on the counter right now, just waiting to be cooked into a cardamom-scented conserve later today. The cake looks so good, I will have to grab some more of these glorious plums at the next farmer's market to bake it. Enjoy the time with your family. P.S. I'm on safari.

Anna said...

I, too, fell in love with prune plums when I baked them. My dad has two prune plum trees which have never been, uh, pruned so they plums grow at the very top of the tree. My sister climbed the ladder and shook them down to me. I don't live near those trees anymore and I haven't been able to find prune plums around here. Regular plums are not the same at all for baking.

Hanne said...

I stumbled upon your blog just recently. The plum cake looks yummy and jammy! When I saw your link to the Dutch Appeltaart recipe, I couldn’t resist to follow (being Dutch and an Appeltaart lover). Indeed, the apple pie at Villa Zeezicht is definitely the best in Amsterdam, and maybe even the best in the whole country, although that would probably be disputed by other cities. I was surprised to read the recipe: it is almost the same as the recipe that I learned from my grandmother. Thank you for the kind words on Amsterdam. I’m so glad you met nice taxi drivers and tram clerks, as they come in very grumpy versions too. Greetings from Amsterdam!

Lisa said...

Perfect recipe for this weekend. thanks so much ever Thinking of You Messages

Molly said...


Molly said...

Happy New Year, Jess!

Echoing Sonya's comments, you're totally on target with a plum cake for Rosh Hashana. German Jews traditionally bake zwetschgenkuchen, which is a plum cake with a shortbread crust. I ended up using a recipe my mom read to me over the phone for a class I led last week.


So happy to read such wonderful reviews for Luisa's book. Not sure if the timing will work for the reading, but I know I'm headed to the bookstore for a copy of my own.

Hannah said...

I read Luisa's book in one night. Your sentence "Her writing about food is darker, more complicated and more precise" captures it perfectly. Also, as a child of divorced parents (granted they lived across town rather than across the Atlantic from each other) I found her insights into the dynamics of multiple families to be thoughtful and earnest - as she herself always is, but still. I'm big into this book. I've already made the 'heirloom' pasta sauce (with my dad!) but now I now what's next ... can't wait. Happy new year ~

p.s. I use Safari and haven't had any problems. Just so you know.

racheleats said...

Pflaumenkuchen Pflaumenkuchen possibly the best name for cake. I have it in mind to go to Berlin to eat this. I could of course make it, especially now after this delicious and inspiring post. Smart and sincere, well put, I agree.

talley said...

This post is all kinds of amazing. First off, I love the little purple orb plums, they are my favorite and being a September baby and all I did bake myself a plum birthday tart last year. I think this year it will be a zwetschgenkuchen (that's what the swiss call the plums).

Secondly, I'm reading my way through Luisa's book now and I'm looking forward to cooking my way through it next (I can't put it down long enough to make a recipe)! I know that the meatballs, quark cake, kartoffelsalat will feel right at home in our Zürich Haus!

Lastly, in regard to our mutual feeling that things starting again in September, I celebrated my first Rosh Hashanah this year. I'm looking forward to celebrating it for many years to come; celebrating the new year in September feels perfect and refreshing. A new year ushered in with apple and honey cake is my type of new year, honey cake and school supplies and crisp breezy days.

Wonderful post Jess!!

alexandria said...

Brilliant post. I was so elated to read it and know a little more about Luisa's book (my copy arrived yesterday). Happy Rosh Hashanah.

kickpleat said...

I love prune plums and can I confess that it's the only plum I've ever tried? I love how tart they are but have never baked with one. This recipe sounds amazing and I can't wait to get my hands on Luisa's book. Your photos are gorgeous and it's feeling very cozy around here.

Ruthy (Omeletta) said...

I am so excited to get Louisa's book! I've been hearing about how good it is for weeks now and can't wait to check it out for myself. This yeasted crust sounds phenomenal- I've never tried a yeasted crust before and love the idea of it with something as "jammy" as these plums (which are all over the farmer's market lately, so perfect!)

Molly Yeh said...

YES! i was in germany this summer and when i got back i tried and tried and tried to make a good pflaumenkuchen and failed miserably every time and one of the problems was that there just didn't seem like a trustworthy recipe on the internet. i cannot wait to make one for real now with this recipe.

Matgalen said...

Better get that recipes tested before the season ends, at least in Sweden.


Megan Gordon said...

Ah yes...I read most of Luisa's book on a cross-country flight and loved every moment of it. And I think you're right: there's a freshness to her food writing which I haven't encountered in awhile. Good for you for taking a few days off! Hope you're doing well + enjoying October so far. ~m

Jess said...

Hi, all. Thanks for all of your notes while I was away.

Olga - I hope you had a lovely holiday and that you're taking it easy these days and recovering well. xo.

Susanne - Your comment made me smile. Greetings to you, from here!

A Plum By Any Other Name - You will LOVE it. And hey, I'm curious, have you had any luck finding fresh yeast in these parts?

messymishey - Thank you! So kind of you to say.

Astrid - Thanks!

Luisa - xo.

emmycooks - It occurred to me when I was writing this post that September 26 is my 1/3 birthday. I think I'm going to have to start celebrating it. Perhaps your daughter can follow suit?

sonya - Mürberteig... That's more of a pie crust, right? Lots of butter, no yeast? I bet it was wonderful. Hope your year is off to a sweet start!

thelittleloaf - Oh! Well that just makes my day. Thank you.

la domestique - That conserve on your site looks AMAZING. Right up my alley, as you can see from my latest post. And plum brandy? Oooo, I bet that's good. (You're on Safari, eh? Thanks for letting me know. I am officially confused.)

Anna - I love that image of your sister shaking the plums from the tree, and you down below. Thank you for sharing it. I agree - prune plums are special for baking. Hope you'll be able to get your hands on some.

Hanne - Hello to you in Amsterdam! I love that the Appeltaart recipe is similar to your grandmother's. Makes me feel even more like I'm baking up a real, living, breathing bit of Amsterdam when I make it. I'm very glad you found us here; thank you for taking the time to say hello!

Lisa - Enjoy.

Molly - Did you even get to taste it? I think you didn't... How did that happen?? Wonder if I can try for one more this season...

Molly - Look at your Zwetschgenkuchen! It's beautiful, Molly. Think we can all get together and lobby the universe for a longer prune plum season? So much baking to do, so little time...

Hannah - Hi! Yes, some of her writing about divorce (the fall of the Berlin wall scene coupled with her move between countries and homes - so beautifully done) affected me deeply. (You're the second Safari user to speak up in these comments to say that you're not having any trouble. Glad to hear it - though it's frustrating and just weird that so many others are... Huh??)

racheleats - I'll meet you in Berlin. (I wish.)

talley - You lucky, lucky September baby! (And happy birthday, by the way! Looks like your year is off to a very, very, VERY good start.) Wishing you a very happy first Rosh Hashanah, and many more to come. I agree, as you know; starting the new year in September has always felt just right, to me.

alexandria - Thank you! I'd say, "Enjoy Luisa's book!" But I have a feeling that by now you've probably devoured it entirely...

kickpleat - Hey, thanks! As for the prune plums, bake them, bake them! I can't wait for you to try.

Ruthy - The crust here really is special. As prune plums slip away, I've been thinking about what I might replace them with so that I can keep that crust around.

Molly - Hi! Ooooo, that's so frustrating. I hope this one fits the bill.

Matgalen - Hop to it! And enjoy.

Megan - Hello, hello. Such a great book to read in one long uninterrupted stretch like that. (I don't really do that kind of reading anymore, now that Mia's around!) Welcome home to Seattle after what looks like a wonderful trip. xo.

Edible images said...

Sooo, this is my first time here, and I have to say - wow. Your blog is so much fun to read, you made my day at the office just fly by! (I've put real work on hold for another day :)).