“Take a risk or play it safe?” That was the question I asked myself the day before Besha Rodell and Rachel Shukert came over for dinner last week. Rachel I wasn’t nervous about. Even though I’d never met her before, I knew we’d click because we’re both musical theater geeks. The food would be secondary. I also knew I’d click with Besha, who I had met before (at Proof Bakery last year) but that’s not what made me nervous. What made me nervous is that Besha is a food critic. A food critic! Can you imagine cooking for a food critic? I was kind of freaking out.
“Do I rest on my laurels?” I asked myself the night before, wide awake in bed. “Do I take a huge risk?”
I flipped through cookbooks. I consulted websites. Ultimately, I decided to make a dinner that I love: Caesar salad, my spicy spatchcocked chicken with couscous and salsa verde and my favorite dessert to make of all time, Amanda Hesser’s almond cake.
But after food shopping, I started to doubt my decision. Fine: Caesar will work and so will the chicken, but can’t we be more daring with dessert? We have plums from the farmer’s market. Can’t we use those?
That’s when I turned to Google and searched for a recipe that incorporated almond paste (which I’d bought for the almond cake) and plums. I came up with this recipe from Food & Wine that looked pretty good. I decided to roll with it.
The technique is different than the one you use for Amanda Hesser’s cake. In that one, you work the almond paste with butter and sugar for 10 minutes until it’s super light and fluffy. Here, you break up the almond paste with just sugar before adding the butter. Ultimately, it works out the same.
Only this cake has no sour cream, just a lot of eggs. Then, of course, there’s the difference of plums. This one has them. You add them after you pour the batter into your buttered pan. I tried to make a pretty pattern but I’m not sure it was that pretty. (Ok, it is.)
Didn’t matter, though, because those plums sink down and you won’t see them again until you cut into the cake. I used a mixture of green plums and purple plums so, when I served this up, some folks got a green piece, some got a purple piece. And the verdict was positive: “Four stars,” said one of my guests at the end of the podcast, only it wasn’t the food critic. The food critic said: “I don’t give star ratings to home cooked meals!” But when pressed, she relented. “17 stars,” she said.
Recipe: Almond Cake with Plums
Summary: Based on a recipe in Food & Wine.
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup almond paste (9 ounces)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 6 eggs at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (optional; I didn’t buy one)
- 3 large plums (12 ounces) halved, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
- Creme fraiche for serving (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. In a small bowl, mix the cake flour with the baking powder and salt.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the sugar with the almond paste until crumbly. Add the butter and beat at high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated between additions. Beat in the vanilla extract and, if using, the vanilla seeds. Fold in the flour mixture just until incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the pan and arrange the plums over the top as artfully as you can (though it won’t really matter in the end. It’s just nice to be artful.) Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until the cake is deeply golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Transfer the cake to a rack and let it cool for 15 minutes. Remove the outside ring and let cool another 30 minutes before serving with creme fraiche.
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 15 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8