I wanted a plum cake. A plum and almond cake to be exact. But alas, plums are no more. At least, not until next year. What I love about plums in a cake is how juicy and tart and gleefully pink they become when they are baked. Their incarnation as fresh specimens never really measures up to the soft, puckery deliciousness of baked plums. But as the song goes, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
So I turned to apples. I needed to bake a birthday cake for a friend, but it was to be for a breakfast celebration, and gobs of frosting did not call out to me. Anyway, I have veered away from sweet desserts. Maybe it is because of all those past years eating pecan pie or crème caramel for breakfast as an early morning pastry chef, but my hankering for sweets has dwindled over time.
I had a mystery jar of finely chopped almonds with sugar and cinnamon in my cupboard. I had pears that were perfectly ripe and wouldn’t last another day. I had grapes. I had too many apples. That sounded like a cake to me. This was definitely a by-the-seat-of-your-pants affair. I threw it together and crossed my fingers. Success. Then I baked it again for you, just for you. This time I measured everything so you can make it too.
In the end, it is not too sweet. Have it for breakfast even if it’s not your birthday. Or eat it in the afternoon for tea. With whipped cream, it will even suffice for the end of dinner with friends. Who gets to eat homemade cake these days, anyway? It will keep for a day, snugly wrapped in foil. I suggest re-warming it in the oven (300 degrees) for about ten minutes. Oh, and for next time, I have this recipe ready when plums come back to visit. In the meantime, waste not, want not.
Late harvest almond and apple cake
Makes 1 nine-inch cake
1 large apple, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large or 2 small pears, thickly sliced (no need to peel)
1 cup grapes
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds
3/4 cup organic cane or granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 stick (4 ounces, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and arrange a rack in the middle position. Line a 9-inch cake pan with a removable rim with parchment. (No need butter the sides of the pan.) Prepare the fruit.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
3. Combine the almonds, 1/4 cup of the cane sugar, and the cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until finely ground.
4. Stir 1/2 cup of the ground almonds into the flour. Reserve the rest for the top of the cake.
5. Beat the butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar together in a mixing bowl (with beaters or in a stand mixer on medium speed) for 3 minutes, or until fluffy. On medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.
6. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on low speed until combined. Beat for a few seconds on medium speed until the batter is smooth. Spread evenly in the prepared pan with the back of a spoon. The batter will be thick.
7. Arrange the apples and pears alternately in a circular pattern over the top of the cake. Distribute the grapes over the top. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of the cinnamon almond mixture. (If you have some leftover, save it for sprinkling on your morning toast.)
8. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the center of the cake emerges with clean and the top is golden. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Slide a knife around the edge of the pan. Release the sides and cool for another 10 minutes or so if you want to serve the cake right away. It will keep for at least one more day covered with foil.
Cooking Lesson: How to make a parchment circle
1. Cut a piece of parchment that will fit over the bottom of the pan (it will probably be a rectangle.)
2. Fold the lower right hand corner up to meet the top edge of the rectangle. Cut along the edge to make a square.
3. Fold the triangle a few times to make a cone shape.
4. Hold the cone over the pan with the point centered in the middle.
5. Cut strait across the cone and open it up. Voila!