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Sweet memories for Rosh Hashanah

September 28, 2011 |  6:30 am

Plum Tart

I first heard of Italian prune plums in a handmade recipe journal given to me years ago by my dear friend Faith. Small and dark purple, the egg-shaped plums can be found in markets for a few glorious weeks every fall.

Faith and I exchanged homemade recipe journals for each other’s birthdays in the late 1980s. Though we were raising families thousands of miles apart on opposite coasts, it was comforting to know at least we could still share our favorite recipes.

One of those recipes is for an Italian plum cake, and it’s become an annual tradition in both of our households. Growing up in New Jersey, Faith remembers her Aunt Pep would make a wonderful holiday plum cake that she had forgotten about until she saw a similar recipe in the New York Times that jogged her childhood memory.

We make the cake every year for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Italian prunes can be a bit on the tart side eaten out of hand, but bake to a wonderful sweetness. In my home, Italian plum cake is the taste of Rosh Hashanah right up there with apples dipped in honey.

Faith bakes the plum cakes in 8-inch square disposable aluminum baking pans and freezes them to give as gifts for friends. Lately, I’ve taken to baking the cakes in tart pans (one recipe fills 2 pans) to vary the presentation. I love the simplicity of the recipe; it’s only a few steps. The plums turn a vibrant fuschia as they bake, settling into a rich, buttery cookie-like crust.

It’s a perfect dessert whether you’re celebrating a holiday or the season’s bounty. One bite, and that flavor reminds me that sweetness in life is not a guarantee, but it is always a good practice to savor the good morsels.

--Susan Silverberg, Test Kitchen intern

Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Italian plum cake
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes plus cooling time
Servings: 6 to 8, depending on the pan
Note: Adapted from a New York Times recipe. This recipe calls for either an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan, or 2 (9 1/2-inch) tart pans with removable bottoms.
6 to 8 Italian plums
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Halve the plums lengthwise, removing the pits. Set aside. Grease the baking pan or tart pans and set aside. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in the eggs, one at a time.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer running add the dry ingredients until fully combined to form the batter.
4. Spread the batter into the pan(s), using a spatula to spread the batter to the edges and smoothing the top. Place the plum halves on top of the batter, skin-side up.
5. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the batter and plums.
6. Bake the cake(s) until puffed and golden on top, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool. The cake can be frozen; cool completely then wrap tightly in plastic before freezing.