As Nigella says, “Moderation in moderation”, a phrase which defines my 21 year relationship with food and cooking. If I see that a recipe requires half a lemon, I will automatically triple it. A quarter teaspoon of vanilla essence? Quadruple that. The drenched plum cake has become my signature dessert. I first tried a version of it at Ballymaloe House, the Irish country house hotel, when I was 10. It was so good I ate myself sick. This recipe is its 7th incarnation, and the pinnacle of all variations on a plum dessert theme: it will leave you with a Tantalean desire for more. There is no moderation in this dessert.
Late summer/early autumn is the best season to make this dessert, when the plums are rich, firm, red-fleshed and smell faintly of acetone. Use the best quality plums you can find – an over-ripe plum will ruin it.
I suggest laying out the plum halves cut side down in the tine before making the caramel to make sure you have the right number. Remove the plums before you make the caramel and replace them after the caramel is poured in.
This dessert keeps for a couple of days, and is in fact better the day after making, when the cake is drenched with the juices. Keep covered in the fridge and remove a couple of hours before serving to allow it to come to room temperature.
350g caster sugar
About 900g halved and stoned plums (slice down the middle and twist to separate halves)
150g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter
210g self-raising flour
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of ½ orange
3 plums, halved and stoned
150g caster sugar
26cm square tin with a depth of at least 5cm, greased well with butter (or a circular/rectangular tin of the same area)
Preheat oven to 180˚C
- Pour sugar and water into pan over medium heat, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, do not continue stirring but let it bubble until it turns a deep golden colour. This takes 5-10 minutes. Do not take your eye off it – a split second can be the difference between caramel and burnt sugar.
- Remove from heat, and pour immediately into the greased tin so that the base of the tin is evenly covered.
- Arrange the plums, cut side down, as tightly as possible in the syrup. It may harden while you are doing this, but that is not a problem.
- In a food processor, blitz all the batter ingredients together, stopping as soon as the mixture comes together.
- Spread evenly over the plums and place in middle of the oven to bake for half an hour, or until a skewer into the batter layer comes out clean.
- Once the cake is cooked, remove from oven and leave to cool.
- Once it is cool, place a plate over the tin, and invert. Be bold – swift motion is best.
- Mix the ingredients together in a saucepan over a high heat until the sugar is dissolved.
- Continue to cook until the syrup is viscous and the plums have broken down.
- Strain the plums off and pour the syrup over the plum cake. The syrup may be served hot or cold.