Saturday, September 02, 2006

Plum Coffeecake

The difference between a cake and a coffeecake is not, I believe, well defined. In part that's because most cooks are a live-and-let-live lot. I may (and do) care very passionately about my own culinary idiosyncrasies, but if you want to call your whatever a whatever, it's nothing what(so)ever to me. There are, of course, notable culinary curmudgeons (and I'm not going to mention names because then I'd either have to remember or go look up the name of Karen Hess' husband so that I could name both of them) who will insist that a whatever is not a whatever unless it has all six of these whatevers and none at all of those four whatevers in it. By and large, however, the cooks are not like the astronomers. There's not likely to be some large convention where there's an official pronouncement that turducken can't properly be considered poultry, regardless of how much merit such a pronouncement might or might not have. The French, obviously, are exceptions, but I think we all have to acknowledge that their culinary attention to detail has largely been a force for good and just let them be who they are, so long as they keep producing good wines and cheeses.

(For the record, I really don't care whether Pluto is a planet. I know that some people have very strong opinions on this matter, but I believe that such people should redirect their energies towards more important matters, such as the proper use of the apostrophe.)

Anyway. Despite the lack of a consistent culinary taxonomy, I believe that most people think of a coffeecake as something breadlike (either a yeast bread or a quick bread) which has had sweet matter worked into it and which has then been baked in the shape of a cake. In this case, however, I'm calling my cake a coffeecake for no reason other than it seems a bit coarse to qualify as a cake.

I expected it to be coarse, of course. (If reading that last phrase made you start humming the theme from Mr. Ed, then you are now officially my bff; also, kindly get out of my head.) I have, of late, been thinking a good bit about things like carbohydrates and the glycemic index. I have a family history of diabetes, and while I don't appear to be diabetic myself, I have noticed that eating substantial amounts of sugar late at night has a tendency to make me feel somewhat blah (that's the medical term: I asked) the next morning. To a certain extent, I deal with this by eating less sugar and eating it earlier in the day, but it seemed like a good idea to develop some different strategies, and since I happened to have just bought a five pound clamshell box of Italian prune plums (the box actually calls them "Italian Prunes," but when I tried calling them "prunes," V. wanted to argue with me, and since he's Italian, I decided to just back off [the Mediterraneans are feisty, you know] and compromise with "prune plums."), I figured that a plum cake was a good idea. I decided not to use white flour but to use a combination of whole wheat flour (King Arthur white whole wheat flour, in this case), rolled oats, and walnuts. I further decided to bake it in a springform pan. I also substituted Whey Low for the granulated sugar, but I do that with all of my baked goods now. It seems to me that it works better for baking than does granulated sugar, but that is probably a bias on my part to make myself feel better for spending the extra money on the Whey Low. If you use plain old granulated sugar, you should get the same result, I think.

The result seems like coffeecake to me. It is undeniably good and very moist, but the cake is not so much cakelike. I can't do much better than that with a description, I'm afraid. It is good with coffee, though.

The moistness is a bit of a worry to me, since I'm afraid that it might grow mold before I eat it all, which would be a shame since it appears to be getting better with time. The Italian prune plums are very small, so despite there being forty-eight plum quarters in the cake, they are mostly on the bottom and not as present as one might expect. In fact, if and when I try this cake again, I might use half again as many plums and only two-thirds as much batter. Or I might just go with prunes marinated in a little bit of some potent potable or other. Then again, I might just return to my excellent prune cake, whose name is so long that I can't remember it (I cannot bring myself to look it up, any more than I could be bothered to look up John Hess). So many choices, so little time: story of my culinary life.

Plum Coffeecake

12 prune plums
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole rolled oats
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 pound butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut each plum into quarters, discarding the pits. Toss the plums with about half the sugar in a bowl and let them sit for fifteen minutes.

Put the flour and oats in a food processor and process until the oats are finely ground. Add the walnuts and pulse until the walnuts are finely chopped, but not ground.

Put the flour mixture into your mixer bowl and add the remaining sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. With the whisk attachment, mix for two minutes. With the mixer running, add the butter a tablespoon at a time until it is well incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and milk. Whisk until smooth, scraping down the bowl if necessary.

Pour the plums and sugar into the batter and fold in by hand. Turn into a prepared 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let sit for ten minutes, then remove the side of the springform pan and invert onto a rack. Remove the bottom of the springform pan and let cool completely. Serve with coffee, just so I won't be a liar. Well, about this, anyway.

What I'm calling prune plums are the small, dark purple plums that have a sort of white dust on the skin. They are shaped sort of like tiny brains, except that the skin is smooth where a brain would be wrinkled (I am trying really, really hard here to avoid saying that they're shaped like testicles, even though they really are). You could probably use any plum, but since most plums are larger, you might want to use fewer and/or cut them into more pieces.

As far as the glycemic index and all that goes, I didn't really follow up by calculating how this coffeecake stacks up against my other cakes. I think that this recipe ought to be more friendly to your blood sugar than one made with regular sugar and regular white flour, but how much friendlier is certainly an unresolved question.


Anonymous redfox said...

Prune plums are really the perfect plums for baking, testiclish or nay.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Judith in Umbria said...

You are both right. Plums in general are susine in Italian, but the susina Stanley, that blue one, is also prugna.
I prefer some acid, but these work anytime you don't want sweet and sour elements. The season here in Italy is a blink of the eye.

1:04 AM  

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