Late summer and early fall is plum season, and plums of all kinds have so much potential — sliced into salads, baked into cakes, pies and tarts, simmered into jam or compote to spoon over yogurt and granola, or layer in trifles and Eton mess, or pile onto ice cream.
Here are some ways to use plums of all kinds.
Marian Burros's plum torte
This simple plum cake was made famous by the New York Times. It published the recipe every September from 1983 to 1989, when the editors decided that was probably enough.
It remains extremely popular, and for good reason — it's the kind of simple recipe you can stir together from memory, and it can be used with all kinds of fruit in season, not just plums.
Bake it in any 8- to 9-inch baking dish. Round, square, a pie plate, skillet — whatever you have.
I've adapted it slightly. I use salted butter and add a pinch of salt and a bit of vanilla, and stir the eggs into the butter-sugar mixture.
I also tend to use fewer than the 12 plums Marian's recipe calls for, though how many you use will depend on what you have and how big or small they are.
If I have the bigger, rounder plums, I cut them into wedges. Of course, you could flavour this cake with lemon or orange zest, ginger, spices, or whatever you like.
½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
6-12 plums, pitted and halved or quartered
coarse turbinado sugar + cinnamon, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and light. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. They may not incorporate completely.That's OK. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir or beat on low speed just until you have a thick batter.
Spread into a greased 8- to 9-inch baking dish, pie plate or ovenproof skillet.
Put the plum halves (I do halves if they're damson or prune plums, quarters or thick wedges if they're larger rounder plums) skin side up in the batter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, to taste. (I mix the two together so that the cinnamon is more evenly distributed with the sugar.)
Bake for 45-55 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch. Serve warm.
Plum Panna Cotta
I generally don't simmer plums just for one reason, but make a bigger batch to store in the fridge (or freeze) to spoon over yogurt and granola, layer in Eton mess, and dollop over ice cream and other things.
Just chop and simmer plums with sugar or honey to taste (and a splash of water to start) until they're soft and sludgy.
I've included measurements here for people who like them. As for the panna cotta, I usually default to half and half, but you could use any combination of whipping cream, coffee cream, half and half or even yogurt or buttermilk if you like things tangy.
3 cups half and half (or any combination of cream or cream + yogurt or buttermilk)
1 pkg unflavoured gelatin or 2 tsp agar agar powder (seaweed-based)
¼ cup honey or 1/3 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla
3 large or 4-6 small plums, pitted and chopped
¼ to 1/3 cup sugar or honey, or to taste
Measure the cream and pour about a cup of it (no need to measure) into a large saucepan, and sprinkle the gelatin or agar agar overtop. Let it sit for a few minutes to soften, then put it over medium-high heat, add the rest of the cream and the sugar or honey, and whisk until it comes to a simmer and the gelatin and sugar or honey dissolve.
Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm.
Divide into individual dishes or glasses and refrigerate until firm. (If you want to unmould them, rub the inside of the dishes with a bit of oil or nonstick spray first).
Meanwhile, bring the chopped plums and sugar to a simmer with a splash of water, bring to a boil and cook until the plums are soft and the mixture has thickened, though it may look juicy and will thicken even more as it cools. Cool completely and serve over the chilled panna cotta.