Thursday 8 April 2010

Fresh-Plum and Almond Cake, and a bitter taste in one's mouth

Made in a jiffy in a food-processor, this cake involves no more effort than measuring out the ingredients  and stoning the plums. The result? A light, almond-scented cake concealing hot nuggets of sweet-sour plum. Like all my recent fruit-plus-cake experiments, this is really a cross between a cake and a hot pudding, and it's best eaten warm, on a cold night, in your bed, with lashings of cream or custard.  Or both.

Fresh-Plum and Almond Cake
The cake, before it's baked
Plums are in full glut in South Africa now, as they are every autumn, and so ridiculously cheap and luscious that I just can't resist buying them by the basketful.  I can rely on my kids to demolish most of the plums I buy, but there are often a few left-overs rolling around in the fruit bowl, getting softer, sweeter and juicier as they  begin to wrinkle.

Turfing them into a cake for my pudding-crazed family was all I could think of (although I had to make this cake twice before it was just right).

On the subject of 'inventing' a cake: someone emailed me the other day to ask how I make up cake recipes from scratch.  The answer?  Of course I bloody well don't:  I'm not a Delia or a Nigella (the verrry thought!), and I'm certainly not a natural baker. What I do is to take an existing cake recipe - and there are really only four or five good basic formulas for cake - and adapt it.  Most times I use a tried-and-tested recipe from my mum's hand-written cookbook (Jack's Granadilla Cake is a good example); sometimes I refer to my collection of vintage recipe books and pamphlets from the 50s and  60s, which are packed with precise and delicious cake recipes.  You can find books like these in heaps in second-hand bookshops and charity shops - nobody wants them any more.

Fresh-Plum and Almond Cake
This is a cake for eating in bed.
Before I give you this recipe, an interesting story about having a bitter taste in one's mouth.  No, I'm not annoyed or feeling sour!  Last week, as we were about to embark on a family camping trip, and bickering as we packed the car and made the padkos, my husband complained that his mouth was filled with a bitter, sour taste.  'I'm not surprised, given your attitude', I snarled, wrestling some sausages into a blikkie. 'Thanks for that, darling,' he growled, shoving the moth-eaten sleeping bags in the boot. 'You'll be so sorry when you find out I've got a brain tumour.'

By the time we were seated around a crackling campfire a few hours later, and with the help of some nice cold white wine and sizzling boerewors, we were all feeling less grumpy, but the bitter taste in Flip's mouth had worsened. No amount of tooth-brushing or rinsing or Coca-Cola-swigging helped, and the foul taste persisted for a full 48 hours. When we got back to Cape Town, he googled the problem, and an extraordinary culprit emerged.

Pine nuts. According to a recent report, eating pine nuts can leave a foul, acrid taste in your mouth for up to three days. This has been dubbed 'pine mouth', says the always-sensational Daily Mail: 'Increasing numbers of people have reported that after eating pine nuts, typically as a snack or in a pesto sauce, they have developed a foul, metallic taste in their mouth lasting for up to two weeks, making practically all food and drink unpalatable.'  

Postscript, February 2013:  Scientists have not yet figured out what chemical compound causes this foul taste; more about this in a 2012 report >  Cause Of Foul Pine Nut Taste Befuddles Scientists.

I was relieved, naturally, that there was no brain tumour (a 'brain tuna', my son called this when he was three), but I was also infuriated that my stash of extremely expensive pine nuts - which I'd hidden in a door compartment in the fridge - had been discovered and demolished.  I was tempted to bliksem him with a rolling pin - but, then again, I reckoned he'd suffered enough.  

It's only today that the bitter taste has finally disappeared. And this plum cake was the first thing that my beloved got to taste, after almost a week of  living with deadened tastebuds. He loved it - well, of course he would!

Fresh-Plum and Almond Cake

6 large ripe plums
2 cups (500 ml) white cake flour
2½ tsp (12.5 ml) baking powder 
a pinch of salt
180 g soft butter
1½ cups (375 ml) caster sugar
4 eggs
1 cup (250 ml) ground almonds
1 tsp (5 ml) almond extract, or essence
1 cup (250 ml) milk

To serve:
100 ml flaked almonds
icing sugar
whipped cream

Heat the oven to 160°C. Line the bottom of a 23-cm non-stick cake tin (preferably a spring-form tin) with a circle of greased baking paper.

Cut the plums in half, along their seams. Remove the pips, using the point of a sharp knife, and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt on to a plate. Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs, almonds, almond extract and milk into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Turn on the processor, and whizz the mixture together for a minute.  Now open the top of the food processor and tip in the sifted flour/baking powder/salt mixture. Whizz, on a high speed, for another minute.  Don't worry if the mixture looks slightly curdled: all will come right in the baking.

(If you don't have a food-processor, simply combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, using a large balloon whisk.)

Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin.  Press the halved plums, cut side up, into the batter. It doesn't matter how far you sink them in - they will all end up at the bottom of the pan.  Tap the cake tin sharply on the counter a few times to pop any air bubbles.  Place in an oven heated to 160°C and bake for an hour and twenty minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the sides of the tin, and an inserted skewer comes out dry.

In the meantime, put the flaked almonds into a dry frying pan and toast, over a medium heat, until they're just beginning to turn golden brown. (Or toast them on a baking sheet in a moderate oven.) Remove from the heat and set aside.

Take the cake out of the oven, allow to cool for five minutes, and then run a sharp knife around the edges of the tin to release the cake.  Invert the cake onto a plate, flip off the metal bottom of the cake tin, and peel off the baking powder.  Turn the cake the right side up again.  Put the icing sugar into a tea-strainer (or sieve), and generously dust the top of the cake with it.  Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the cake.

Serve warm, with whipped cream.

Makes one 22-cm cake. 

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Adele @ WillworkforBiltong said...

How extraordinary! Never heard of pine mouth. The poor man, that will teach him to eat all the pine nuts!

collin said...

Looks nice also seems to be interesting. I will try it out.

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Homemade Heaven said...

That is an extremely interesting fact about the pine nuts. At least you now know your nuts are safe from now.
I love this plum cake, will work really well today with this rain.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

I toast my pine nuts, put the in a lock and go container and hide them in the freezer!

Marisa said...

Have heard of pine mouth but thankfully not experienced it yet. Love your backstory on it. It's always nice to get a peek into other people's lives... ;-)

Great cake recipe too - the perfect thing for autumn.

Nina Timm said...

I love the contrast of the tart plums and the sweet almond cake....Perfect for this time of the year....

Anonymous said...

I had to giggle reading this post and what a lovely looking cake - it kindof oozes sunshine! Hope you find a way to get the pic onto the facebook page.

x Lana