Purple prose: Celebrating -- yum! -- the plum

For some people, the fruit of fall is the apple, but this time of year always makes me hunger for plums. I've been buying a lot of them from my farmer friend Frank Zibritosky, including damson plums, which are for cooking rather than eating. Last weekend, I once again used a bunch to start some batches of Plum Vodka, which I'll let sit until at least next fall. I've also used some of these delicious damsons to make refrigerator jam, the first batch of which didn't last more than a few days because I ate most of it.

Another person who appears to be really into plums is John Barricelli. The owner of the SoNo Baking Company & Cafe in Norwalk, Conn., he has a fabulous new cookbook, "The Seasonal Baker: Easy Recipes from My Home Kitchen to Make Year-Round."

One that had me salivating: Warm Hazelnut Shortcakes with Sauteed Plums. Served warm with cold whipped cream, this dessert not only sounds delicious, but also has a great story: Mr. Barricelli writes about how it's so good that it got him fired as Martha Stewart's commissary chef -- because staffers were getting too fat.

Below are two other of his plum recipes I've tried and loved. I'm looking forward to making more out of this great book, even if while keeping an eye on the numbers on the scale.

Elenore's Plum Cake

PG tested

"This soft, light, buttery German-style plum cake is a great, easy recipe from my German-born mother-in- law," writes John Barricelli, owner of the SoNo Baking Company & Cafe in South Norwalk, Conn. "While it bakes, the batter billows up around the tart fruit. The plums melt into the sweet batter and color it a beautiful shade of pink-purple.

"The cake is particularly good warm, although my family has no problem polishing it off at room temperature either. It's very nice for a weekend breakfast, an afternoon snack or as dessert. It's incredibly simple to make and tastes fantastic."

Mr. Barricelli notes in an accompanying tip: "One of the great things about baking with Pyrex is that you can peek through the glass to see when the cake is well browned on the sides and bottom, as well as on the top."

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 pounds (5 to 6 large) black plums, halved and pitted, each half cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Set the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch Pyrex baking dish.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with 1 cup of the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Turn the mixer to low speed. Add the flour mixture and beat until the flour is absorbed.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Arrange a line of plum wedges along one side, skin sides down, and press gently to settle them. Arrange another line of plum wedges right next to and touching the first. Continue to use up the plums and cover the batter.

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle the mixture over the plums. Place the cake on a baking sheet and bake, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the top is golden brown, the plums are tender and bubbling, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 70 to 75 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes. Cut into 9 squares to serve warm, or let cool completely.

Makes 1 8-by-8-inch cake; serves 9.

-- "The Seasonal Baker: Easy Recipes from My Home Kitchen to Make Year-Round" by John Barricelli. (Crown, 2012, $35)

Apricot-Plum "Pizza" with Pistachio Frangipane

PG tested

I made this sorta black-and-gold recipe for our street's Steelers-game block party using Italian prune plums from Dillner Family Farm along with canned apricots, which John Barricelli says are "a fine substitute" for fresh ones, which are in season earlier. "If substituting other, larger plum varieties for the Italian prune plums," he writes, "quarter them."

His SoNo bakery sells big sheet pans of this dessert pizza at the local farmers market in the fall. I used a slightly bigger pan than called for and needed more fruit to fill out my tart, but otherwise, it turned out beautifully.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 1 recipe Pate Brisee (recipe follows), chilled
For the Pistachio Cream
  • 1/2 cup pistachios (or 10 tablespoons pistachio flour)
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
For pizza
  • 2/3 cup apricot jam, heated, strained, and cooled, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh plums (preferably Italian prune plums), halved and pitted (cut into 1/2-inch slices each, if not Italian)

12 fresh or canned apricots, halved and pitted

2 tablespoons sanding sugar, for sprinkling (I used regular granulated sugar)

In a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 14-by-12-inch rectangle, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Roll the dough up around the rolling pin and transfer to an 8 1/2-by-12-inch rimmed baking sheet. Trim the dough as necessary to about 1/2 inch above the rim of the pan. Crimp the edges. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

To make the pistachio cream: In a food processor, pulse the pistachios with the granulated sugar and salt until finely ground, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the butter and process to blend.

Add the eggs, processing until blended and scraping the bowl after each addition. Add the almond extract and then the flour and process until combined.

Set the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Use an offset spatula to spread the pizza shell with 1/3 cup of the apricot jam. Spread the pistachio cream on top of the jam. Arrange a line of apricot halves, cut side up, on top of the cream, along 1 short side of the shell. Press gently to settle the fruit.

Arrange a line of plum halves, cut side up, next to and touching the plum halves. Continue with a row of apricots and then another row of plums until the shell is completely filled; there will be four rows of apricots and three rows of plums. Sprinkle all over with sanding sugar.

Bake, rotating the pizza about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the crust is cooked through and golden brown and the pistachio cream is puffed and a rich golden brown color, 55 to 60 minutes. Wrap the edges of the crust in aluminum foil if it browns too much.

Transfer to a wire rack.

While the pizza is still warm, in a small saucepan, warm the remaining 1/3 cup apricot jam over low heat until liquid. Brush the top of the pizza lightly with more jam to seal the fruit and give the tart a nice shine. Allow the pizza to cool completely.

Cut the pizza into 12 3-inch squares to serve.

-- "The Seasonal Baker: Easy Recipes from My Home Kitchen to Make Year-Round" by John Barricelli. (Crown, 2012, $35)

Pate Brisee

Makes enough for 1 of these pizzas, 1 double-crust pie or 2 single-crust 9-inch pies. To make ice water, combine 1/4 cup water and 1 or 2 ice cubes in a bowl and let stand for 5 minutes to chill the water. Remove the ice.

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with visible, chickpea-size bits of butter, about 10 seconds.

With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube, a little bit at a time, until everything is moistened and the dough begins to clump together but has not yet formed a ball. You will see unincorporated bits of butter. If the dough is too dry and does not hold together, add a little more water.

Scoop about half of the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, shape into a flattened disk, and wrap in the plastic. Do the same for the other half.

Chill for at least 1 hour before using.

-- "The Seasonal Baker: Easy Recipes from My Home Kitchen to Make Year-Round" by John Barricelli (Crown, 2012, $35)

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.


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