Stroke of Brilliance
September 11, 2008
I hope I didn’t give you the impression that peaches were the only stone fruit for me. Because, in actuality, I love them all. Nectarines and plums have a special place in my heart right along side (fine, slightly below— but don’t tell) peaches. But I do have a bone to pick with all of them. Every time I see a recipe calling for stone fruits, I have a little silent (usually) conversation with the peaches-plums-pluots-what have you’s called for. It goes a little something like this:
“Stone fruits? Are you there? It’s me Kristin. I know I’ve loved you since I was a wee girl. I love your vibrant colors, your tart flavors and your juicy flesh. But, honestly? Those pits? They are the worst. The Worst. So awful in fact that I have looked at dozens of recipes that have called for halved and pitted stone fruit and I just move right along, saying no thank you, ma’am. The thing is, I can always halve you buggers. That’s not the problem. The problem is that one side slips away clean, with a neat little divot where the pit once was. But the other side? Well, that’s a different story. In that mean-spirited half, the pit remains firmly lodged in the fruit’s flesh. And it won’t budge. Won’t Budge. And you have no (to my knowledge) nifty tricks like your more meaty friend the avocado (the old whack your knife into the pit-twist-and-remove move; oh, and don’t forget to make sure not to lop off your other hand in the process!). So, near tears, I give up. Don’t you owe me a little more than this, dear stone fruits? After all we’ve been through together.”
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Well! The stone fruits finally heard my plea! They sent me a silent message, which hit me in the form of a stroke of brilliance. It was this: the grapefruit spoon! I’ll pause so you can absorb the full magnitude of the revolution that is unfolding before your very eyes.
Absorbed? K, good. So, it works like this: halve your stone fruit as usual—draw a sharp paring knife around the fruit in a full circle, cutting through the skin and flesh all the way to the pit; hold the fruit in both hands, one hand on each side of the incision you just made; twist the two sides of the fruit in opposite directions; tug gently to split the halves apart. That’s the easy part. Next, take the half that still holds the dratted pit. Using your grapefruit spoon, gently scoop out the pit, taking care not to take too much flesh right along with it. Presto! Abracadabra! Voila! You have a halved and pitted stone fruit!
Which means that you, like I, can now make any and every stone fruit recipe your heart desires. But hurry! Because the stone fruit season is very nearly over. But, hey, you can’t time a stroke of genius, now can you?
I promptly made the first stone fruit recipe that came into my hot little hands, post-stroke-of-brilliance. It just so happened to be this: Martha Stewart’s Upside Down Plum-Raspberry Cake. No matter that it would be the second upside-down cake on this site this week. It called for stone fruits! So, onward I went.
And the plums were a dream—halved and pitted, no problem, thanks to my trusty grapefruit spoon. The problem came when I slipped the cake into the oven, following Ms. Stewart’s instruction to set the springform pan on a baking sheet, “in case” there’s any leakage. Um, there was not just “any leakage.” There was A LOT of leakage. A lot of plum juice-stained, burnt caramel-smelling leakage—enough that I considered throwing the baking sheet out. So, when you make this, don’t skip that step. And, while you’re at it, line the baking sheet with foil or a silpat, so you too don’t think about throwing your pan away. You got it?
And, while I’m being bossy, you should make this, not only to try out the nifty new stone fruit pit-removal technique outlined herein, but also because it’s a delicious cake. Really delicious. So delicious in fact that my fruit-dessert-averse sister and my plums-are-gross husband both happily tucked into their slices and scraped their plates clean.
In the oven, the plums and raspberries soften and their flavors deepen and the cake that bakes above them looks unassuming, but it’s actually firm and rich and, due to my addition of ground cardamom, quite interesting. Once the cake is inverted, the juices from the fruits start to seep down into the cake, making it unbelievably moist and tender. So, yes, in sum: get your grapefruit spoon, get some plums and make this cake. Soon! Time is running out.
Plum & Raspberry Upside-Down Cake
Martha Stewart Living
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
6 medium plums, halved and pitted*
1/2 pint raspberries
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg**
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a round 8 1/2-inch by 2 1/2-inch springform pan; line with parchment paper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter; pour into pan. Using a sieve, sprinkle light-brown sugar evenly over the melted butter. Arrange plum halves cut side down on top of the brown sugar, squeezing in as many plums as possible to allow for shrinkage during baking. Fill in the gaps with raspberries; set aside.
Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg; set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the remaining 8 tablespoons butter and the sugar until light. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add half the flour mixture, and beat until combined. Beat in the sour cream. Beat in the remaining flour mixture.
Spoon cake batter on top of plums and raspberries, spreading evenly with a small spatula. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juices;*** transfer to the oven, and bake until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean, 60 to 70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, about 1 hour. Run a knife around edge of pan to loosen cake. Remove ring; invert onto a serving plate. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
* I selected what looked to be medium-sized plums from the bin at my market, but I needed more like 8 or 9 plums. So, it’d be wise to buy a couple extra—just in case.
** I swapped out the nutmeg for ground cardamom, which I think pairs very nicely with plums.
*** I had quite a bit of leaking juice. So, my advice is: do not skip this step and also consider lining your baking sheet for an easier clean up.