Friday, July 31, 2009

plum kuchen

concave plum kuchen

I’ve been curious to make a yeasted coffee cake for years, but every time I got close to making one, I decided against it. Would it be dry or overly-firm? Would it taste too much like bread? How would I know a good one if I’ve probably never had an authentic German kuchen — a general name for a type of sweet, yeasted cake, usually served with coffee — one? I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: I’m a master at talking myself out of things.

glossy yeasted cake batter
doughy batter

But then I saw a plum kuchen in this month’s Gourmet magazine and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It called for whole milk yogurt, we had whole milk yogurt in the fridge. It called for plums, we’ve been buying them in multi-pound increments. It called for one and a quarter sticks of butter and like magic, I had exactly one a quarter sticks of butter left, and seriously, not a smidge more. I had run out of excuses.

plum armadillos
butter sugar and plum slices

[This does not, however, mean that I approached this recipe with even a modicum of common sense. After this weeks annoying interruptions I was bent on making this yesterday afternoon, despite the fact that I'd picked the wrong day and wrong time. "Pshah, it'll all work out fine" I told myself, leaving a 1.5 hour rise to go to a meeting that ended up running about 2 hours, panicking, frantically trying to hail a cab back at exactly 5 p.m. when, apparently, every taxi in NYC goes off-duty, in 90-thousand degree drenching humidity, visions of warm, overrisen dough spilling out over the pan, my counter and onto the floor agonizing in my head. A cabbie finally took pity on The Mega-Preggo in a Purple Dress, but spent the ride insisting that I was actually due in two weeks and not, say, the eight my doctor has estimated, gah, justshootmenow. Alas, I have digressed mightily again.]

concave plum kuchen

I returned home to a cake that had not committed some sort of batter hara kiri, and I was so relieved, I wanted to kiss it. Instead, however, I cranked up the new oven, and baked the heck out of it. And then, then I really wanted to kiss it because this kuchen is kitchen heaven. It is not dry. It is not dense. It does not taste like bread. And I have no idea if it is authentic, but I barely care: I cannot wait to wield this cake recipe to my next baking whim.

plum kuchen

One year ago: Blueberry Pancakes + Pancakes 101 and Huevos Rancheros

Plums, previously: Dimply Plum Cake

Plum Kuchen
Adapted, barely, from Gourmet

This yeasted cake is unbelievable: moist, light and with a complexity to its sweetness that most standard coffee cakes don’t have. Mine dipped a little when it baked, no doubt because it was left to rise almost an hour too long. That said, don’t skimp on the rising times — you want to get all of the lightness and height possible out of your dough.

Gourmet notes that this can be made with any stone fruit and that it tastes the best the first day. I don’t know, though, I had some that had been wrapped in foil in the fridge overnight and couldn’t find a thing not to like. Two days, however, might be pushing it.

Gourmet says it serves 8, but I cut mine into 16 squares

2 1/4 teaspoons or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105–110°F)
2 cups (267 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (18 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup sugar (220 grams), divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (124 grams) (preferably Greek-style, but I used regular yogurt and it worked just fine) at room temperature
1 large egg, warmed in shell in warm water five minutes
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 sticks (5 ounces or 142 grams) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened, divided
3/4 pound firm-ripe plums (about 4 small), halved and pitted

Stir together yeast and warm water in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)

Add two cups flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt, yogurt, egg, zest, and vanilla to yeast mixture and mix at medium-low speed 1 minute. Beat in one stick of the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Beat at medium speed until dough is smooth and shiny, about five minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.) Scrape down side of bowl and sprinkle dough with remaining two tablespoons flour. Cover bowl loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Spread remaining two tablespoons butter in bottom of an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Cut each plum half into five or six slices and arrange in one layer in pan. (I had quite a bit of extra plum slices to snack on, but my plums were also giants.)

Stir dough until flour is incorporated, then spread evenly over plums. Loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Bake until kuchen is golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan five minutes, then invert and unmold onto a rack to cool completely.

Serve with additional yogurt, lightly sweetened, or sweetened crème fraîche.


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