One of the cool things about living in China is that you are much more aware of the seasonal cycles of fruits and vegetables. Other than a few staple vegetables that you can get throughout the year (cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and chilies), everything else is only available seasonally.
It is quite a change from being able to go to a big supermarket back in Toronto, and get anything you want, anytime you want. Of course, we follow the seasons in Canada too – but just not to the same extent (it would be impossible given that our growing season lasts about 4 weeks…just kidding…sort of).
Now, for instance, beautiful dark purple plums are in season in Xiamen, and are selling for less than a dollar a kilogram. They are delicious just fresh – sweet and juicy – practically a drink in a fruit, but they are so plentiful that in honour of autumn I wanted to bake something with them.
When we were in Germany, Ilse, Chris’ aunt, had taught me how to make Zwetschen Kuchen, a plum cake made with a yeasted dough. I was short on time, however, so instead of making the yeast cake, I turned to a simple buttermilk cake recipe from Gourmet. I lined a cake pan with sliced plums, dumped the batter on top, and voilà! A lovely upside-down plum cake was born!
The cake was a little bit like a tart, with its thick layer of plums, a bit like a pudding with the juicy plums soaking slightly into the eggy, buttermilky cake, and quite a bit like a delicious, fruity cake. It was, I think, one of the sexiest cakes I’ve ever made.
And then we ate it.
Upside-Down Plum Cake
Buttermilk cake batter adapted from Gourmet
4-5 medium plums, thinly sliced
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ stick (or ¼ of our Chinese blocks) of butter, softened
¾ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
Grease an 8-inch cake pan and preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.
In another bowl, cream the butter and ¾ cup of sugar together, then add the vanilla extract and egg and whisk till smooth. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir until just combined.
Add an extra 2 tablespoons or so of extra butter at the bottom of the pan, and sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar. Arrange the plum slices on top. Scrape the buttermilk cake batter onto the plum slices and smooth. Bake for around 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes, then carefully invert onto plate. If any fruit sticks onto the cake pan, just stick it right back on to the cake (you might want to try lining the cake pan with a round of parchment paper to avoid this…that is what I might do next time). Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Notes: I like my plums pretty tart, but if you have rather unripe plums, or you like them sweeter, add some more sugar in the bottom of the pan before you lay the plums over it. Also, you can make your own buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to half a cup of milk and waiting a few minutes until it gets thick and creamy. Thanks to Smitten Kitchen for this tip.