My dad’s parents lived five blocks away from the time I was five on. My grandpa still lives there, as do my parents. There were benefits to having my grandma so close. One benefit is that she would bring me coffee from a very young age. Neither of my parents drink coffee, but I’d developed a taste for it at the age of 2, when “Mama” let me try hers. She was always good for a cup.
Another benefit of having her close came in the form of warm food gifts: baked, bundled and dropped off via bicycle at our house, still steaming and warm. This never got old. I never got tired of apfelkrapfen (a sliced apple, dipped in batter and fried), nor the kugelhopf, the fasnachts, the cookies. Don’t even get me started on the cookies. It was always a good day when she came down the street, basket packed with warm goodies, her hair in a bun and covered with a babushka.
This is one of those recipes. It marked the start of the fall season. Zwetschgenkuchen. Zwetschgen for plum; kuchen for cake. Plum cake starts with warm milk. I put mine in the microwave for a minute. This seems to work for my microwave. Be sure not to let it scald or be too hot. You’re looking for around 110° F, a bit too hot for bath water, nowhere near hot enough to burn your skin.
After stirring in a pinch of sugar, I sprinkle the yeast across the top and wait. Five minutes later, it should start to get frothy. I give it one more gentle stir to make sure all the particles are wet and moistened. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and let it cool. Then lightly beat in two eggs and the melted butter. Then I move to the dry ingredients.
Sift your regular, old, everyday all-purpose, sugar and a pinch of salt into a bowl.
Now we add the egg mixture. I like to make a bit of a well in the flour so it’s the flour that sticks to the dough and not to wherever the bowl got wet. That’s just me, though.
And mix. The dough will be very sticky, so a fork should be able to do the trick. You could also use a spoon. I would not use your hands. You will be covered in goo. I have plenty of recipes that require hand mixing and getting in there up to your elbows. This is not one of them. When you’ve incorporated all the wet and dry together, dump it out onto a floured surface.
And knead it just until you get a ball. Then place your ball of doughy goodness into a greased bowl. Cover it and stick it in a warm place. Now, forget about it for an hour.
These are Italian or blue plums. They are only available in the late summer, early fall. They are essential…or not. You can substitute a different plum variety if you so choose. You could even, gasp, top it all with apples and streusel and make an apflekuchen. Mmm.
Whatever fruit you decide to use, you want to cut it before placing it on there. My grandma used to fill the pan with plum halves. She’d then cut slices with two halves per slice. It’s the way she did it. It’s the way my family expects it to look.
An hour later, your dough should look like this. Okay. Maybe not exactly like this. If you use a large enough bowl, it probably won’t billow out the top the way mine did.
Again, roll it into a ball, and then roll it out with the rolling pin of your choosing.
So that it can be slid onto a baking sheet such as this.
Poke plenty of holes to prevent over puffage of the dough.
And arrange your plums as you see fit. In nice little rows, perhaps, dotted with butter. Pure butter.
And because I was being rebellious, I tried slicing up a few plums further and dumping them on top in no particular order. It represents the disorder I’m currently feeling as I sit in my living room, surrounded by chores and tasks and work. Let it sit this way for 15 minutes as your oven preheats (400°, please).
And when you pull it out of the oven, the plums should be glossy and start to run, leaving purplish imprints on the dough, and the dough should be golden brown. Then sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar. And eat it all before anyone takes another picture. Mama’s goods are always a fast sell in my parents’ house.