I wasn’t convinced by this cake, at first. It looked beautiful but my first slice was disappointing: too soft and too subtle to make any kind of impact. To be fair, I probably had unreasonably high expectations going in. It’s a Nigel Slater recipe, first and foremost, and Nigel seems to be universally revered throughout the food blogging world (e.g. see this post from Tea & Toast, this one from Spice Garden, or the entire blog, Letters to Nigel Slater). In fact, his reputation as the foodies foodie is so rock-solid that I can’t help feeling guilty, fraudulent and fundamentally incomplete because…I don’t own a single one of his books. There, I said it.
[The problem, if I can explain for a moment, is that my compulsive book-buying habits rarely extend to the purchase of brand new books. Second-hand bookstores are my favourite kind of haunt; I love the smell of old pages, the sight of books piled haphazardly on every surface, the sound of creaky floorboards, the hand-written signs, the slightly eccentric owners… But second-hand book-buying means that my collection grows haphazardly, driven by what happens to opportunistically find it’s way into my orbit. Although I have to wait for the cookbooks that everyone is talking about now, what’s not to love about finding classic Peter Gordon for $8, Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat for $4, or the iconic Moro for a measly $5! The thrill of unearthing such undervalued gems from amongst Women’s Weekly’s cookbooks from the ’70s and ten million soft-cover variations on Easy Italian/Chinese/Low-Fat Cuisine in 10/30/60 Minutes in Your Microwave, cannot be discounted. The problem is that I’ve never come across one of Nigel’s books. No-one wants to relinquish Nigel’s books – which is probably a sign that I should just suck it up and buy one already because they really are that good.]
This is a very long way of saying that I have no idea what Nigel himself said about this cake, so I can’t really blame him for my disappointment. However, he did originally call it a “Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon and Plums”; an eloquent description, which had put me in the mind of warm, gooey, velvety goodness. The photos on Tim’s blog, where I first saw the recipe, seemed to promise a dark, dense cake that looked like sticky gingerbread, and Molly, another kitchen god/dess I follow, had also waxed lyrical about it, saying: “it’s dark and very tender – damp, as I once heard Nigella Lawson say….This isn’t the kind of cake that you reserve for company; it’s a Tuesday-night sweet. It’s also a Wednesday-afternoon, coming-in-from-the-rain sweet. It is also, if you’re open to it, a totally reasonable breakfast. I don’t like to use the word perfect, because I am fickle, but I’ll say it here. I think this cake is perfect.” It was because of such pedigree and praise that I was prepared, and expecting, to be bowled over at first bite.
You know how some cakes just need a little time to develop, and how others are best eaten the day they are made? It’s hard to know which way a cake will go the first time around, but this is one that definitely benefits from an extra-long rest. Its dark, subtly spicy crumb needs 24 hours to deepen in flavour and densify in texture to live up to the luscious, pudding-like cake promised by Tim, Molly and probably Nigel. But when the time has passed, oh my, is it good! The three sugars provide a mellow, caramelly sweetness that takes me back to the golden-syrup steamed puddings of my childhood, but the cinnamon and plums lend a complexity and tartness that lift it right out of the nursery. It could be a pudding, served with cream or yoghurt, but it could just as easily be a mid-afternoon snack, eaten out of your hand while leaning against the kitchen bench. And it is this very thing that is crux of the matter: the real appeal of this cake is its ability to be simultaneously serious and comforting. Thank you Nigel; you are without doubt, a genius (…and I’ll buy a book really soon, I promise).
Plum and Cinnamon Cake
2 cups plain flour
1 slightly rounded tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup golden syrup
2 Tbsp mild runny honey
1/2 cup (90g) brown sugar, lightly packed
500g ripe plums
2 large eggs
1 cup full cream milk
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter and flour a 25cm spring-form cake tin and lay a circle of baking paper on the bottom.
Wash the plums then cut them in half, removing the stones. If the plums are large, cut them into quarters. Set aside while you prepare the batter.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon into a large bowl and stir briefly with a whisk to combine.
Warm the golden syrup, honey, and butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat until the butter melts. Stir in the brown sugar and set aside.
Break the eggs into a medium bowl, add the milk, and whisk together. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour the golden syrup mixture into the well, and gently stir with a large spoon or spatula. Pour in the egg and milk mixture, and continue stirring until you have a loose, runny batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Arrange the plums over the top, cut side up, nestling them gently into the batter until they are half submerged. Place the tin in the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the pan and cook for a further 15 minutes. Turn off the oven, but leave the cake inside for a further 15 minutes, then remove. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing from the tin.