fruit cake

Not like, the gross, heavy, holiday fruit cake of December-times.  But a delicious, light, buttery tea cake dotted with fruit (plums, usually).

mmm cake.

Once again, this comes from attempting to use up the CSA's bounty--in this case the fruit share of the CSA.  The problem here, really, is that the man I married doesn't like warm or cooked fruit.  Because . . . um . . .  Ugh, forget it. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW ANYONE COULD NOT LIKE FRUIT DESSERTS. Specific kinds of fruit? Sure, not a problem. Hate on cherries all you want or whatever.  But ALL FRUIT desserts?  Ugh.  


And of course, the biggest little is ALSO not a fan of the fruit desserts.  I am holding out hope for the little one, still.


We had a ton of plums coming our way from the CSA, as per usual.  The biggest little won't eat them straight, and the littlest little only wanted whole plums (which, since these were the tiny sugar plums are like large cherries, with stones.  All kinds of choking hazards), and then would only take one bite.  Sigh. 

I ate a bunch, I gave a ton to our sitter, and then I did what I always do when faced with a cooking dilemma: searched Smitten Kitchen for "plums".  Let me tell you, Deb knows her cooked fruit desserts (BECAUSE SHE IS A SANE MEMBER OF SOCIETY, AHEM, FAMILY MEMBERS WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS.  Also one day I will post about the apple cake recipe from smitten kitchen, which SHOCKINGLY, JBB will eat). Because what I wound up making was this, purple plum torte.  

Originally published in the New York Times by Marion Burros, and then republished by popular demand in the fantastic and highly recommended New York Times Essential Cookbook (affiliate link), edited by the talented Amanda Hesser of Food52 amazingness, it's essentially a very simple butter tea cake (lighter than a pound cake), with halved plums popped on top and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  The plums sink, the cake rises, and you wind up with a delicious fruit-studded cake that is addictive, moist, and keeps REALLY well.  

Plus, to better to suit my needs? The amount of fruit is adaptable and the recipe is easily memorized. I am nothing if not lazy.  Too lazy to even look up a recipe more than once.

Don't they look so pretty? This isn't all of them.

And then. AND THEN.  Apricots showed up.  A lot of them. And I was flummoxed.  Because while I love dried apricots, they are not my most favorite fruit to eat out of hand.  The littlest little out and out rejected it with a big fat "NO," and a stomping off. I'm not a big jam maker, and while we did have a lot of apricots, we didn't quite have enough to warrant that sort of project.  And so they sat for a few days, slowing growing riper and riper, edging toward overripe. And if no one would eat them, they'd be wasted.


And so, with little left to lose, I figured I'd mess with perfection, and tweak the plum cake recipe.  Cause really, cake plus stone fruit, right?  I mean, I could imagine the cake with berries or peaches super easily.  Why not apricots?

But it called for a few more tweaks.  First, I was almost out of sugar, having made the cake a few times.  I did, however, have some leftover maple sugar that just wasn't getting used up.  Maple sugar to me often feels a bit sweeter than the equivalent amount of granulated sugar, so I eased off of the amount slightly.  

Lazy.  And handy!

Second, my previous plum cake was still cooling, and occupying my springform pan, so another pan needed to be found.  9" cake pan, lined with foil. Did I mention the cake freezes beautifully after baking, when wrapped in tin foil and popped into a ziploc? I was going to wrap the sucker up in the foil ANYWAY, so why not line the pan with it first, to make it easier to yank that sucker out of a regular cake pan and have the wrapping all ready to go right there?

(Yes, I did make two of these cakes one right after the other.  I had to finish up the rest of the plums, the mixer was out,  and the butter was already softened and room temp and I'm not about let THAT go to waste you monsters.  Plus the littlest little yelled at me because there was no cake and damnit, he wanted CAKE.  And trains.  And shiny things. And OOOH! A car! A car!  I digress...)

The process for the cake is quite simple, and though I used a kitchenaid, you don't need to use a mixer for it if you don't have one.  Just be sure your butter is room temp, to make things easier on your mixin' arm while creaming the sugar and butter.

First, the butter and sugar(s) are creamed together until light and fluffy.  Because the maple sugar is a bit grainer and slower to dissolve than regular granulated sugar, I followed a tip I picked up from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, and let the mixer go for a bit longer than normal to really allow the sugar to fully incorporate and dissolve into the butter.

action shot!

While the mixer is creaming things, measure out your dry ingredients--flour, baking powder and a giant pinch of salt.  I always like to measure my flour with a kitchen scale because a) it's more accurate, b) it's a ton easier to just scoop into a container that's easy to pour from until you hit a number on the scale, c) if you are measuring more than one thing, all you need to do is tare/zero out the scale, and continue measuring ALL IN THE SAME BOWL.  Once again, it all comes down to laziness. I weighed my dry ingredients into a glass measuring cup (which DO NOT measure dry ingredients with a measuring cup for liquids, you will be WAY off the amounts.  Unless you're using a scale), gave it a stir with a fork instead of sifting or whisking.

Add your eggs to the butter and sugar, mix until incorporated, dump in the dry ingredients and stir just til mixed. Dump batter into the pan, and arrange the fruit on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar--I used vanilla sugar cause why not?-- and a bit of lemon juice and into the oven it goes for 45 minutes or so.  Less than 15 minutes prep from the start of cutting the fruit. My kind of cake.

so pretty! pre-sprinkling with cinnamon sugar.

The actual recipe with amounts and the like is here:

Maple Apricot Tea Cake

a variation on the famous plum cake. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, The New York Times Essential Cookbook, and others.

  • 1 cup (125 g.) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 BIG pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons, or 1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1-2 teaspoons for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup maple sugar (brown sugar would also be great here--if using brown or white sugar, increase amount to 1/2 cup)
  • 2 eggs
  • 8-12 small apricots, halved and pitted. Or a little less than 1 pound fruit, halved.
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fetch a 9" springform pan, or if desired line a 9" pan (springform, per recipe, or regular cake pan) with foil. If using a regular cake pan, LINE THE PAN or you won't be able to get the cake out nicely. I sprayed with baking spray, just in case, but it's not necessary.

In a small bowl (or large measuring cup--see above) stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.  In a mixer, cream the softened butter and granulated and maple sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Lower the speed, and add in the eggs, mixing to incorporate.  

Stir in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated.  Give the batter a stir by hand, and scrape into prepared pan, smoothing the top.  Set the halved fruit, skin side up, on top of the batter.  Sprinkle the fruit with the cinnamon, then the reserved 1-2 tsp of sugar (if your fruit is tart or not fully ripe, use the larger amount), and then sprinkle the lemon juice on top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Aim for batter, not fruit when testing. Let cool completely in the pan, then remove.  

Better the second day, keeps well covered at room temp.  To freeze, wrap with foil and place in a gallon ziploc bag. 

Pavlova: is it the best dessert ever? (Hint: Yes. Yes, it is.)

pavlova my heart. (Also doesn't make sense, I know.)

pavlova my heart. (Also doesn't make sense, I know.)

I was totally going to have a dumb joke title like "pavlova, I hardly know ya!", but realized that made zero sense.

So i went with the slightly more hyperbolic, but far more accurate headline above. Cause let's face it, pavlova is the shit

Named after the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, and thought to be created in her honor during one of her tours of Australia (or New Zealand) in the 1920s, it's a meringue shell, topped with whipped cream and fruit. Traditionally the fruit is some combination of strawberries, passion fruit, kiwis, bananas. The meringue isn't your regular crispy meringue either; it's crispy on the outside and marshmallowy and pillowy on the inside (thanks to vinegar and cornstarch).

This year, there were a billion folks at my mom'parents house for their super laid back easter festivities (featuring the oddly competitive easter egg hunt), and I was on dessert duty. Now, I am not a massive fan of cake, much preferring the pie-style for desserts (don't get me wrong. I am not ever turning down cake), but I also figured something a bit lighter might do well after stuffing our gaping maws with mac and cheese and ham and crescent rolls and candy. Thus, pavlova.

Despite looking delicate, it's actually a great dish to bring to a party, so long as you can protect your meringue from transit, small children, and nibblers. Just bring the fruit and cream separate, and assemble there. I figured if mine didn't survive, it's wind up as some impromptu Eton Mess (crumbled meringues, whipped cream, berries, served in a dish).

Choosing the fruit was easy: mixed berries all the way, passion fruit not just because it's traditional but because i love it. And no bananas or kiwis because enough was enough. Though i did as lemon curd because who doesn't like lemon curd? People who are dead inside, that's who.

Fairway totally let me down on the passion fruit front, but at least they had frozen passion fruit pulp. (by Goya, oh boy-a! And now I have totally dated myself. Whatevs. I'm old.) 

I didn't have the one true recipe for pavlova, so i read through a few, and cobbled together one that I'm pretty happy with, all told. 

This makes a big pavlova, about 10" across, but can also be used to make individual ones by doing little meringue nests instead of one big one, or reduced by taking down the number of egg whites.  A few notes on whipping egg whites: the bowl and whisk must be totally clean, with no grease or the whites won't whip. And even a tiny drop of yolk in the whites will make the whipping fail. So separate carefully. (Whipping cream is easier, just keep it all very cold.

here it 'tis, with inspiration and adapted from Ina Garten, Martha Stewart (technically Geoffrey Rush's recipe), Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and The Kitchn.


Serves 8 to 10


  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp plain white vinegar 
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Pinch salt


  • 8 oz heavy or whipping cream, very cold
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 cups fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries, passion fruit pulp
  • Jarred lemon curd (optional), I get mine at trader joes

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trace a circle into parchment paper using a plate or a mixing bowl. Flip the parchment over onto a baking sheet (so you don't have a graphite meringue). 
  • If your parchment is super curly, crumple it up then smooth it out first.
 "pencil on parchment", 2015

 "pencil on parchment", 2015

  • If your parchment is super curly, crumple it up then smooth it out first.
  • Separate your eggs: use three bowls for this. One for cracking each egg into and separating over, one for transferring the clean whites to, and one for yolks. Trust, the worst thing is fucking the whole shebang up with yolk in the whites on egg number six. So do each egg over the little bowl first, so if you mess up the separating on one, you don't have to start from square one. There are lots of egg separating gadgets out there, and they are all a waste of money. Just use your (clean) hands to hold the yolk while keeping the white drain through. Done.
sometimes the best tool is you.

sometimes the best tool is you.

  • Put the egg whites into the bowl of a mixer (or a large bowl if you are using a hands mixer). Add vinegar and salt to the egg whites, and beat on high until the eggs are light and fluffy, and when you raise the beater you have soft peaks (they slump over on themselves).

action shot of meringue!

action shot of meringue!

  • While the mixer is running, add the sugar little by little, and sprinkle in the cornstarch in. Keep beating until the whites are stuff and glossy, and hold stiff peaks (no slumping). Don't overbeat or they'll get grainy. Stir in vanilla.
Stiff peaks (that's what she said)

Stiff peaks (that's what she said)

  • Mound your meringue into the center of the circle on the parchment paper, and use a spatula to nudge it to the edges, creating a shallow nest in the center to hold the cream and fruit.
ready to bake, low and slow

ready to bake, low and slow

  • Put into oven and immdiately turn the heat down to 225 degrees (or 250). Bake a large pavlova 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn off oven and let cool completely in closed oven. (Don't open the door while cooking or cooling.) Bake individual pavlovas about 50 minutes before turning off the oven and letting cool completely. You can even leave that sucker in the shut oven overnight.
  • The meringue should be crispy on the outside and may possibly be a very pale gold. Use a big spatula to help you transfer the meringue off the parchment and on to a serving platter. It's pretty fragile, but it's OK if it cracks. Just reassemble it as much as possible on the platter. Be gentle and don't try to pick it up by the edges or something.
  • If you aren't topping and eating the pavlova that day, wrap the whole thing, platter and all in plastic and keep it OUT of the fridge.
  • When you  are ready to top it, Wash and slice your fruit. Defrost the passion fruit pulp if you're using it.  Whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla together with a mixer (hand or stand), until it's softly whipped. Don't go for the super stiff whipped cream, you want dollops like clouds.
like a cloud. A delicious cloud.

like a cloud. A delicious cloud.

  • Assemble the pavlova: I plopped some lemon curd onto the meringue shell, then covered that with the whipped cream, leaving a border of meringue. Pile on the fruit, then drizzle the passion fruit pulp (which was more like passion fruit liquid) over top.  Slice like a cake and eat.
right before we ate it all.

right before we ate it all.


  • If it totally crumbles while you are transferring, make Eton mess by layering the meringue pieces with whipped cream and fruit.
  • Individual pavlovas work beautifully and while slightly less impressive looking are more sturdy to transfer.
  • Sppoedly you can make the meringue well ahead, wrap well in plastic, and freeze for about two weeks. I've never frozen meringue before, so if you try it and it works, please tell me.
  • A topped pavlova will get soggy if left too long, and if it's humid your meringue might not be the crispest or may begin to weep sugar beads.