Sunday, August 06, 2006

Everybody Must Get Stoned**

This time of year, our kitchen table fruit bowl brims with juicy stone fruit specimens--peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots--and my favorite--the pluot. The first week I lived in California, J introduced me to this hybrid and I was charmed. 2/3 plum, 1/3 apricot (2/3 apricot, 1/3 plum is an aprium), created by cross-pollination, the pluot resembles a plum, but has a sweeter flavor without the tartness of the typical plum peel. Of course, since it was created in the late 20th century, both fruit names are copyrighted. Ah, corporate farming.

Ripe, high-quality stone fruit tastes fabulous out of hand, but bake it in a little brown sugar and butter, and you have an equally good treat (if not better when your fruits are bit underripe). Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times printed a recipe for Plum Upside-Down Cake, and it's become a summer staple, though I use a mix of plums and pluots. The original has a few putzy steps that I've adjusted, making this a dessert you can whip up whenever the craving hits.

Plum and Pluot Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from the Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2004)

1/2 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 to 8 ripe plums and pluots (or peaches or nectarines)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut one-fourth cup butter into pieces and add it to a small saucepan or skillet. Heat over medium heat until the butter browns but does not burn. Pour the browned butter into a small bowl and refrigerate until the butter solidifies.

In a small bowl, mix the milk and vanilla. Set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in a small skillet. Remove it from the heat and add the brown sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-2-inch buttered cake pan, evenly coating the bottom of the pan.

To cut the plums in half, cut the fruit along its circumference through to the pit. Then, holding each 1/2 in one hand, twist gently but firmly until the top half comes off. Remove the pit from the bottom half, then cut each piece into 3 or 4 slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer of concentric circles, beginning at the outside edge of the pan, so they are touching but not overlapping. Cover the bottom of the pan, then arrange a second layer of fruit on top. Set aside while preparing the cake batter.

Beat the cooled browned butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg until blended.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder.

Fold the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture alternately with the vanilla milk.

Gently spoon the batter over the top of the sliced plums in the cake pan. Spread the batter over the fruit so all the fruit is covered and the batter is distributed to the sides of the pan.

Bake until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it stand for a few minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cake to loosen the edges. Put a serving plate on top of the cake and invert. Carefully remove the baking pan from the cake. Serve warm. Alternately, you can leave the cake in the pan and serve the upside-down cake right side up.

**I don't think Bob Dylan had peaches, plums and pluots in mind when he wrote the song that titles this post, but in my relatively straight-laced household, stone fruits will have to do.

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