Last night I attended the book launch, at Schumacher College, of Julian Ponsonby’s new book Gaia’s Feasts. It contains many of the recipes used in the College’s kitchen, which, as anyone who has ever eaten there will know, produces incredible meals on a daily basis, strongly rooted in local, seasonal and organic food. One of the recipes is called ‘Transition Plum and Almond Cake’, and I thought, as you might be about to spend the weekend harvesting plums, that you might enjoy it. Gives “Making Space for Nature” a new twist. Here is the recipe from the book. Over to Julia …
“In 2007, Transition Town Totnes (TTT) – mother of the Transition movement – celebrated its first anniversary. Tamzin Pinkerton, author of the Transition book Local Food, asked me to make a cake for the birthday party. Clearly a cake for a movement that aims at promoting local resilience to external change – through seed-swaps, farmers’ markets, food hubs and by planting nut trees, etc., etc., would have to have a locally inspired cake . . .
Well, the plums were dripping off the plum tree in the Old Postern garden, and Riverford Dairy’s delicious double cream was calling fatteningly from the fridge. The chickens were laying in the long grass at School Farm. And nuts – the recipe had to include nuts, even if the newly planted Totnes nut trees were still too young to produce any . . .
1 medium round sandwich cake (serves 10)
(2 x 23cm / 9″ shallow cake tins)
175g (6oz / 1½ sticks) butter, softened
175g (6oz / 1 cup) golden granulated sugar
+ 1 tbsp extra for topping
110g (4oz / 1 scant cup) white flour
2 tbsp polenta + 1 tbsp extra for topping
85g (3oz / ¾ cup) ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 good pinch salt
approx. 2 tbsp milk
approx. 3 tbsp flaked almonds
250g (9oz) fresh plums
100g (4oz / ½ cup) plum jam
250ml (9fl oz / 1 cup) whipping or double cream
(The book also includes the measurements for making this cake to feed 30 people)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F / Gas Mark 4). Grease and line the tins with baking parchment.
2. Cream together the softened butter and sugar, then stir in the eggs, one or two at a time.
3. Mix together the flour, polenta, ground almonds, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Fold this into the creamed mixture with a little milk to get a soft dropping consistency.
4. Spread half the mixture into one tin. Then spread half the remaining mixture into the other tin – leaving a quarter of the total mixture still in the bowl for later: this means that the batter in one of the tins will be half the thickness of the other. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
5. While the cake is cooking, halve the plums lengthways and remove the stones. Cutting along the dimple of the plum allows you to find the stone lying flat and easier to remove, especially if using ‘free stone’ plums.
6. Remove the thinner cake from the oven when it is just set but scarcely browned at all (about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size). Spread the remaining cake mixture on top of this, then scatter with the flaked almonds and a little polenta before laying the halved plums on top, cut-side down. (The flaked almonds help to take the weight of the plums while the polenta absorbs juices.) Scatter meagrely with granulated sugar and return to the oven to finish baking. Your other cake may be done by now!
7. When the cakes are ready, they should be well risen and golden-brown – a knife or skewer should come out moist but clear of any cake mix.
8. Allow the cake with the plums on to cool in the tin. The other cake may be cooled on a wire cooling rack. Once the plummy cake is completely cool, loosen it around the edge, cover with either a clean cloth or bubble wrap (to cushion the plums) and invert it carefully on to a tray, rip off the baking parchment and then quickly turn the cake back again on to another board or cooling rack.
9. When the cakes are completely cool, place the plain one on a plate or chopping board. Spread liberally with plum jam, followed by a generous layer of whipped cream. Carefully lift the cake with the baked-in plums, and plant it gently on top of the cream. If making the larger version, ask someone to help you lift it using spatulas inserted under each end.
10. The plum and almond cake is now ready – though you may wish to streak a few iconoclastic jet-trails of melted chocolate over the top, as I often do – not local, but rather delicious and really puts into perspective where our cultural food journey has got to… !
You can order your copy of Gaia’s Kitchen here.