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We are still finding plump black plums, dusky purple Italian plums and mottled red-pink pluots at the Saturday farmers’ market. I can’t stop buying them– I know when the market packs up for the season in a few weeks, I will have to face a winter without stone fruit. So, I dutifully choose a dozen or so every week, sometimes more, to have with our breakfasts and lunches. Inevitably, I overbuy, and find a few soft specimens in the bowl on Saturday morning… ripe ripe ripe. When that happens, I often make this plum cake, spiced gently with Chinese five spice powder.

The cake honestly couldn’t be simpler. I mix it by hand, no appliances needed, and it takes all of two minutes. At first glance, you might wonder if it will be enough batter to make a whole cake… it is. The basic cake base is welcome as a vehicle for the sweet-tart flavor and bright color of your plums. When using Italian plums, halve them lengthwise and pull out the pit; for red or black plums, I favor fat quarters or thirds, as pictured below. No peeling required. I use five spice powder because it just seems destined to be matched with ripe plums, in both sweet and savory dishes. Truthfully, the same amount of cinnamon or ground cardamom will work just as well. The raw sugar topping is optional, but it gives a very nice dimension and light crispiness to the top layer.

And so, with minimal effort, you can transform those very ripe plums into a sweet little tea cake, perfect as a snack with your cuppa, not out of bounds for brunch. It is pretty enough to deliver as a housewarming gift, quick enough for tomorrow’s bake sale. Go to the market, get some luscious plums while you can, and make sure to buy a few extra so you can make a plum cake with Chinese five spice.

plum cake with Chinese five spice

Plum Cake with Chinese Five Spice

  • 8 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 lb. (about 3 large) plums, black or red, pitted and quartered or sliced OR 1 lb. Italian prune plums, pitted and halved
  • 1/4 tsp. Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 T. raw sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 10″ springform cake pan.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the softened butter and 2/3 c. sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the eggs, then the vanilla. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder; add to the butter mixture and stir just until combined. Turn the batter out into your prepared pan and spread into an even layer. It doesn’t look like much batter, but it’s enough.

Place the plums, cut side down, in concentric circles on top of the batter. Sprinkle with the five spice powder, then with raw sugar, if using.

plum cake, before baking

Bake for 40 mins., until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 30 mins. before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftover cake will keep, tightly covered, for 2-3 days.

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