plum kuchen

pflaumen kuchen: das ist gut ::::

I was recently shopping for a birthday present for a friend’s daughter. While Grub and I squealed at the adorable Zhu Zhu hamsters, marveled at the infinitely surprised but harmonious Sing-a-ma-jigs, and almost had the pee scared out of me when the motion-activated automatons barked, meowed, and helloed simultaneously when I turned a corner, it was chattering electronic squirrel that won out. I headed for the gift wrap aisle and headed to the check-out lanes to pay. The cashier carefully placed my items in a bag, taking extra care to place the tissue paper on top.

“I don’t want to crinkle it,” she explained, the first thing she had said to me since the start of the transaction.

I waved her off. “No worries,” I replied. “It’s going to get crinkled anyway.”

She stopped for a minute as my receipt printed out, suddenly in a different world. “I like the word ‘crinkle’,” she said dreamily. “It sounds like ‘twinkle’.”

There was a pause as I awkwardly smiled, unclear on why she shared this observation with me. Me, a customer buying a simple birthday gift and its wrappings, other people eagerly waiting in line behind me to pay for their goods, checking their iPhone clocks, jingling keys. She snapped out of her reverie with a little embarrassed smile and small exhale, handed me my receipt, and I walked away. Strangely, I kept thinking of her comment. We all do what she did: a comparison of sounds, smells, or funny stories when something in our present tickles those memories tucked away, bringing them to surface again, sliding us into our own private reveries. We see a girl in a pink plaid dress and are reminded of our favorite childhood outfit. You may taste a friend’s chocolate birthday cake and remember your mother’s.

I found myself doing the same thing two days ago at the grocery store, though not turning to the stranger next to me and announcing it, when I saw a fruit called a “cherum.” It is a sweet purple plum with hints of cherry, still wrapped in a plum’s tight skin. My first thought was of angels, seraphim and cherubim. To me, the rosy, plump cherums reminded me of rosy, plump cherubim, but without the doe eyes and wings.

After I plucked up my angelic-sounding plums, I pondered on their potential without debate. The delicate glistening pink glow of plum kuchen appears in so many cookbooks. My cherums’ destiny was to contribute to that aurora in my kitchen, lighting the way to breakfast.


I read the recipe carefully, noting that if the first step did not work, it was recommended that I must start over. Warm water and yeast = foamy. Accomplished. But letting the dough rise until doubled for almost two hours in Step Two? Didn’t happen. Convinced that the yeasty foaming in Step One was perhaps imagined (Were they just teeny bubbles? Could I really call it foam? Or was it more like froth? Or suds?) and that I had a dubious definition of foam, I stopped. I almost threw the whole lot away. What if I subjected those perfect cherums to a flat, dense NON-RISING cake dough, smashing them up into the pan bottom like policeman shoving a perp into the pavement, handcuffs snapped on, gravel in the ears?

So I balked. I saved my dear cherums and put the dough in the oven, alone, plum-less, without a rosy tinge, no pinkish hue and waited for the results. It rose! Like a light cloud! It rose! Plum-less it was, but still reminiscent of a wonderfully moist simple coffee cake. My docile cherums waited for their task, ready to embark on job to glorify and praise a moist, lovely cake batter.


And yesterday, they did. The tartness of the plums with the moist, sweet cake is a wonderful contrast and excellent for breakfast or dessert. The lemon, just that little scratch, creates a subtle eddy of citrus, taking the cake to another level. Despite the yeasted coffee cake label, it doesn’t taste one bit yeasty. After numerous pieces and thumbs-up from the family, there is still some pink glowing from the kuchen, each half-moon of plum, like a curved sunrise. Some twinkling, even. Better than a ‘crinkly’ plum kuchen.


plum kuchen
Recipe type: breakfast
  • 2¼ teaspoons or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water (105–110 degrees F)
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt (at least 2% fat)
  • 1 large egg, warmed in shell in warm water five minutes
  • 1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest (don't skip this!)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1¼ sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened, divided
  • ¾ pound firm-ripe plums (or cherums) (about 4 or 5 small), halved and pitted
  1. Stir together yeast and warm water in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. (The original recipe recommends if mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)
  2. Add 2 cups flour, ⅔ cup sugar, salt, yogurt, egg, zest, and vanilla to yeast mixture and mix at medium-low speed 1 minute. Beat in one stick of the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Beat at medium speed until dough is smooth and shiny, about five minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.) Scrape down side of bowl and sprinkle dough with remaining two tablespoons flour. Cover bowl loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1½ to 2 hours.*
  3. Spread remaining two tablespoons butter in bottom of an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan (I used an 8x8) and sprinkle with remaining ⅓ cup sugar. Cut each plum half into six slices and arrange in one layer in pan.**
  4. Stir dough until flour is incorporated, then spread evenly over plums. Loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until almost doubled, about 1½ hours.***
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F with oven rack in middle. Bake until kuchen is golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes (mine took 30 minutes). Cool in pan five minutes, then invert and unmold onto a rack to cool completely.****
  6. Serve with additional yogurt, lightly sweetened, or sweetened crème fraîche. I liked the cake without any additions, but also tried it with yogurt and sweetened almond pulp. Magnificent.
* Mine did not double. It barely did anything. I had a warm kitchen, a plastic wrap and a towel atop the bowl, and a tea towel wrapped around the bowl. So I balked. Balked! I baked it without the plums the first time: just a sprinkle of cinnamon. It puffed marvelously in the oven and it tasted like a moist, buttery coffee cake, without being heavy. Second time around (the next morning): not much action again. Since my yeast-water mixture foamed both times, and the cake baked up fine on the non-plum version, I figured I'd be okay the second go-round. It was perfect. ** I had extra, especially since I decided the plum "heels" weren't cake-worthy. Grub and I ate them. *** A little more rise noted here on the plum version. But still it still did not double until I got it into the oven and poof!, like magic. **** Yeah, easier said than done. I gave it exactly 5 minutes, flipped the pan over, and the kuchen wouldn't budge. After waiting a little longer and thwacking the pan a few times, then it released. A few plum slices dislodged from their bed of cake crumb, which were easily tucked back into place. I almost lined the pan with parchment, because I feared cake release would be difficult, but held back because I thought it might affect how the plums cooked into the cake.


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