Sugar peaks and plum valley

I seem to have developed a taste for bargain hunting when it comes to fruit, a trait no doubt inherited from the parentals. Nature, nurture, I had it coming from all directions. Half Scottish, you know. After spying and nabbing a good-size bag of Italian plums the other day, I hightailed it home with my loot, visions of Mom's Italian Plum Cake* already dancing in my head.

One problem: I've got the plums, but Mom's got the recipe. By 5:00 pm, I had convinced myself that my parents would be awake (even if they weren't, they'd never admit it) and more than eager to search the family recipe. After all, the baking can't stop just because some people are 9 hours behind in their day.

Hearing the recipe dictated out loud, it quickly became clear why I have such fond memories of this cake. Not one, not two, but three types of sugar! Before you report me to the sugar police, however, keep in mind that the tartness of the plum skins brings balance to the flavour and keeps the sugar high (mostly) in check.

As it bakes, the cake puffs and browns around the pockets of juicy plum flesh, creating a series of peaks and valleys. Sugar Peaks and Plum Valley -- sounds like the name of a suburban housing development, non? You laugh, but I grew up on Berry Street.

* Mom's not Italian, but the plums are.

Mom's Italian Plum Cake


1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
2 cups Italian plums, quartered

Crumble Topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon


3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9"x13" baking pan.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat again until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Measure out the milk separately.

Add the dry ingredients and the milk, alternately, to the egg mixture, ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.

Spread batter in the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Arrange the quartered plums on their sides on top of the batter. (Note: If the plums are especially juicy, place the sliced plums in a colander to drain a bit while you prepare the cake batter.)

In a small bowl, prepare the crumble topping. Using your fingers, rub the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together until it forms a paste or crumb. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the plums.

Bake for 35 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

Prepare the glaze by beating the icing sugar, cream and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake.

Serve warm with ice cream or gobble slices directly from the pan once cooled.

Source: Mom's recipe file.

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