How to make a plum cake in the shared culinary tradition of Austria and Germany.
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One of Germany’s favorite desserts, Zwetschgenkuchen, is also very popular in neighboring Austria and Switzerland. It is thought to have originated in the Swabian city of Augsburg and is considered an authentic Bavarian culinary specialty. It is also served during Oktoberfest.
Dotted with fresh plums this cake is light, moist and makes a great companion to strong coffee as well as dessert wines and certain German beer styles. Many consider it a summer cake, with plum season running from May to October.
Zwetschgenkuchen literally means plum cake (Zwetschgen=plums and kuchen=cake) and is also known as Pflaumenkuchen or Zwetschgendatschi depending on the region. In German there is a difference between the types of plums referred to as Zwetschgen and those known as Pflaumen.
- Zwetschgen are round in shape, a bit larger, very sweet with high water content. Their color varies from purple or dark red to yellow.
- Pflaumen on the other hand are smaller, elongated, bluish in color and with less water content. They also tend to be a bit more tart.
You Will Need
- 10 inch springform pan. This size is best suited for the quantity of ingredients of this recipe.
- Plums. Use fresh, ripe fruit for best results. See below for tips. In the picture above these are Zwetschgen, red plums.
- Eggs. German eggs are smaller than those sold in the US, so avoid using extra large eggs in this recipe.
- Sugar. Brown sugar contributes a depth of flavor to the batter as well as sweetness. It also gives the batter a darker color. Vanilla sugar (white sugar infused with vanilla) is also a popular choice in which case the batter is much lighter.
- Butter. Traditionally used in the batter. If your plums are not very juicy you can substitute half the butter called for with olive oil and the cake will have moister texture in result.
- Vanilla. To infuse the batter with flavor.
- Cinnamon. For its warming, fragrant spice aroma.
- Flour. All-purpose flour works fine, but if you are after really light texture, consider using cake flour. (I made the cake in the pictures with cake flour).
- Baking soda. Leavening agent, helps the batter rise. Originally the batter was made with yeast, today baking soda is much more common.
- Salt. To elevate the sweetness of the batter.
What Type of Plums to Use
The variety of plums is up to you – you can use the plumper rounder Zwetschgen (as seen in the pictures here, known as red plums or black plums in the US) or the smaller, less sweet and firmer Pflaumen (blue plums, in the US known as Italian prune plums). You can even use plumcots.
When buying plums, make sure that they are ripe. Before using them thoroughly wash away the whitish layer on the surface (if present) which protected them from drying out.
Plums not in season locally? Imported plums are available after the end of the Northern hemisphere plum season so you should be able to find fresh fruit if you are making this cake around the winter holidays.
Alternatively, because plums can easily be frozen, during peak season wash and halve the fruit, remove the pits and tightly pack in freezer safe bags. Frozen they will keep for up to a year. Thaw refrigerated before using.
How to Make Zwetschgenkuchen
- Begin by preheating your oven and cutting the plums into wedges (picture #1). Grease the springform pan.
- Whisk the melted butter with the sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and gradually add the eggs. Whisk until airy.
- Sift the flour and mix it with the baking soda and salt, then gradually fold it into the batter. Use a wooden spoon or spatula and mix by hand.
- Transfer to the springform pan and smooth out the batter. Arrange the plum slices (a concentric pattern as seen above is traditional) and bake.
- Allow the finished plum cake to cool down a bit before removing from the springform pan and dust with confectioners sugar (optional).
About Layering the Plums
- In the oven the batter will rise beautifully around the plums. You do not need to press the wedges, they will sink into the batter on their own. Depending on the decorative pattern you desire you can always place two layers of thinner sliced plum wedges – the bottom ones will sink and the ones forming the top layer will remain visible on the surface.
- During baking plum juice will seep into the batter, coloring it red/purple (see below).
- Feel free to increase the amount of plums you use if you’d like a more fruit loaded cake.
- Some people completely cover the top with fruit and once baked the Zwetschgenkuchen looks like an upside down cake, even though not flipped.
- Yet others sprinkle almond slivers or streusel topping over the plums for crunch.
Serving this Plum Cake
Zwetschgenkuchen is perfect for any time of day and is frequently served with whipped cream on top. Austrians and Germans most commonly enjoy a slice with their morning or afternoon coffee but the plum cake is excellent as a dessert option too.
Try it with a small pour of doppelbock lager – the dark fruit notes of the doppelbock and the sweetness of the plums amplify each others flavors and the combination tastes incredible. If in season, also consider Marzen, the original spiced amber lager of Oktoberfest (it is still very popular in the US, whereas in Germany festbier has taken its place).
A glass of sweet German Riesling is also a wonderful companion to Zwetschgenkuchen.
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- 2 lbs ripe plums (red, black, yellow or blue)
- 10 tbsp butter, melted
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar*
- 1 tsp vanilla exrtact
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 5 eggs
- 2 cups flour**, sifted
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- powdered sugar (as needed, to dust over cake)
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 10 inch springform pan and set aside.
- Wash and halve the plums, remove the pits and cut into wedges.
- Whisk the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon until the mixture is creamy.
- Add the eggs one by one while continuing to whisk and whisk until airy.
- Sift the flour, mix with baking soda and salt and gradually fold it into the batter by hand, using a spatula or wooden spoon. Do not over mix.
- Transfer the batter to the springform pan. Smooth it out with the spatula or back of spoon and arrange the plum slices on top in a concentric pattern, beginning at the center and working your way towards the circumference.***
- Bake for 50 minutes. Remove the cake from oven and let cool down a few minutes before taking out of the springform. Dust the plum cake with powdered sugar (optional).
*It is OK to substitute with vanilla sugar or other sugar of your choice. Note that the flavor will change.
**All-purpose is fine, for a lighter texture and to avoid over mixing the batter consider cake flour which has less gluten.
***The plum wedges will sink to the bottom of the cake batter on their own. If you'd like a more prominent top layer of plums reserve a few wedges and place them on top of where you already put a wedge. Feel free to create your own pattern.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 371Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 124mgSodium: 499mgCarbohydrates: 55gFiber: 2gSugar: 34gProtein: 7g