Even if you think you don’t know Melina Hammer, you probably know Melina Hammer. She’s shot and styled for all the major food players in New York (Food52, NYT Cooking, Julia Turshen 🙂) and when one of her artfully chaotic recipe shots appear on my instagram feed, I don’t even have to look at the name on the handle — that rich, textured vibe that is very much at play in this cake photo, is just so distinctly her. Melina also runs the Catbird Cottage B&B at the foothills of the Shawagunk Mountains in New York, and her latest project — lucky us! — is a collection of the recipes that the seasons and the fertile, local land around the cottage has inspired. As a result, the dishes in A Year at Catbird Cottage, look like the way I would eat every night if I could, which is to say, like all the ingredients had been picked up at the local co-op, or pulled right from a CSA box or the ground itself. Think: A Dutch baby packed with pickles, pea shoots, and craggy cheese; a grand aioli summer feast; French toast with wild blueberry compote, Spanish tortilla with pickles and garlic-mustard pesto; this Double Rye Buckwheat Plum Cake that might just be my new favorite answer to the question I ask myself all summer long, i.e. “What is a simple, but special dessert that I can bring to a summer party?” Melina was nice enough to share the recipe.
From Melina: This short cake makes up for in flavor what it lacks in height. Sweet-tart, juicy, earthy and a little boozy, it feels like a real indulgence. The bones of this recipe belong to Claire Saffitz of Bon Appetit cake fame. Over the years, I’ve riffed on it many times, landed on this version, and now lust for it when plum season arrives. Use very ripe plums: once the cake is ready, they’re basically rendered into jam, in the best possible way. The almonds and sprinkled sugar make a superb textural contrast to the moist cake and fall-apart fruit.
Double Rye Buckwheat Plum Cake
From A Year at Catbird Cottage
Makes 8 Servings
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1⁄4 cup rye flour
1⁄4 cup buckwheat flour
3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄3 cup rye whiskey
1⁄4 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1⁄4 cup melted salted butter, slightly cooled, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1⁄2 tablespoons lemon zest (from 2 small lemons)
3⁄4 cup cane sugar
5 or 6 elephant heart or mix of plums, pitted and cut into halves (see Notes)
2 to 3 tablespoons slivered almonds, for scattering
3 to 4 tablespoons demerara sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease the sides and base of a 9-inch springform pan, then tap the flour to coat the surface thinly, emptying out any extra flour.
In a medium bowl, use a fork to mix together the flours, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the rye whiskey, yogurt, melted butter, and zest. Use an electric mixer to beat the cane sugar and eggs in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 45 seconds. Add the yogurt mixture to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Use a sieve to sift the dry mixture into the wet a little at a time, folding the dry mixture in fully to ensure there are no lumps. Pause occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This step takes about 5 minutes. Once fully incorporated, refrigerate the batter for 10 minutes.
Pour half of the batter into the pan and bake for 10 minutes. This is so that the plums don’t sink to the base of your pan, and you can see their cheery faces once the cake is done. Chill the remaining batter until needed. Pour the remaining batter on top of the already baked batter, then nestle the plums cut sides up. Scatter with the almonds and sprinkle with the demerara sugar, being sure to emphasize the periphery (the cake will become nice and crispy at the edges).
Bake 25 to 35 minutes more, until a toothpick comes out nearly clean when inserted into the center. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin offset spatula or butter knife around the edge to separate the tacky surface from the cake pan. Allow the cake to cool fully, remove the collar, and serve. Keeps for 2 days wrapped in parchment or foil at room temperature.
NOTES: Always sift dry ingredients as they are incorporated—it is no fun to discover a lump of baking powder or flour as you take a bite. If it isn’t summer but you long to bake this cake, it can be made with fruit from any season—use sturdy fruit, cut in a similar size as the plums for best effect. I have made this using Seckel pears, poached quince, and rhubarb. All are a delight.
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