Let's talk a little bit about comfort. Lately I've been baking a lot for comfort. If I'm feeling listless, or uncertain, it gives me a wonderfully concrete task to focus on. You have to walk to the market with purpose, and make actual choices instead of meandering with your hands in your pockets, eating too many cheese samples and asking questions like "how late are you open?", to indicate that you could possibly buy something at some distant point in the day, instead of just eating all the aforementioned samples.
But that is neither here nor there. You buy your plums, after weighing them carefully in your hands, and feeling their juicy heft beneath the delicate skins, and thinking about how specific the name "Italian purple prune plum" sounds.
You walk home, and transcribe the recipe you found online onto a scrap of paper. This lets you practice real writing (seriously, can we just all abandon typing for real writing again?) -- rounding the letters, defining each ingredient in heavy black ballpoint -- your pen scratching the paper in satisfying strokes.
You walk in the kitchen, turn on the oven, and set to work mixing your batter. In no time, you reach the end of the recipe, sprinkling your plums with lemon juice, and smarting when the acid of the citrus hits a tiny open cut in the nook of your thumb. Ouch, you think, and you rush to soothe it with hot water.
You slide the cake into the oven, and pause to perch on the windowsill before cleaning up. It's then that you realize three hours have passed since you thought -- cake? plums? -- and you've been absorbed in every second since. Every measure of flour, every slice of butter, every whisk of the spoon. You've felt keenly aware of tiny things: that cut on your hand, and the scent of vanilla, and the mealy juiciness of the fruit.
Of course there is comfort in the scent of baking cake, and the taste of warm, sugared dough and soft, cinnamon-scented plums. There is comfort in admiring your handiwork, and comfort in the look on his face when he notices how pretty this torte is (he rarely notices, instead he eats). There is comfort in sitting together and sharing a piece, and even more in bringing cooled slices to a group of new friends, in a new neighborhood, for a new-to-you holiday. There is comfort in driving home together in the dark, across the Brooklyn Bridge, and feeling small amongst the darkly lit city and the inky black water of the East River.
But for me, the most comforting feeling of all, is knowing there are solid, constant things in the world that you can embrace.
Cake batter will rise, plums will be sold, we will eat.
And when you turn to those solid things, you can reset any chaos.
PURPLE PLUM TORTE
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons*
1/2 cup butter, softened
12 small Italian purple plums, sliced in half and pitted*
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Saigon cinnamon (to taste)
large pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9" springform pan with parchment paper. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until well-combined.
Add the dry ingredients slowly and mix until incorporated, but don't overmix the batter. Spoon the batter into your pan and smooth the top (this can be messy as the batter is pretty thick, but don't worry about that! The plums cover it up.) Place your halved plums, cut side down, across the batter in some sort of artistic and neat way (I'll leave that up to you...I attempted concentric circles). Sprinkle the plums with the lemon juice, then dust them with the remaining sugar and cinnamon. I loved the taste of A LOT of cinnamon, but do what you like.
Bake the cake for about 45 minutes and then let cool before removing the outer section of the pan.
*Adjust the extra amount of sugar based on how sweet your fruit is, and also how sweet you like your cake!
*You could use a different kind of plum, but these are amazing. No matter what type, try and make sure all the fruit is a similar size, so the resulting top of the torte looks nice and neat.