Plum Cake Tatin

Plum Cake Tatin   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Plum Cake Tatin | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Photo Finish”

The Set-up: Miguel is photographing the garden at the Garten manse and Ina is making some magazine-worthy recipes.

The Menu: Plum Cake Tatin, Lemon Fusilli with Arugula, Bibb Salad with Basil Green Goddess Dressing, Roasted Tomatoes

0:39 – We’re starting off with Plum Cake Tatin, a twist on the French classic Apple Tatin.

1:17 – First order of business – get the stones out of the plums! NBD for we experienced stone fruit preppers

2:40 – There’s probably a little TV magic here, but I still can’t get over how perfectly Ina gets those plums to fit in her pie plate. One try!

3:11 – Over to Miguel snapping away out in the garden looking very autumnal-chic in his brown corduroy blazer.

4:23 – Time to mix the cake – a simple recipe Ina points out – with just a little lemon zest to flavor it.

5:42 – The batter calls for “1 cup + 2 tablespoons” of flour which to me is a sign of a well-tested recipe. Very specific!

6:15 – Note for the nervous – it’s okay (and maybe preferable?) if the caramel hardens after it’s poured over the plums. It will soften once the cake is baked.

9:08 – Ina makes a trip into the garden for basil to use in the Roasted Tomatoes and is immediately caught by paparazzi, aka Miguel. Not cool, Miguel! She said she wasn’t camera-ready!

10:34 – According to Ina plum tomatoes are available year-round, but unfortunately don’t have a ton of flavor which makes them ideal for roasting since cooking concentrates and develops their depth.

11:46 – The flavors that she’s using to season the tomatoes are essentially a deconstructed balsamic dressing.

12:13 – Pro Tip #1: allow the Plum Cake Tatin to cool for 15 minutes so that the caramel can set up and will stay on the cake. (PS: Ina turns that cake out like it’s her job, natch.)

13:29 – Final touches on the tomatoes with a scattering of chiffonade basil and a sprinkle of sea salt. They do look photo ready now!

14:02 – Onward to the Lemon Fusilli with Arugula a Barefoot Contessa classic that I hope inspired thoughts of "Fusilli Jerry" among many a customer.

15:38 – Am I the only one that recoils whenever a recipe requires two pots of boiling water? Ugh.

19:41 – This kind of an unusual pasta salad since it seems to combine a cream sauce with a brighter lemon flavor.

20:25 – I’ve never thought of reducing a cream based sauce, but I suppose even heavy cream has liquid that can evaporate when heated.

21:39 – While Ina preps some cherry tomatoes and grates a little parmesan we are treated to the “Getting Things Done” music.

22:50 – Between the tomatoes, broccoli and arugula this really is a pasta salad.

23:16 – Lunch is served and Ina has to wave off the paparazzi from photographingall the food. Maybe Miguel has a secret desire to be a food blogger?

27:33 – Miguel has gone home and Ina decides to make Bibb Salad with Basil Green Goddess Dressing with the leftover basil leaves. I love when she gets all Home Ec.

28:44 Fun fact: Green Goddess dressing is named after a 1920s play of the same name.

29:52 – Salad is assembled and after the decadent lunch Ina is balancing it out with greens for dinner. Aww, Miguel sent his pictures and there’s a great one of Ina!

Final Thoughts:
I’m intrigued by the pasta salad, but that plum cake is calling my name!

I know I’ve said this before, but I never fail to be amazed by Ina’s coterie of talented friends!

It really is difficult to find a pasta that captures the person. #Seinfeld

Plum Cake Tatin   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Plum Cake Tatin | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
This isn’t my first cake tatin, but it is my first one with Italian Prune Plums and since it had been about a 6 month gap I still learned quite a lot from making Plum Cake Tatin.

Plums – The recipe specifically calls for Italian Prune Plums (oval shaped, deep eggplant purple with golden flesh) and they were a revelation. First the color changes from sincerely yellow to a bright fuchsia color when they’re cooked, second the flavor is surprisingly sweet-tart and perfectly balanced by the subtle lemon of the cake. Same recommendations apply for prepping these plums, although they are free stone which makes it a bit easier.

Plum Arranging – It’s worth taking some care with the pattern since it will show once the cake it turned out, so before buttering the pie plate, I’d recommend fiddling around with the plum halves to see what fits best. In my 9” pie plate about 6 plums cut in half or quartered fit nicely.

Caramel – I was far less worried this time since I knew what to look for and after about 5-7 minutes I had a deeply golden caramel. Again, DON’T stir, just carefully swirl the water and sugar together and then leave it alone to cook into the sauce. I wasn’t sure the first time around, but in this episode Ina makes it clear that it’s okay if the caramel sets up a little after it’s poured over the plums while you mix the batter - it will melt again in the oven.

Butter – My new favorite way to “generously” butter a dish is brushing it on with a pastry brush. In this case, it took about 1 1/2 tablespoons to solidly cover the bottom and sides of my pie plate. No trouble getting the cake to release once it had cooled for the requisite 15 minutes.

Cooking Time – This is a very moist cake, the kind that sticks to the plate it’s sitting on and clings to the tines of your fork. Because the plums are somewhat juicier than apples I’d probably add another 5 minutes just to allow the cake to dry out a touch more before its called upon to absorb all the caramel.

Plum Cake Tatin   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Plum Cake Tatin | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used a small sauce pan, medium mixing bowl, small bowl, hand-held electric mixer, and 9 inch pie plate. I also used a rubber spatula, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, pastry brush, microplane grater, measuring cups and spoons.

The Verdict:
Not to toot my own horn, but beep beep, man... I still can’t get over how beautiful and flavorful the plums were. In fact I’m kind of obsessed now, so don’t be surprised if there are about 12,000 plum-related desserts while they’re in season over the next few weeks. And it doesn't hurt that Plum Cake Tatin is an excellent dessert for a dinner party. The presentation gives it wow factor and only you need to know how simple it was to make. It’s also so moist that you can definitely make it earlier in the day or even the day before and it will still be perfect come dinnertime.  Pears should probably be put on notice too, because I know I’ll be putting this technique into play with other fruits soon!

Plum Cake Tatin  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Plum Cake Tatin | Image: Laura Messersmith