This plum cake is a German classic for “kaffee und kuchen” ie coffee time. It’s easy to make and really lets the juicy, sweet-tart plum flavor shine.
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Germany and Austria were countries I visited often as a child. Most of the time we more traveled through Germany to get to Austria, if I’m honest. But we did spend a bit of time in a few areas. Then as a student, I lived in Eastern Germany for a semester as well.
All of the various visits gave me an appreciation of Germanic cuisine. Yes, many of the mains are porky and/or hearty, like sauerbraten and spaetzle. Desserts too, sometimes, like dampfnudel. However it’s worth remembering may dishes come from the need for farmers to pile on the calories.
One part I particularly enjoyed as a student was going to get coffee or a mug of gluhwein to warm up on a cold day. As Christmas neared, the cafe often put a small slice of stollen on the side. But even before then, I could sometimes be tempted by the various cakes on offer.
Germany’s cake style
While I am not a huge sweet tooth on the whole, I did grow to enjoy many German desserts/treats. I think it helped cinnamon is a popular flavoring, which I love.
While not an absolute rule, the “kaffee mit kuchen” tradition may involve a simpler cake during the week and something more elaborate, like a Black Forest cake, at the weekend. This cake is probably more of the midweek style, but I for one think it’s still something special.
Variations in German plum cake
This cake goes by a few different names (pflaumekuchen, zwetschgenkuchen) depending on where you are, and has some variations in how you make it as well. Some have streusel on top, others don’t and the base varies.
While you can make this with more of a shortbread base, I went for the yeasted cake base that I remember and loved. Don’t be scared by the fact that it’s a yeast dough – it comes together very easily, doesn’t need much kneading and only a short rise time.
What kind of plums are best?
While it might be tempting to go for those big, juicy sweet plums that you find in summer, for this I’d actually go for something different. Here, you are more looking for a slight complexity of flavor and the smaller, more tart plums tend to be better. Not to mention, they fit a bit more easily in the dish and hold their form better once cooked.
So I’d opt for relatively small plums, maybe damsons if they are available. I’ve seen suggestions of using “prune” plums as well. I had a small variety but it wasn’t actually named. They should be ripe but not overly so. It’s nice to have some juice come from them, but you also don’t want the base soaked.
Whatever plums you choose, you want to cram them in tightly to get as much wonderful flavor as possible. Slightly offset from one row to the next works well.
Depending on how sweet or tart the plums are, you can add a little extra sugar over the plums. Do this before you add the streusel rather than before the dough is left to rest/rise. If you leave it on a while, it can make the plums release juice and moisten the base.
You don’t have to make the streusel layer (and some versions don’t), but for me it’s a must. First, it adds a lovely texture to top it all off, but also there is a hint of cinnamon in there which just works perfectly with everything else.
If you decide not to add the streusel, then at least sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar on top to get a little of the classic flavors.
If you have any of this left, it will keep a day or two at room temperature in a sealed container. You can re-heat it, but if you do so in the microwave the streusel will melt. I’d say it’s optional – when fresh, I like this warm but go wither way the next day.
For me this German plum cake brings back delicious memories, but the whole family (who don’t have that) loved it as well. It’s easy to make and a wonderful way to enjoy a fruit that can be under-used. Give it a try and you’ll be sure to agree.
Try these other tasty treats perfect with a cup of tea or coffee:
- Swedish cardamon buns
- Polish gingerbread cake/honey spice cake (piernik)
- Coconut mango scones
- Sour cream mocha cake
- Plus get more snack recipes, both sweet and savory, and German recipes in the archives.
German plum cake (pflaumenkuchen)
For the base
- 175 g all purpose flour plain flour, approx 1 ¼ cups
- 30 g sugar 1 oz
- ¾ tsp instant yeast
- ¼ tsp salt
- 45 g unsalted butter 3 tbsp
- 60 ml milk ¼ cup (I used whole and recommend that but part/semi-skimmed also ok)
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
For plum layer
- 400 g plums small and pos more tart eg damsons, 14oz
- ½ tbsp sugar (optional, or increase if tart plums)
- 48 g all purpose flour plain flour, ⅓ cup
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 22 g unsalted butter
- 33 g sugar ⅓ cup – I suggest ½ of this raw or demerara, rest regular
For base and plums (1hr ahead)
- Lightly butter an 8×8 inch (20x20cm) baking dish or tin. Mix together the dry ingredients for the base – flour, sugar, yeast and salt – in a medium bowl.
- Put the butter and milk into a small microwavable dish and warm in 15 second intervals to gently warm the milk and melt the butter. The butter should be just melting and the milk lukewarm. Add this mixture (left to cool first, if too warm), the egg yolk and the vanilla to the dry ingredients and mix all together.
- Knead the dough gently for a minute or two – it should be soft but not wet so add a little more flour if too wet, or milk if it seems to crumble from being dry. Then, press the dough into the buttered baking dish. Press it right to the corners, flat across the bottom then slightly up at the edges.
- Cut the plums in half, along the bit that looks like a seam, then remove the stone. Cut each plum half in half. Arrange the plum quarters over the base as tightly as you can, ideally in rows, cut side up. Leave the dish at warm room temperature to let the dough rise slightly (don't worry if it doesn't obviously change much).
Adding streusel and baking
- As the rest time is about done, preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Sprinkle the ½tbsp of sugar over the plums, if using.
- Rub together the flour, cinnamon, butter and sugar for the streusel then sprinkle it evenly over the plums.
- Bake the cake for approximately 30 -35 minutes, until the top is gently starting to brown and you can see the plums have softened underneath. Let the cake rest for around 10 minutes before cutting into slices. Works well as it is, both warm or at room temperature, as well as with cream.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline’s Cooking Amazon store.
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