Plum Streusel Cake

Whenever I’m feeling down and out, when things aren’t going the way I planned, I turn to food to ease my mind. You might think I’m an ‘eat your feelings’ kinda gal, but I protest. You see, it’s not the eating that soothes me so much as the cooking. There’s something incredibly comforting to me in making my favorite dishes. Be it the repetitive stirring of risotto or the scent of caramelizing onions, cooking is a form of meditation for me. One of my favorite cooking quotes comes from Julie Powell, and it describes what I mean perfectly:

“You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. You can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort.”

It’s exactly how I feel. When everything else in my life is up in the air, baking can ground me unlike anything else. Seeking solace in beaten eggs and tempered chocolate means that I end up with plenty of cakes and tarts and frozen cookie dough hanging around my apartment. Since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, it also means that I always have happy and well-fed friends which, I’ve found, is almost as comforting as my favorite recipes.

I made this cake after a series of up-in-the-air days, on an unexpected day off from work. Sitting on the couch reading while the smell of warm cinnamon and sugar filled the air, I felt more at peace than I have in quite some time. This cake is my manifesto on the therapeutic qualities of baking.

Plum Streusel Cake
serves 8
adapted from a very old issue of Saveur

For streusel:
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
4 tbsp softened, diced unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

For cake:
1 stick softened, unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp bourbon
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup jam, preferably berry or stone fruit based
3 large plums, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8″ cake pan. To make streusel, combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat, on low, until it is evenly crumbly. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

To make the cake, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add eggs, beating for 30 seconds after each one. Scrape down the bowl again and add the vanilla and bourbon, beating for 30 seconds. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt and beat until just combined.

Spread cake batter evenly in the pan and top with an even layer of jam. Overlap plum slices in a circle on top of cake batter. Sprinkle streusel on top and bake for one hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool slightly in pan before serving.