serves: 8 servings
Italians love prugne, the name for both fresh and dried plums (which we call prunes). Italy is one of Europe's largest plum-producers, and the fresh fruit is a favorite in season. But dried plums, prugne secche, are in such demand year-round- for snacking, cooking, and baking-that today Italy ranks as one of the world's biggest importers of prunes (many tons of them grown in California!).
I, too, love prugne secche, particularly in crostatas (tarts) and torte such as this cake, which I found in Basilicata. Morsels of prune, poached in a wine syrup, dot the golden, buttery cake, and each bite bursts with their concentrated essence of fruit flavor. It's a great treat for the holidays, or on any winter's day-a delicious reminder of the sweet taste of summer.
1¼ cups pitted prunes, (preferably soft, not old and dry)
1 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 teaspoons Lemon zest, finely grated
1 cup red wine
12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Standing electric mixer with the paddle attachment;
To poach the prunes: Cut them into bite-sized morsels. Put them in a small saucepan with 1/3 cup of the sugar, the lemon zest, and the wine. Set the pan over medium-low heat, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Let the syrup bubble gently and steadily for 15 minutes or so, reducing slowly, until it has thickened and barely covers the shiny poached prunes. Leave the prunes in the syrup to cool completely, then drain through a sieve, collecting and saving the remaining syrup, about 1/4 cup. (You can poach the prunes hours or a day ahead of time and leave them soaking in the syrup. Drain well before assembling the cake.)
To make the cake: Arrange a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees F. Secure the bottom disk in the springform, and grease the inside surfaces with a tablespoon of the soft butter. Stir the tablespoon of bread crumbs and a tablespoon of sugar together. Coat the buttered bottom and sides of the cake pan completely with the crumb mixture, and shake out any loose crumbs.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
Put the remaining sugar and butter in the mixer bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream together for several minutes on high speed, scraping down the bowl several times, until light and smooth.
Beat in the egg yolks one at a time; scrape down the bowl, and fluff up the batter on high speed after incorporating each yolk. On low speed, blend in the dry ingredients, mixing just until completely moistened and incorporated.
In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the 1/4 teaspoon salt to firm peaks, using the whisk attachment or a hand whisk. Stir in a third of the whites to lighten the cake batter, then gently fold in the remainder. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it to fill the springform in a flat, even layer.
Scatter the drained prune pieces all over the top of the batter, spaced evenly, covering the whole cake. Put the pan in the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes (rotating it after 25 minutes), as the batter rises around the prune pieces. When the top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, remove the cake to a wire cooling rack. Drizzle the remaining wine syrup all over the top of the warm cake, and let it cool for 1/2 hour or so before loosening and removing the side ring.
Serve the torta slightly warm or at room temperature, cut in wedges-plain or topped with whipped cream.