30 September 2016

So many more

It starts with an unusual sound – I would have easily mistaken it for a candy foil wrapper.

– How strange, Anthony says looking out of the window across the narrow courtyard.

– What's that? 

– I can see the curtains moving about in the apartment across, and last night I saw the shadows and heard the clanking of the cutlery, but I can't see who lives there, the actual figures, not the outlines, you know. Such a difference from Amsterdam.

– It's an Eastern European thing, I contemplate from the kitchen table where I laid out a couple postcards we picked up at a souvenir shop in the old town last night. Your coffee is getting cold, I say then pour fresh boiling water into another cup and drown in it two full teaspoons of instant coffee for myself. The taste isn't that great but it does the job, hurries up the brain alright. I take a sip and think of what to write on the postcard we are going to post to ourselves.

Next to my coffee I have fresh prune plums, we bought a kilo at the market nearby yesterday. I pick one from a bowl on the kitchen counter, it's small and roughly oval, I look at it before biting into. I expect its thin purple skin to snap under my teeth which will then go on to sink into the juicy glass-green flesh. I'm right about that. I take another, this one looks like a misshapen rain drop. I'll probably end up eating at least a dozen now.
Every fruit street vendor in this beautiful city sells fresh Italian prune plums this time of year, I write down on the back of the postcard. On the front there are three connected images of winding cobbled alleys of the Old Town, and București below them. 

– How is it looking with the rain? Still sounds like a foil candy wrapper? I ask. The phone says it's thunderstorms and showers for the next hour or so, and that the temperatures are going to drop. Maybe we should get a cheap umbrella, and a pair of sweaters, one for each?

I push the chair back, stand up and move towards the window to bring Anthony his coffee. Sugar? He nods towards the cup. Affirmative, I say leaning over the window sill. A mix between a rustle and a swish, the rain drops remain soft and rare. Maybe the forecast is wrong, I suggest. I take a deep breath and notice how the air in the courtyard simultaneously smells of laundry detergent and wallpaper paste, or maybe that's nail polish remover. 

– How is the postcard coming along? Anthony asks between his coffee sips. I congratulated Bucharest with its abundant offerings of purple Italian plums, I say and we both chuckle. And in the next sentence, I'm thinking, we could congratulate ourselves with our wedding anniversary today.

Four years down already? We wish you so many more! With love from Bucharest --

Purple Plum Torte
Adapted from The New York Times
Yield: 8 servings

I'm happy to report that I did track down Italian prune plums back in Amsterdam (last weekend at the farmers' market at Noordermarkt, to be helpful). In Dutch they are known as kwetsen, and it's their season now, and this is the cake for them (and for you if you love plums). I must say the recipe looks too simple to believe it's special. But it is! It's about the plums, only them, how jammy and pleasantly sharp they get after they bake and how it's such a nice contrast to the sweeter crumb, and how, sitting atop the said nutty whole wheat crumb, they gather under themselves pools of their own bright juices to slowly release them the next day down the aforementioned buttery crumb. Purple Italian prune plums (they are sweet and tart at once) are meant for this torte, but if none are around, other purple plums will do too.
Anthony says this torte is "10 out of 10". Sweet but not too much, a little sour (because of the plums), nutty (because of the whole wheat flour), and light so you keep wanting to eat it – “it's got it all figured out”.

120 g cane sugar
115 g unsalted butter, softened
130 g whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (4 g) baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
15-20 Italian prune plums, pitted and halved
½-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (depends on how much you like cinnamon)
1-2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Line the bottom of a 22-cm (9-inch) or 24-cm (10-inch) springform pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the sides.

Combine the prune halves with the cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. To cut down on washing up, you  perhaps may want to sprinkle the cardamom over the fruit at a later stage in the process once the plum halves are arranged over the batter, but tossing the fruit in spice first allows for a nice and even coating.

In another bowl cream the sugar and butter with an electric mixer until fluffy and cappuccino in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the flour, baking powder and salt, and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; the batter will be rather thick.

Spoon the batter into the prepared baking form and smooth the top. Place the plum halves skin side up all over the batter, it should be all covered. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and a tablespoon or two more of cane sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.

Bake until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the a centre part of the torte comes out clean of batter, about 45-50 minutes. Let it sit for ten minutes then remove from the pan. Cool on a rack and keep covered in clingfilm. It get even better on the next day after the plum juices has further permeated into the crumb. Keeps well for up to three days.