Late Summer is the season for enjoying a German favorite at coffee time: The Zwetschgenkuchen, a sort of plum pie. It’s not a pie in the traditional English sense, but rather a pie with a cake like consistence and a generous layer of Italian plums spread on top of it.
In the south of Germany you will hear people calling for a Zwetschgendatschi; while in other areas this cake is just simply known as Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake). Almost every family seems to have a strong opinion on how their plum cake’s dough has to be made. This can vary from Hefeteig (yeast dough) to Mürbteig (shortcrust dough). I grew up with the crunchy shortcrust dough, but in many coffee shops and bakeries you’ll find the yeast dough version.
While I was very persistent for years in following my family’s tradition in baking my Zwetschgendatschi only with a shortcrust dough, I secretly changed to a simpler version. I am using an easy to make cake mixture that I spread on a baking sheet, and then top with the quartered plums. Lastly I cover everything with a layer of streusel and up it goes into the oven. (The dough recipe might sound familiar to some. Indeed I am using the same dough for my German apple crumb cake.)
Here is how it goes:
For the Topping:
2 kg Italian plums, 50 g Zucker, 1/2tsp cinnamon
For the Crumbs/Streusel:
150 g flour, 120 g sugar, 1 pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp grated lemon peel, 1 pinch of cinnamon, 120 g melted butter, 80 g slivered almonds
For the Crust/Cake:
250 g butter, 250 g sugar, 1 pinch of salt, 1 pinch of vanilla mark (or package of Vanillin sugar by Dr. Oetker), 5 eggs, 350 g flour, 1 package baking powder (Dr. Oetker)
1. Core the Italian plums preferably with a special corer, that not only gets rid of the stone but also quarters the fruit all in one. Mix with sugar and cinnamon.
2. For the crumbs mix flour, sugar, lemon peel and cinnamon. Add melted butter and mix with your fingers until you have a crumbly mixture. Lightly mix in almond slivers. Put into fridge to get cold.
3. Preheat oven to 180 C / 356 F . Using a mixer beat softened butter with sugar, salt and vanilla mark until you have a creamy consistency. Adding eggs one by one beat with a hand mixer until mixture is thick and creamy. Add flour with the baking powder.
4. Prepare a baking tray by lining it with some baking paper. Spread the dough on it evenly and arrange the quartered plums tightly and neatly in rows over the dough leaving as little spaces as possible. Once finished cover the fruit with the crumbled dough (streusel mixture). You might have to take little pieces of the cold dough and actually crumble it up between your fingers while spreading it over the cake. Bake on the middle rack on the oven for about 40-45 minutes until golden brown and crunchy.
5. Take cake out of the oven, let it cool down a bit, then dust with powdered sugar and cut into pieces.
Side note: The cake is best when made and consumed on the same day. The crumbles are nice and crunchy that way. When kept over night or in the fridge for a few days, I recommend to put the cake in the oven for a short while in order to warm it up and give back some crunchiness to the crumbles.