they were delicious
and so cold
– William Carlos Williams
(Excerpt from “This Is Just To Say”)
With a delicious plum layer, this chocolate upside down cake sparked me to repeat William Carlos Williams’ lines in the way that lyrics might play in your mind. As a lover and writer of poetry, I count his work as one of the sensual pieces that is as likely to pop up as any song. Having “eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox,” the speaker apologizes…sort of. They were so sweet and cold, after all.
Other poets have turned to the fruit and flowers of the plum tree for imagery. Masaoka Shiki writes about its blossoms being “scattered over the loneliness / of the bed.” Plums provide rich inspiration, which is why I decided to pair them with chocolate. Vanilla can be just as decadent, but I have been eating a variety of upside down cakes lately, and I generally make them with vanilla cake. The beautiful plums I found at the market deserved a different bed.
The resulting dessert has a delicate balance of fruit and cake. It’s not so overloaded with plums that it becomes akin to a fruit cobbler. It’s not so cakey that the plums are an afterthought. By placing the plums in such a way that each slice stands out, I found myself savoring each one.
Since I love sweets for breakfast, I rarely feel guilty indulging in an early slice of cake, even when everyone else is opting for cereal or eggs. There was something different about this cake, though. Maybe it was the lines of the poets dancing around my mind, but I found myself apologizing silently as I took bite after bite. Forgive me.
2 to 3 plums
3 tablespoons cherry preserves
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
⅔ cup sugar
¾ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the plums thinly, cutting enough so that you can create two concentric circles in the bottom of a greased 9-inch cake pan. Gently toss the plums with the cherry preserves until they are fully coated. If the preserves are not soft enough, warm them slightly before tossing.
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and pour into the cake pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top. Arrange the plum slices on top of the brown sugar.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and whisk together. Set aside. Whisk together the milk and vegetable oil, and set this aside as well.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add about one-third of the flour mixture and beat until combined. Add half of the milk mixture and combine. Alternate between the flour and milk mixtures until all has been combined, ending with the flour.
Pour the chocolate cake batter on top of the plums and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. When the cake is removed from the oven, run a knife around the edges of the pan. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes and then invert onto a plate.
Serve at room temperature with fresh whipped cream.