Getting My Master’s in Plum Cake
Recently, Prism asked me to teach a class on how to bake plum cake for Rosh Hashanah. So what qualifies me as a plum cake expert? I guess I have to credit my Mom’s family. They are German – yekkes, as they would proudly say – and my Oma would always bake a zwetschgenkuchen (or some say pflaumenkuchen), a traditional plum cake, for the holiday. Someone recently asked me about the looming symbolism of the plum for Rosh Hashanah, hoping to find some sort of sweet correlation as with the apples and honey. Well, to be honest, as far as I know, late August and early September was when the Italian plums were ripe and hung heavy on the trees of the German and Alsatian countryside. So plum cake for Rosh Hashanah made sense. And was always delicious.
A few years back I made a zwetschgenkuchen to bring to my mom’s for the holiday. I used the pitch-perfect plum torte recipe from the New York Times archives. The plums were wrapped in soft pillows of batter, and topped with cinnamon, lemon and sugar. Just splendid. But when Prism asked me to lead the plum cake baking class, my mom jumped at the chance to share a genuine kuchen recipe with me.
It turns out my Oma, along with millions of other Germans Jews before her, based not just their plum cakes, but their general baked goods, on a mürberteig, a “shortcrust dough.” This morning I took the recipe for a test run, cutting the butter into the flour, making pebbles of dough that eventually formed a ball to kneed and roll out.
So a Jew and some Mormons walk into a bakery...
We hosted friends for the taste testing this afternoon. As it happens, they are Mormon and, as strange as it sounds, we actually understand the choices we’ve each made through our respective religious outlooks. My not eating pig and shellfish is similar to their choice of not drinking alcohol or coffee.
Giving it up… we all get it.
When I told them about Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Fast to Feed program, they got it. As I explained, Jews observing Yom Kippur abstain from eating and drinking. Why not take the money you’d be spending on food during that day, and donate it to a program that feeds one of the 700,000 people that go hungry every day? Well, it turns out that Mormons have a fast on the first Sunday of every month, and the money they’d be spending on food is donated to feed the hungry. No kidding.
The plum cake was fantastic, and I’m thrilled to be teaching my family’s tradition on Thursday night.