Plum Cake (Zwetschgenkuchen or Drozdzowka ze sliwkami)
Updated: Sep 22
Soft, fluffy and buttery yeasted cake covered with mellow plums and buttery and crunchy streusel. All lightly scented with vanilla, zesty lemon and earthy cardamom.
You can find variations of this recipe in traditional cuisines of Poland, Germany, Austria. What I will share with you today is my Mum’s recipe for this cake, together with her technique. If you have had this type of cake before - give this approach a go! You will not regret it!
For a good bake:
Technique - we are baking a cake and approach will be the same as if you were baking a cake, with some aspects of bread baking (proofing, gentle kneading, gluten development). This approach produces soft and airy dough. If you have worked with yeasted dough before - ditch your expectations in terms of dough consistency and preparation. First, eggs are beaten with sugar until fluffy and pale - this creates airy base for our yeasted cake. Then, melted butter is added in 4-5 go’s (slow, steady stream), while constantly beating eggs. Flour is sifted direct to the bowl and proofed yeast is added. All is then briefly mixed - 2 minutes - and left to rest at higher temperature (28-29C). After short initial rest (15min), the dough is kneaded gently for about 10 minutes. Then, proofed for 1 hr (28-29C - oven with the light on, or pre-heated for 1 minute and then switched off). When ready, you will transfer batter into the tin, place plums and leave for the final rest (35-40min). Just before baking sprinkle streusel on top (generous portion!) and bake. That’s all!
Dough consistency - the dough will have a consistency of very thick, buttery cake batter rather than well formed yeasted dough. That’s the way it should look. Don’t add more flour. Don’t knead longer than suggested in the recipe. You need to develop enough gluten to produce strong cake batter but you don’t want to over-mix it either (hence short rest after initial mixing). You will notice how this batter will change in texture when proofing (will be stronger, more bouncy). When the final proof is done - no need to punch the dough to de-gas. Just gently lift and spread to fit the form. The cake batter will be sticky - you can wet your hands or apply small amount of sunflower/canola oil on your hands.
Flour - use plain/all-purpose flour in this bake (9-10g protein).
Yeast - when proofing the yeast, warm up milk to 38-40C (body temperature). The mixture after proofing should be visibly frothy and bubbly. If it’s not - check BBE date on yeast (it might have been old, or the package was open for too long) or the temperature was too high/too low. The cake pictured in this recipe was baked on active dried/instant yeast. It’s fluffy. However, if you can get the yeast cake (active bulk yeast) - you will get even better/lighter texture in the final bake. Recipe has quantities for both types of yeast.
Cardamom is a perfect addition in this bake! This earthy spice pairs well with buttery dough and mellow/sour/sweet plums. On top of that - cardamom helps to digest yeasted dough. If you can’t get ground cardamom - use 7-8 pods. Grind seeds with small amount of sugar and mix back in with zesty sugar.
Vanilla sugar - it’s sugar scented with vanilla essence. Fragrant and aromatic. Great for yeasted dough. This type of sugar is used, for example, in Polish or Scandinavian cuisines. I get mine in Polish shop. There is an option to prepare homemade vanilla sugar by simply rubbing juicy vanilla beans into sugar and closing in a jar (it’s not as fragrant as store-bought). If you can’t get it - use regular sugar and vanilla bean paste (all included in the recipe below).
Plums - traditionally, this cake is baked with Damson plums. However, you can bake it with most of plum types - Blackamber, Friar, French Prune, Satsuma. Cut Damson plum in half, placing juicy side up. If you have round/bigger plums - cut in quarters and also place the juicy side up.
Kneading - the batter is airy and sticky. Kneading is done in two short turns. First, just to mix up the ingredients, the second (after short rest) - to develop gluten. Knead using dough hook attachment. If you are kneading by hand - the dough is sticky so best is to use wooden spoon (round, rotating moves - as if you were reeling in a fish) or simply knead by hand (pat the dough gently, remembering to rotate the bowl every so often in order to aerate the dough well).
Buttery and golden skin - grease tin with butter and line with two criss-crossed pieces of parchment paper. Then generously brush the bottom and sides of the tin with butter. It will create lovely buttery bottom and edges.
Crunchy streusel - chilling/freezing this cookie-style buttery streusel for some 20-30 minutes before applying on the cake will contribute to lovely and crunchy texture.
Proofing temperature - this sweet bake likes higher proofing temperature. 28-29C is ideal here. You may opt to pre-heat oven shortly (1min), switch off and proof, covered, in a warm oven.
Baking temperature and time - baking at high then lower temperature will ensure that cake puffs up (high) and then does not dry out (lower temperature). If you have fan forced oven - note the temperatures indicated in the recipe (to avoid drying out). When checking the cake - at the end of baking - the middle should be well puffed up, visibly baked, streusel baked through and you should see plums’ juices bubbling up. Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Storage - when cooled, store covered with clean kitchen towel at room temperature. This cake is best on day 1 but also enjoyable on day 2.
Plum Cake Recipe
Yield: 12-24 servings
Time: 2hrs (dough prep, mainly proof time) + 42-45min baking
Tin: 23cmx33cm (4-5cm deep)
For yeast proofing:
200ml full-fat milk
1 Tablespoon (15g) sugar
1 Tablespoon (10g) all-purpose (plain) flour
7g (1 pack) active dry yeast or 25g active bulk yeast (yeast cake)
For the dough:
1 large egg (60g), room temperature
2 egg yolks (40g), room temperature
80g caster sugar
15g vanilla sugar or replace with 15g regular sugar plus 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Zest from 1 lemon (1 and 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom or seeds from 7-8 pods
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
80g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
390g all-purpose (plain) flour
90g all-purpose (plain) flour
70g confectioners’ (icing) sugar
90g unsalted butter, cold
1/8 tsp coarse sea salt
12 OR 6-7 plums (12x Damson or French Prune, OR 6-7 if using Blackamber/Friar/Satsuma)
Proof the yeast: In a small pot mix milk, sugar and flour. Warm up the mixture to 38-40C. Take off the heat and stir in the yeast. Cover and leave in warm place for 15 minutes. After that time the mixture should look bubbly and frothy. If it doesn’t, check BBE date on yeast or the mixture might have been too hot/cold - in that case, repeat the step.
Prepare zesty sugar: Mix sugars with lemon zest and cardamom. Using palms of your hands rub zest into sugar to release flavour. If you don’t have vanilla sugar - replace with regular sugar and add vanilla bean paste in step 3 (after adding coarse salt).
Prepare the cake batter/dough: Place egg and egg yolks in your main mixing bowl. Beat eggs (whisk attachment) until fluffy (1 minute), add sugar and beat until pale and fluffy (3-4 minutes), add coarse sea salt and beat for few seconds. Then, start adding cooled melted butter - add in steady/thin stream in 4-5 go’s continuously beating. The mixture should be pale and airy. Sift flour straight to the mixing bowl, add proofed yeast and knead for 2 minutes (just until ingredients are combined). If you are using stand mixer - mix by hand first until all ingredients are combined then switch to dough hook attachment (low-medium speed) and mix for 1 minute. If you are kneading by hand - you may opt to use wooden spoon (batter is sticky, same move as if you were reeling in a fish) or just knead by hand (knead patting the batter, rotating the bowl every so often). When done - cover the bowl and transfer to a warm place (28-29C) for 15 minutes. After that time - knead for another 10 minutes. At the end of mixing, the batter will be shiny, fairly sticky. Don’t add more flour. When done - cover the bowl and transfer to a warm place (28-29C) for 1 hour (1st proof).
Prepare the tin: Grease baking tin with butter and line with two criss-crossed pieces of parchment paper. Brush the bottom of the tin and sides with butter (for buttery skin).
Assemble and final proof: Gently transfer proofed dough into the tin (no need to de-gas). Spread the dough to fill the tin (you may opt to grease your hands with canola/sunflower oil). Place plums juicy side up (if you have Damson plums - cut in half, if you are using bigger/round plums - cut in quarters), press gently into the dough. Cover the tin and transfer to a warm place (28-29C) for 35-40 minutes (final proof).
Prepare streusel: Mix flour with confectioners’ (icing) sugar and sift. Stir in coarse salt. Add cold butter cut into cubes and using finger tips rub into the mixture until crumbly texture forms. Place in the freezer until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan forced).
Bake: When ready to bake, sprinkle streusel on top of the cake (use it all!). Bake at 190C (170C fan forced) for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 165C (145C fan forced) and bake for another 22-25 minutes. When ready, cool the cake in the tin for 15-20 minutes before serving. When cooled, store covered with clean kitchen towel at room temperature. This cake is best on day 1 but also enjoyable on day 2.