Friday, 21 September 2012


Growing up one of my favourite cakes was Zwetschgenkuchen (or Zwetschgendatschi if I was talking to those members of my family that live in Bavaria). A thin yeasty dough topped with handfuls of super-ripe fruit (preferably next to some whipped cream) is my idea of heaven.
Zwetschgen are a type of plum. The problem is that the name doesn't seem to translate well. Just from looking at the fruit it looks a lot like damsons do but not completely so I think they are not quite the same thing. The internet is really not helpful here so here is my own description to add to the confusion:
Zwetschgen are a type of plum that has yellow (sometimes even greenish) flesh rather than the reddish hue 'proper' plums have. Rather than being nice and round like plums, Zwetschgen are more elongated. Their skin is a lovely shade of purple and they contain less water than plums.
So whatever you call this type of plum wherever you are, this is the kind I want you to look for when you make this cake.
Now, why am I even going on about the differences here? I think using the right kind of fruit here makes all the difference beween a really yummy cake and a soggy mess. If the fruit contains too much water it starts seeping out too early and the dough has no chance to bake whereas the juice you see in the picture above only started appearing 5 minutes before the cake was done (I couldn't have hoped for better fruit here). My aunt says the ones too early in the season are useless if you want to bake because they still have too much water in them but since I am still too focused on blueberries and blackberries when the first Zwetschgen start to arrive I am only relaying this.
Anyhow, what else can I tell you? The recipe is my great aunt's and most people in my family use her recipe because it's easy and more importantly - the dough to fruit ratio is perfect (lots of fruit and just enough dough).

I use water for this dough but you could also use some lukewarm milk if you want somewhat creamier results.

300g Flour
28g Fresh Yeast (or 2/3 of a pack of active dry yeast)
1 tbsp Sugar (for the yeast)
1 1/2 tbsp Sugar (for dough)
80g Fat (I use butter) melted and slightly cooled
2 Egg Yolks
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
A pinch of Salt
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
2kg Zwetschgen

 Put the flour into a mixing bowl and crumble the yeast into the middle. Add the first tablespoon of sugar to the yeast and mix with just enough water to make a fairly liquid sponge.  Allow the sponge to bubble up for 20 minutes or so. If you are using active yeast, skip this step, add all the sugar later, and keep in mind that you'll need some water later.

Once the sponge is nice and bubbly, add the remaining sugar, fat, egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract, and lemon zest and knead the dough until it starts having that velvety feel and slight sheen to it that you notice when the gluten bonds are starting to properly develop. If you feel your dough is too dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time. If you are kneading the dough by hand this will easily take 10 minutes. Don't give up too early because the dough will be a lot easier to handle later on.

Set the dough aside and let it proof at room temperature for about two hours or until it has doubled in size (you could also go for an overnight proof if that makes things easier for you, keep in mind that you'll have allow for the dough to come back to room temperature before baking it).

While the dough is doing it's thing, wash the fruit, then cut it in half, taking out the stones.
Preheat your oven to 180˚C

When the dough had doubled in size, knock it back slightly and roll it out to fit on a full baking sheet. Yes, in case you are wondering, the dough will be fairly thin. It's supposed to be.

Lay the fruit halves on the dough, skin down. You want them to overlap slightly (about 1/4 - 1/3) so you can fit more fruit onto the cake but don't go overboard - I wouldn't overlap more than 1/2 of the previous row, otherwise the cake tends to become somewhat soggy.

Let the cake sit on the counter for 15 minutes or so to allow the dough to puff up a bit more (super scientific descriptions going on today...), then place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the cake for 25-30 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool before you cut it into generous pieces. Freshly whipped cream works incredibly well with this cake and you could also add a crumble topping before baking the cake (but if I'm honest with you I would just keep the cake plain - that way you can focus on the taste of the fruit).

What's your favourite cake?

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