16 February 2008

Prune cake — Gâteau aux pruneaux

Prune cake baked in a ring mold

I've written about cooking with prunes many times on this blog. I've posted about making tajines, or Moroccan braised dishes, with prunes — one lamb and one chicken (recipe). But I've never posted anything about making a dessert with prunes. You'd think that would be the first kind of recipe that somebody would think of when the question turns to prunes, wouldn't you?

The other day, we made a prune cake out of Monique Maine's Cuisine pour toute d'année, a little paperback French cookbook that I've been using successfully for more than 25 years. It's a cake I've been making for almost that long, but this time Walt helped me make it even better.

First, here's the French recipe:

And here's my translation for the ingredient list:
  • ½ lb. prunes
  • 1 liter strong hot tea
  • 4 oz. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, separated
 So it's pretty simple. The first thing the recipe says is to start the day before by rinsing the prunes under running water and then soaking them overnight in the strong tea.

Flour, sugar, and prunes

In practice, I've found that soaking the prunes for about two hours is sufficient. I think prunes are sold not quite so dry as they used to be, so less soaking is fine. California prunes are excellent.

After you soak the prunes, pit them. I just cut them open, pop out the pit, and then cut the prunes in half. You could cut them into smaller pieces if you wanted to.

Soak and pit the prunes. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.

Now you make the cake: Put the softened butter in a lukewarm bowl and pour in the sugar. Mix with a fork until all the sugar is incorporated.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites and mix the yolks into the sugar-butter mixture one at a time, incorporating each yolk well. Then mix the flour in. You will have a very stiff batter.

This is the stage where Walt helped me. He's a better pastry cook than I am. Beat the egg whites in another bowl. When they form soft peaks, mix about a third of the beaten egg whites into the batter to soften it up. When that's well mixed, fold in the rest of the egg whites, trying not to deflate them too much. Then fold the soaked, pitted prunes into the batter.

Yum, prune cake

Bake the cake in a buttered cake or loaf pan in a 350ºF oven for about 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

A silicone savarin mold

I added about a teaspoon of armagnac (a French brandy similar to cognac) to my recipe, because that's a classic flavor with prunes. Armagnac is made in the southwest France region where the best French plums are grown. It's optional. You could put in a drop or two of vanilla extract or kirsch.

And as you see I baked the cake in a moule à savarin, which I guess is the French equivalent of a bundt pan. I made the French cake called a savarin a couple of years ago but that was the only time, and this was a good occasion to use that mold again.

I haven't tried it yet, but I think this same cake would be really good made with dried apricots soaked the same way, but in white wine or just water. I have to try it — maybe today or tomorrow.


  1. Oh this is one recipe I AM going to try....sounds wonderful. Thanks, Victoria, Bellingham,WA

  2. You gave me that recipe more than twenty years ago when we worked together in Washington, DC. Shame on me, I never tried it. I should put myself together and do it in the near future. It looks so good in the moule à savarin!

  3. Hey, Ken. I, too, am from NC--Wilmington. I make a cake with dried prunes and apricots. The combo is really delicious. I look forward to reading your blog and Walt's every day.

  4. Hello Sallyann, glad to hear from you. Thanks for the idea. We made the cake again yesterday (since we had already eaten the other one) using dried apricots soaked in white wine. We also added in a teaspoon of kirschwasser. It is a very good cake. Next time I'll try it with both apricots and prunes.

    CHM and Victoria, do try it. But don't be surprised if the batter seems very thick before you mix in the egg whites. In fact yesterday, we thinned it with a tablepoon a cream and even a little splash of milk before incorporating the egg whites. It came out great. It's very good with apricots.

  5. Just looks yummy!

  6. Using Australian pitted prunes and there is no need to infuse them with tea. These prunes are sweet and sufficiently juicy. Also used about 15ml of Martell cognac. Bake 15min at 450f, 15min at 400f then 30min at 360f. Magnifique!
    Ps don't separate the eggs, just gently beat them.


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