I'm reminded of Maurice Sendak's wonderful In The Night Kitchen whenever I bake anything late at night, as I did Saturday night while taking a break from Swann's Way. The apartment was quiet and I had just read the passage about asparagus: "tinged with ultramarine and pink which shaded off from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible gradations to their white feet -- still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed -- with an iridescence that was not of this world."
When I looked up, I had my own Proustian moment of memory: reading and rereading Night Kitchen as a kid after I should have been in bed, while my mom made bread or cookies. The warm comfortable smell of whatever she was baking would radiate down the hall, and I'd keep reading until I fell asleep. One memorable winter night, she made something with plums -- I don't remember what -- but the jammy, sweet-sharp smell has stuck in my head as a favorite. I decided to set Mr. P down, even though I was far from the end, and make something plummy. I needed a little espresso boost later on to continue powering through 606 pages of someone else's memories, but it was worth it to have that familiar aroma floating around me again.
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
Big pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg
5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Five plums, cut in half and with pits removed (You'll have an extra half left over)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees; butter and flour an 8x8 square pan.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer, then add the eggs one at a time, followed by the oil, zest and vanilla. On medium speed, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
4. Using a spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plum halves, cut side up, on top of the batter in three rows of three. Nudge them into the batter a bit and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean from the center of the cake. The area around the plums will be a little custardy -- that's good!
5. Let the cake cool for at least half an hour in the pan, then invert it onto a plate and serve it right-side up, or cut into squares around each plum. If there's any leftover cake the next day, it'll be jammy and soaked in the plum juices. Delicious.