The finale to plum season is the arrival of Italian plums. I wait patiently for these small treasures to appear at Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market (YDFM) every September. YDFM is not so much a farmers market, as it is a bustling and authentically diverse 140,000 square foot warehouse market with fresh food and specialty products from around the world. Italian plums do not like humidity so they are not found in the South – the plums I found last week at YDFM were from the Idaho, one of the top plum producers in America.
Italian “prune” plum’s dark purple skin and greenish flesh magically transform into a sticky bright garnet jam when cooked. When I can get my hands on them I ambitiously buy enough to keep myself busy making plum kuchen (zwetschgenkuchen), torte, cake, jam, compote, soup, and other Jewish treats, often originating from Europe where Italian plum varieties are common.
When I lived in Denver for a few short years we had an Italian plum tree in our suburban yard. I was astounded at how bountiful the tree was. This was when I first started making my yearly plum kuchen – just in time to break the fast on Yom Kippur. A kuchen is a traditional German coffee cake, often using seasonal fruit.
The inspiration for my Almond Plum Kuchen Streusel Muffin recipe was to enjoy the flavors, buttery cakiness and jammy sweetness of a classic Plum Kuchen as a portable breakfast treat. A kuchen is a flat cake and not a great batter for muffins. I turned to my go-to Joanne Change fruit muffin recipe and adapted it to make a muffin with a kuchen sensibility.
The bottom of European plum tarts often add a layer of thick plum jam, called lekvar, underneath the fresh plums. To ensure this kind of maximum plum flavor in my muffins I borrowed the idea of adding plum compote into the batter from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook’s Plum, Marzipan and Cinnamon Muffins. Instead of an oven baked compote like Ottolenghi’s the compote I adapted was a stovetop Plum Compote from Ethel G. Hofman’s cookbook Everyday Cooking for the Jewish Home.
I also add diced fresh plums to the batter for the sweet-tart plum pools they create as they bake in the batter. Yet even more fresh plum pieces are scattered on top to caramelize as they cook!
The Almond Plum Kuchen Streusel Muffin recipe includes both Plum Compote and Streusel recipes. Both are easy to make, can be made ahead of time, and are well worth the effort. The plum compote tastes spectacular on yogurt, ice cream or as a stand-alone dessert with whipped cream on top. The streusel is the classic one I’ve been making and changing for so many years I have no idea what recipe I originally used for inspiration. It can be kept in the freezer to sprinkle on top of any of your favorite muffins or quick breads before baking.
To add almond kuchen flavor as a flavor backdrop I again looked to the cleverness of the Ottolenghi, The Cookbook, which uses the unique method of grating marzipan directly into Plum, Marzipan and Cinnamon Muffin batter. I added almond paste instead of marzipan because it is not as sweet, is coarser textured, has double the almonds, and has additional almond extract. In Europe where Ottolenghi cooks, marzipan and almond paste are just about the same and there is little difference in the two. In America almond paste is often an ingredient in marzipan.
When you bite into Almond Plum Kuchen Streusel Muffins, close your eyes and let the flavors of the warm fall plums, almonds, lemon, vanilla and cinnamon transport you to your Bubbe, Oma, Anya, Nonna, Opa or Tata’s home or to a sweet little bakery in a village somewhere in Europe.
Almond Plum Kuchen Streusel Muffins
Makes 13 muffins (not 12 or 14!)
1 ½ cup plums cut into ½” pieces (~3/4 lb)
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs water
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice
Cook 8 minutes over medium low heat until plums are broken down, syrupy and bright fuchsia pink. Let cool. Plum Compote can be made and refrigerated for 3-4 days.
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tbs white sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs melted butter
Mix all ingredients together with a fork or your hands until crumbly. Streusel can be made and refrigerated for up to 1 week and frozen for up to 1 month.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (our Southern belle White Lily Flour brand makes the lightest baked goods)
¼ tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup sour cream
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
4 tbs unsalted sweet butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup plum compote
3 oz almond paste
1 ½ cup Italian prune plums cut into ½” pieces (1 cup for batter, ½ cup sprinkled on top)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Bring all ingredients to room temperature
- In large bowl sift together flour, baking soda and powder, salt and cinnamon
- In medium bowl whisk together sour cream, white and brown sugars, butter, egg, egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla
- Add plum compote and coarsely grate almond paste into batter. Mix until just barely combined.
- Gently fold dry ingredients into batter until just barely combined.
- Add 1 cup diced plums and mix gently.
- Divide batter between baking cup lined muffin pans.
- Place 2-3 pieces of the remaining ½ cup diced plums, sliced side up, on top of muffins.
- Evenly sprinkle streusel on muffins. Press slightly with your hands to make sure streusel stays on batter.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until brown and toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs sticking to it.
- Eat warm or wait one day for flavors to combine for even more plum goodness. Muffins can also be frozen for 3 weeks.