This recipe not only celebrates our lovely in season plums, but also a fantastic organic and unrefined sugar called Panela. Panela sugar is a product of dried sugar cane juice. It retains the beneficial nutrients and minerals (so that makes this cake healthy, no?) and has a caramel like flavour. I found it worked so well with the slightly tart flavour of the plums, and gave the cake a rich golden colour.
I was introduced to Panela sugar by Sophie, one half of the Ballarat based business Grounded Pleasures. Sophie and I met last year at a Local is Lovely Workshop, at which she brought along some of the Grounded Pleasures products which mostly consist of exquisite hot chocolates. We made hot chocolates the old fashioned way over the gas stove in the shed in which our workshop was hosted in. And since it was a very chilly Winters day, they were much welcomed by everyone.
Sophie told us about some of the other products they sell at Grounded Pleasures, which included the Panela Sugar, vanilla (beans & extract) and a Real White Drinking Chocolate. I was quite interested in the latter, since I am unable to eat (or drink) chocolate for health reasons and thus always miss out on a warming cup of hot chocolate in Winter.
Soon after the workshop, I got some of the Panela Sugar and the White Hot Chocolate and instantly loved cooking and eating/drinking both. The Panela Sugar is easily substituted in many recipes where caster sugar is called for, and I found it added a lovely depth of flavour to muffins in particular.
Since then Sophie has sent me some more of their delicious products, which has lead to much recipe inspiration. I found the Panela Sugar and vanilla products not only worked really well in this cake, but also made a really nice simple homemade ice cream. The Panela Sugar gave a rich caramel flavour and colour to the simple vanilla ice cream, which paired well with the cake, but also tasted so good on its own as a simple mid-week dessert.
A note on using vanilla beans in baking - don’t throw away the vanilla pods after the seeds have been used in the cake/ice cream. Keep them to make vanilla sugar or homemade vanilla extract, even without the seeds the pods retain a lot of flavour.
Ingredients for the Cake:
125g flavourless margarine, or softened unsalted butter
150g Grounded Pleasures Organic Panela Sugar, plus extra
1 Grounded Pleasures Organic Vanilla Bean, seeds scraped
75g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
150g almond meal
2 plums (any variety)
Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Line a 20cm round loose bottomed (or springform) cake tin with baking paper.
Beat the margarine/butter with the Panela sugar, seeds of the vanilla pod and the vanilla extract, until fluffy and creamy. In a separate bowl, gently whisk together the flour and baking powder.
Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Then fold in the plain flour and baking powder, along with the almond meal.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Cut the plums in half, then in half again. Then slice up each plum quarter into 3 or 4 slices. Place the plum slices onto the top of the cake, working your way around the outside of the cake then moving into the middle (you might not need all of the two plums, it will depend on their size). Keep the slices of plum fairly close together as they will separate a little when the cake rises. Sprinkle the plums with some more Panela sugar.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden in colour and a skewer comes out clean. The cake will be a deep golden colour due to the Panela sugar.
Leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool - alternatively serve warm as a dessert with the Vanilla and Panela Ice Cream.
Ingredients for the Ice Cream:
165mlfull cream milk
250ml pouring cream
1 Grounded Pleasures Organic Vanilla bean, seeds scraped
Whisk the milk and Panela Sugar together until the sugar has dissolved and the milk has become frothy. Then add the cream, the vanilla extract and the seeds of the vanilla bean and whisk until combined.
Transfer mixture into the bowl of an ice cream machine, and process according to machine instructions. Once ready, transfer ice cream into a freezer safe container and freeze for at least 4 hours (overnight is best).
References: ‘Holiday’ by Bill Granger (Murdoch Books, 2007), p.124; ‘Lomelino’s Ice Cream’ by Linda Lomelino (Roost Books, 2015), p.13.