As the Jewish holidays approach — especially if there’s a lot of entertaining in your future — it’s good to have a few quick, fail-safe, festive dishes in your repertoire. I call them back-pocket recipes. I have one for brisket (cover with tomatoes and onions; cook low and slow for 4 hours) and one for root vegetables (toss with olive oil; roast at high heat until browned and then drizzle with pomegranate molasses for the last few minutes).
And then there’s my back-pocket dessert. It’s a one-bowl, one-spoon cake with endless variations. You make a simple batter, almost like a quick bread (baking powder is the rising agent), with no fancy whipping or folding, and top it with your favorite fruit. To complement the fruit you can add a flavoring — vanilla, rose water, citrus zest — and sprinkle it with a topping — raw sugar, crumbled cookies.
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In less than an hour, you’ll pull from the oven a golden-topped, crackly cake punctuated by pieces of fruit that have sunk down a little. Cut into it and you’ll find a dense crumb colored with juices. If you don’t finish it for dessert, it’s equally good as breakfast.
I’ve been trying to come up with a catchy mnemonic so I’d never forget the details of this simple recipe. So far, my best attempt has been counting it out like a bandleader revving up his crew with a few snaps of his finger: a 1, and a 2, and a 1-2-3-4. If you squint and cock your head to the side and use a little imagination, you’ll remember this stands for a one (cup flour), and a two (eggs), and a one-half (cup oil) three-fourths (cup sugar). It’s a bit of a stretch, but once you make it, you’ll never need the recipe again.
The version I share here is perfect this time of year, when plums are in season. I play up the floral aspects of the stone fruit with rose water and balance out the sweetness with a little lime zest. Come Rosh Hashanah, I bake this with apples, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon, omitting the zest. My mother makes it with peaches and nectarines, and I’ve also tried it with blueberries. This week I plan to halve a bunch of apricots and top the cake with crumbled amaretti cookies.
Gayle Squires is a food writer, recipe developer and photographer. Her path to the culinary world is paved with tap shoes, a medical degree, business consulting and travel. She has a knack for convincing chefs to give up their secret recipes. Her blog is KosherCamembert