For some weeks now, with booking Nutcracker tickets high on my to-do list, I’ve had ‘visions of sugar plums’ dancing in my head. Especially with October being the end of British plum season, and after buying a couple kilos of Marjorie’s Seedling plums from an old lady nearby who grows them. But I had no idea what sugar plums actually are.
What I found online is a lot of conflicting information. Some say that sugar plum is a term that denotes a type of confectionery, made from dried fruits, typically served around Christmas time (and has nothing to do with plums at all). Others claim sugar plums are indeed real plums, dried, sugared and baked like a zillion times and then hung on Christmas trees.
Frankly none of it sounded like what I had in mind for these gorgeous, golden-fleshed beauties. We ate quite a few of them as is, but they were a bit too soft really, and were begging to be baked into something. But time was running short, as they were rapidly turning over-ripe in the bowl, so I had to act fast.
Rather fancying a puddingy type dessert, I of course thought of Plum Pudding. But, again, not what I thought it would be. The plum pudding of fairy tale fame is actually more commonly known today as Christmas Pudding – that dense, dark domed cake you light on fire before enjoying with brandy-laced cream (YUM). But too, too much for today.
I finally settled on making a baked batter pudding, which some of you might recognize as being the British counterpart of a French clafoutis. It is a custardy dessert with a consistency rather like a cross between flan and bread pudding. The British version, especially Mrs. Beeton’s above*, looks like a Yorkshire Pudding recipe, but the addition of stewed or fresh fruit renders the finished product a lot more moist and, of course, sweet.
After much reading and comparing, I made up my own, combining my idea of sugared plums with a diplomatic trans-manche pudding and some cinnamon too (my go-to Autumn flavour). This is really easy to make and results in such spicy, syrupy gorgeousness that you’ll be literally licking your plate clean (like I did).
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar (I used brown) plus 2 extra Tbsp kept aside
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Small knob of butter
Very ripe plums, stoned (pitted in US parlance but stoned is British and sounds funnier to my juvenile sense of humour) and halved. You need enough plums for the halves to cover the bottom of your baking dish. I used 14 plums since they were a small variety.
1 Tbsp icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. Beat the eggs and then add the milk, cream and vanilla and beat together until blended.
3. Sift in dry ingredients and whisk for about a minute.
4. Use the butter to grease the bottom of your baking dish, then line it with the plum halves, cut-side down.
5. Sprinkle the plums with 1/2 of the leftover sugar.
6. Pour the batter over the plums and then sprinkle the rest of the sugar on top.
7. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until nicely puffy and golden-brown. (It will sink a few minutes after coming out of the oven and that’s ok.)
8. Sift the icing sugar over the top just prior to serving. (You may decide to skip this step. I’m actually undecided as to whether the icing sugar adds to or detracts from the beauty of the dish. The plums are so pretty that next time I might just leave it alone. What do you think?)
*Isabella Beeton was the British 19th century Martha Stewart. Her ground-breaking ‘Book of Household Management’, 1861 (scanned from the 1907 edition) is now available for free as a PDF download. It’s entertaining, informative and beautiful – go get it!