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Pull Out the Plums


Fresh plums are at their peak in late July and August. And since they hold their shape and color so well, they're perfect for microwave cooking.

Good, sweet plums that have a deep color and are softening at the tip are the best ones to use in cooking. They will be sweet enough for the following recipes, especially the plum "ice cream." Plums are first cooked and then processed with yogurt and a little sugar to form a spoon-able frozen-fruit puree. This can be stored, tightly packed, in the freezer and served for an afternoon snack or evening dessert. You can even scoop some out as a topping for pancakes or waffles for breakfast.

The plum upside-down cake is one of our favorites. It is a simple yellow cake, crowned by plum slices that glisten in a sugar-and-butter glaze. Best of all, it can be cooked in less than 20 minutes.

PLUM UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE Butter Sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 pound plums, pitted and cut into eighths, leave peels on to make swirl design 1 egg, beaten 1 cup cake flour or all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/3 cup milk 1 tablespoon vanilla, kirsch or brandy Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream, optional

Place 2 tablespoons butter in 8 1/2-inch round microwave-proof cake dish. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) until butter melts, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Tip dish to coat evenly with melted butter. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon in cup or small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over buttered dish. Arrange cut plums, skin side down and overlapping, in concentric circles inside buttered dish. Set aside.

Combine 4 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup sugar in medium mixing bowl and cream until light. Beat in egg.

Combine flour and baking powder in another bowl. Add flour mixture alternately with milk to creamed butter mixture. Stir in vanilla. Spoon batter evenly over plums, spreading with spatula to make level surface.

Place dish on microwave-proof cereal bowl in microwave oven. Microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 8 minutes, then on HIGH until wooden tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 3 to 7 minutes, rotating 1/4 turn 2 to 3 times if necessary. (Top may appear damp but should not be wet.)

Let cake stand directly on counter 5 to 10 minutes before turning out. Invert cake onto serving plate, firmly tapping bottom of dish to release. Serve warm with whipped cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

PLUM "ICE CREAM" 1 pound ripe sweet Damson plums, pitted (leave peels on for color) 2 tablespoons low-fat plain yogurt 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place plums in 1-quart microwave-proof casserole. Cover with lid or plastic wrap, turned back slightly. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) until tender, 2 1/2 to 4 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes.

Place plums in bowl of food processor or blender. Add yogurt, sugar and vanilla and puree until smooth. Spoon mixture into ice cube container with sections removed or similar container.

Freeze 3 to 4 hours. If too hard to serve at this point, spoon mixture into processor and process briefly to break up ice crystals. Makes 4 servings.

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