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Visions of Prune Plums

September 16, 1993|MARCIA CONE and THELMA SNYDER

There are something like 140 varieties of plums, but the seasonal arrival of the purple Italian prune plum is something special indeed. This variety of European plum, grown in the United States, is deep-purple in color and smaller, denser and less juicy than any Japanese variety. The fact that it has less juice makes it a natural for the microwave, which is a cooking process that tends to hold in more moisture than other cooking methods--another variety of plum could become too watery.

Italian prune plums are freestone too, which means that they can be easily pitted for cooking.

When Italian prune plums start filling our markets, we like to experiment. We developed "Swedish plum cake" after we heard about a Swedish apple cake made of layers of cooked apples and graham cracker crumbs. We substituted uncooked plums and found we had a simple dessert that can be prepared and cooked in 20 to 25 minutes.

Plums in parchment is a great company dessert because each person receives a festively tied packet. The microwave oven allows the packets to be cooked ready to serve with non-metallic ribbon ties. The recipe could double as a Sunday-morning brunch dish, topped with frozen yogurt, or as a side dish for grilled meats.

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This cake is more like a pudding than a cake because it is made of layers of fruit, jelly and graham cracker crumbs all melded together. The ingredients will cook down to half the size of the dish to produce a garnet-colored gem. Top it with fluffy Frozen Cinnamon Yogurt.

SWEDISH PLUM CAKE 2 pounds Italian prune plums, pitted and cut into 8 pieces 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest 1 cup graham cracker crumbs 1/3 cup currant jelly 1 tablespoon butter

Frozen Cinnamon Yogurt or Ice Cream, optional

Combine plums, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and lemon zest in large bowl.

Sprinkle bottom of 2-quart round microwave-proof casserole with 1 tablespoon graham cracker crumbs. Spoon 1/3 of plum mixture into casserole. Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 of remaining graham cracker crumbs.

Microwave currant jelly in 1-cup measure on HIGH (100% power) 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in butter until melted. Spoon 1/3 of melted jelly mixture over graham cracker crumbs in casserole. Repeat layering of plums, graham cracker crumbs and melted jelly 2 more times until all ingredients have been used.

Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH 10 to 15 minutes or until plums are cooked through, rotating dish twice if necessary. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or chilled with scoops of Frozen Cinnamon Yogurt. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

* Frozen Cinnamon Yogurt * or Ice Cream 1 pint frozen vanilla yogurt or ice cream 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Remove cover from frozen yogurt. Place paper or plastic carton in microwave oven and microwave on DEFROST 30 seconds to 1 minute or until yogurt is soft enough to spoon easily. Spoon yogurt into mixing bowl. Quickly stir in cinnamon. Return yogurt to container and refreeze at least 1 1/2 hours to harden. Makes 1 pint.

PLUMS IN PARCHMENT 1 pound Italian prune plums, pitted and cut into eighths 1/4 cup raisins 1 tablespoon minced candied ginger 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed 1 tablespoon brandy, optional Frozen Cinnamon Yogurt or Ice Cream

Combine plums, raisins, candied ginger, lemon zest, brown sugar and brandy in bowl and mix well.

Cut 4 (12-inch) squares parchment paper. Divide plum mixture evenly among squares, spooning into middle of each. Pull up 4 corners of 1 paper together and tie with ribbon about 12 inches long. Follow same procedure with other 3.

Place packets in microwave in circle with 1-inch space between them. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 4 to 6 minutes, until cooked through. As each person unties his packet, top with 1 scoop Frozen Cinnamon Yogurt or Ice Cream. Makes 4 servings.

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