As you can perhaps intuit from the title of this post, this month’s Twelve Loaves challenge was just that for me: a challenge. Called upon to incorporate stone fruit into a bread item, my mind went in a thousand directions at once and came up blank. For me, stone fruits belong in pies and cakes. The idea of combining cherries, or peaches, or apricots, or nectarines with the slow, yeasted rising of a bread was an odd one (although now that I’ve considered it, chocolate and cherry bread sounds fantastic. Inspiration, if anyone still needs an idea for this month?). So I struggled. I wrote down ideas that sounded like madness:
Caramelized apricot yeasted mini loaves, baked in muffin tins too weird.
Plum cobbler not really a bread.
Peach upside down cake not a bread at all!
Irish soda bread with… stone fruit… somehow…
And that was where I landed, nibbling at the edges of this idea. It would be, I decided, a skillet bread: fruit caramelized in the bottom of a cast iron skillet, soda bread dough mounded atop it and then baked and flipped, like the weirdest version of a pineapple upside down cake bread you’ve ever heard of.
Once this weirdness was determined, I settled immediately on plums as my fruit choice. I always forget how much I love plums as a cooked component. None of the insistent fuzziness of peaches to deal with, but bursting with juice, brightly veined, and hiding just the right hit of tartness in that secret microscopically thin layer between skin and flesh. I love that part.
I envisioned bubbling slices of that sweet tartness in a slick of butter and brown sugar, mounding on heaps of gussied up Irish soda bread dough and baking the whole thing into a puffed, flippable cake/bread to have for breakfast, afternoon “tea” (N. and I rarely drink hot tea in the 3pm hour, but love the idea of stopping for a bit of a snack), or maybe even wedges wrapped up in wax paper to take on the road as we head into vacation.
What I got was a stunner-in-progress. I’m going to give you the recipe for exactly what I made, but I know this is not the final iteration of this dish for me. The plums were perfect: juicy, melting into the caramel and the bottom of the bread, sticky and jammy and reminiscent of a triumphant batch of plum butter my mom made one summer with pounds and pound of plums delivered to our door in a brown paper bag straight from a neighbor’s tree. The bread itself was good: solid Irish soda bread, a little richer and a little sweeter from the addition of brown sugar, extra butter, and an egg, perfect for the breakfasts and snacks I envisioned, and better the second day than the first. But as I dug in, I found myself wanting the bread part to be more like cake: more egg, less flour, a hint of vanilla or nutmeg or maybe cardamom. The plums were so good, so gloriously gooey and tooth-sticking-ly caramelized, that they deserve a proper dessert – something you can watch a scoop of ice cream melt over.
Plum Upside Down Irish Soda Bread Cake
2-3 plums, thinly sliced
2 TB butter
¼ cup brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour (this adds some lightness – if you don’t have cake flour, you can use all AP flour instead with slightly denser results)
¼ cup brown sugar (again)
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
¼ cup melted butter
1 ½ cups buttermilk
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- In a cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet), melt the 2 TB butter and toss in the first ¼ cup brown sugar. Stir around until butter and sugar melt together into a sticky, bubbly mass.
- Pull the skillet off the heat and add the plums in an even, single layer right on top of the caramel you’ve created. You can place them in concentric rings if you want, for aesthetics, but so long as you have a complete single layer, you’re in good shape. Set the skillet aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flours, the remaining ¼ cup brown sugar, the baking soda, and the salt until well blended.
- In a small bowl or a 2-cup glass measuring cup (I like it easy), combine the melted butter, buttermilk, and egg. Beat thoroughly with a fork. Some of the melted butter will solidify again when the colder buttermilk hits it, but that’s okay. It will all work out.
- Pour the liquid mixture into your whisked dry ingredients. You can make a well in the center first if you want, but the important thing is just to get them in there. Combine with a fork, as you would with the liquid in biscuits, just until everything is incorporated into a rough, lumpy heap of dough.
- Plop the dough onto the layer of plums and use a spatula or your hands to press it down a bit into an even layer that covers the fruit below.
- Bake in a 400F oven for 30-40 minutes, until the bread is puffed, golden, and reaches an internal temperature of about 180F.
- When the bread is done, let it cool for 5-10 minutes. You can use this time to gather your courage, because the step that comes next is a little bit scary.
- Place a large plate over the top of your cast iron skillet. Being very careful, and using pot holders because that sucker is still smokin’ hot, invert the plate-skillet contraption so that the skillet is resting on the plate, bottom side up. What we’re after is for the bread to give up its hold on the skillet and drop gently onto the plate with the plum layer on top. This may take another 5-10 minutes.
- Once the loaf has unstuck itself from the skillet and landed on the plate, remove the skillet and scrape out any remaining plum slices to add to the top of the cake itself.
- Serve warm, room temperature, or cold, but I think this bread tastes better on day two, when the flavors have had time to meld and deepen a bit.