Recipe: Vicki Ravlich-Horan | Photography: Ashlee deCaires

This beautiful cake is a great example of how the addition of just two ingredients can result in something very different. The addition of nuts makes the cake beautifully moist, while the sharpness of the plums is a beautiful contrast to the sweet cake. Another alternative would be almond and apricot.

175g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1¼ cup flour
1½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup pistachios
6–8 plums (fresh or tinned)

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract then eggs one at a time, beating well between each. Fold in the flour and baking powder and pistachios until just combined. Pour into a greased 21cm round tin. Place halved plums on top and bake at 175°C for 30–35 minutes. When cooled, simply dust with icing sugar before serving.

Tips for success

  • The butter needs to be soft but not melted. If you have forgotten to get the butter out to soften, don’t be tempted to nuke it in the microwave, this will almost always mean melted butter. Cut the butter into small cubes and place in a warm place, it will soften in no time.
  • Creaming the butter and sugar is a crucial step and unless you are up for a serious work out, best done with an electric mixer. Don’t confuse mixing with creaming. When you cream sugar with butter, the water in the butter starts to dissolve the sugar, trapping air as tiny bubbles in the fat. It is these bubbles that will make the cake rise when it bakes.
  • Use room temperature eggs and add them one at a time—this makes it easier for them to incorporate into the butter and sugar and avoid the mixture curdling. The egg proteins strengthen those precious air bubbles you made by creaming the butter and sugar, so when heated the air can expand and turn to steam causing the cake to rise.

Good quality vanilla will turn a plain cake into a delicious cake. Vanilla is a natural flavour enhancer, note I say ‘natural’. Throw out those fake vanilla essences and invest in the real deal—vanilla extract. There are now a number of great versions readably available, especially at great food stores like Red Kitchen (in Te Awamutu and Hamilton) and The Herbal Dispensary (Raglan).  Vetro (Third Ave, Tauranga)

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