when am I? – five-spice plum cake

when am I? – five-spice plum cake

It’s March already? How can this possibly be March when the last time I saw snow on the ground in NYC was back in October? This weather pattern is out of whack.

Not only has the temperature been intermittently warm, even Spring-like, it’s much sunnier than during average winters. We’ve had the occasional rain and light flurries, but nothing like the winter wonderland in Central Park last year. I do miss those cold and cloudy grey weekends when you want to stay home and envelope yourself in something cozy—or eat something cozy.

During normal winter weekends, I’ll turn on the oven and spend the afternoon baking and perhaps preparing dinner for that evening or the week that follows. M will swing by the kitchen to check on me, make us tea we purchased from our trips, share some off-beat news he read online, or suggest destinations for our next vacation.

With this unseasonal weather pattern comes the realization that my food imagination is more affected than I thought. For winter, I love to indulge in rich desserts—one of my favorite cakes is a Plum Upside Down Cake with sautéed brandy plums paired with a rich dense buttery cake. It speaks winter comfort to me, but it seems more appropriate to enjoy a lighter sweet course this season.

For this winter I tried a variation that gives a fruity sweetness and lighter texture: roasted plums for the filling and a cake batter that includes blackberry preserves. The old-school boiled-milk icing is spiked with five-spice and infused with plum syrup, providing a perfect counter point to the natural tartness of the plums. This cake definitely is lighter than the original Plum Upside Down Cake, yet it retains the comfort profile. Regardless of the season, it’s an enticing dessert or as an afternoon snack with a spot of tea.

Five-Spice Plum Cake


Blackberry Cake
  • 3/4 cup blackberry jam, seedless
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons water
  • 3/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1-1/2 cups (10-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cups (about 4-5/8 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
Roasted Plum Filling
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted and still warm
  • 4 medium size black plums, pitted and cut into eight wedges
Five-Spice Plum Icing
  • 1-1/2 cups (12 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup (1-1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest, freshly grated
  • Reserved plum syrup from roasted plums. about 1/4 cup
  • 24 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks), cut into 24 pieces
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Blackberry Cake layers
  • Five-Spice Plum Icing
  • Roasted Plum Filling


Blackberry Cake

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350℉. Grease and flour two 6-inch cake pans. Microwave jam in medium bowl until thin enough to pour, 30-40 seconds. Whisk buttermilk, water, and vanilla into warm jam. Set aside. Combine spices, flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Set aside.

2. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low add extracts and eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of jam mixture, stopping occasionally to scrape down bowl.

3. Divide batter equally into prepared pans. Tap pans on counter to release air bubbles. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack. Cool completely, at least 1 hour.

Roasted Plum Filling

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 475℉. Combine sugar, honey and warm butter; stir in plum wedges until evenly coated.

2. Spread plums on baking dish in single layers and roast until plums are soft but still hold their shape, about 10-15 minutes. Place roasted plums on a plate to cool completely and reserve syrup, about 1/4 cup.
Five-Spice Plum Icing

1. Combine sugar, baking soda, flour, cornstarch, five-spice and salt in medium bowl. Slowly whisk in milk until smooth. Pour mixture through fine-mesh strainer into medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture boils and is very thick, 5 to 7 minutes. Add plum syrup, stir to combine and cook for another minute. Transfer milk mixture to clean bowl and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

2. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Transfer whipped butter into a medium bowl and return mixing bowl to stand mixer (no need  to clean mixing bowl).

3. Switch to a whisk attachment, add cooled milk mixture, vanilla and almond extract, beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add butter, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Use immediately for soft-swirl frosting or cover and refrigerate for firmer texture, about 1 hour.


1. Slice each layer horizontally to make two even layers. Place one layer on the cake stand. Spread 1/4 cup icing over the top, place 1/3 of roasted plums on top of icing. Place second cake layer on top, and spread another 1/4 cup icing over top, follow by another 1/3 roasted plums. Continue with the remaining layer. Spread icing on top of the last layer well as the side of the cake. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. Serve.

recipe adapted from Cook’s Country