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September 17, 2007

Tales of the Elephant Heart Plum

Check it out: this post is featured on Yumsugar and Serious Eats!


How fabulous is the bounty of fruit at the farmers' markets right now?

I wanted to make something with plums before they disappeared, and this week when I went to market I saw a variety that I hadn't baked with before: the oh-so-intriguingly named elephant heart plums.

If the slightly macabre name does not give you pause, the fruit's appearance might: a rather mottled and dusty variegation of greens and purples, making one wonder if they've been pulled, half-ripened, out of a kitchen drawer, or, perhaps, if they are something rich and strange from the depths of some sun-dappled forest.

Cut one open, and they indeed resemble something from a fairy tale: a jewellike, blood red interior that is softly, sweetly fragrant and begs to be bitten into, Snow-White style. Don't resist; the flesh is firm and burstingly juicy, the flavor sublimely sweet and tangy at once, redolent of honey and vanilla with tart berry undertones.


I adore this plum, with its perfect heart shape and rich ruby color, the subtle complexities of its flavor such a contrast to its bolder, more straightforward cousins. Incidentally, the dustlike bloom you may see on them at the market is actually a good sign; elephant heart plums are quite delicate and bruise easily, so seeing bloom means that have not been overhandled. Pick plums that are tender but not squishy soft or too firm either. Even a not-perfectly-ripened elephant heart plum is a thing of joy, but a perfect one is like the end of summer distilled into ambrosia.


After eating a couple of these little beauties, I actually had to make sure I didn't get carried away and eat them all before I could bake anything with them (addictive, as in all the best fairy tales! or was that Persephone and her pomegranate seeds?) These plums are of course delightful out of hand, but also spectacular in many late summer or early autumn standards like galettes, tarts, or coffee cakes. The plums hold up well in baking and develop an even richer, more robust flavor.

I went with a recipe I had been waiting all year to try from Emily Luchetti's A Passion for Ice Cream: a plum cornmeal cake paired with a plum sorbet. She calls for Santa Rosa plums in her recipe, a similar plum that's already had its season here in the Bay Area, but any red-fleshed plum like the Elephant Heart would work, or any plum or pluot that is not overly sweet (those that are both sweet and tart work best).


The recipe is a simple and fun one to make; the batter is thick and puddinglike and does not seem to be enough to yield a full cake, but don't worry, it rises prodigiously in the oven to a glorious puffy golden cloud. Be generous in sprinkling the plum pieces over the batter; even if it seems like a lot once the cake bakes up to its full height it will be quite thick and you will want it to be liberally studded with fruit. Not too sweet, pleasingly light and fluffy in texture with the slightest crunch from the cornmeal, this cake is lovely warm from the oven for breakfast or teatime.

The cake would be wonderful all on its own, but I had to make the accompanying plum sorbet, if only to show off that gorgeous wine-red color of the plums just a little more. It's also perfect for emphasizing the fruit in the cake; the chilly sorbet's intense sweetness and tanginess makes me think of plums in the snow. However you choose to devour these plums, they are surely one of the sweetest sendoffs to summer.


Plum Cornmeal Cake

adapted from Emily Luchetti's A Passion for Ice Cream

Makes one 9 1/2-in cake

4-6 ripe red fleshed plums

1 1/2 cups (212 g) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (64 g) cornmeal

6 oz (172 g) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup (200 g) sugar

3 large eggs

1/3 cup (60 g) milk

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cut up the plums into small even pieces (eighths are a good size).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 1/2-in springform pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon into a bowl. Add in the salt and 1/2 cup cornmeal and stir together to combine.

Put the butter and sugar into a mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until light-colored and fluffy.

Add in the eggs one at a time, making sure one is incorporated before adding the other.

Combine the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a small bowl.

Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the mixer bowl in additions, starting and ending with the dry flour mixture. Beat just until all the ingredients are combined.

Spread about half of the mixture into the springform pan, spreading evenly. Place about half of the plum pieces over the batter.

Spread the rest of the batter into the springform pan and top with the remaining plums. Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of cornmeal over the top of the batter.

Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Plum Sorbet

adapted from Emily Luchetti's A Passion for Ice Cream

Makes one 9 1/2-in cake

2 pounds red fleshed plums

1/2 cup (100g) sugar

1/4 cup (45 g) water

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Cut the plums into small pieces (about 1/2-in)and discard the pits. Place plums in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Strain the puree into a bowl - there should be about 2 3/4 cups.

Add in the sugar, water, salt, and lemon juice and combine. Taste and add more sugar if necessary.

Refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours to thoroughly chill.

Freeze in an ice cream machine per manufacturer's instructions. You will get a very soft sorbet that will require further freezing (about 4 hours) in the freezer before you can scoop and serve it.

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Heart shaped plums?? So cute!! It looks like you found the perfect recipes to use them in! The cake and sorbet look amazing!!

Gosh. That looks great! Yummy combination. Love the way you took the picture of the cake as well.

I always buy Elephant hearts plums, the color is just so intense and ruby bright that it just pulls me in. Love the idea of adding it to a cornmeal cake.

Oh, I love discovering new things at the Farmers Market...and even better yet when someone makes something yummy with the discovery.
It all looks so lush and wonderful.

I've never seen this before...beautiful!

What an evocative name, I've been similarly rapturous about the pluots we have, a jewelled ruby red hue on the interior. The cake looks delicious, and I bet it would be great with a variety of fruits at different times of year!

I have become quite fond of cormeal cake but those plums put it over the top...and that sorbet! Oh boy! They remind me of a local pluot we have here although its color is not as deep. This is just homey gorgeous with a touch of class. Well done!

I have a basket of plums at home which were about to be turned into cakes and jams to keep for the winter. I love your cornmeal cake. Just beautiful.

This looks fabulous,Anita! What a beautiful and unusual plum. And you are right to showcase its ruby color by making the sorbet. A terrific sendoff for summer indeed!

Those plums sound absolutely decadent, and your cake looks gorgeous.

Love these pictures Anita..
The juxtiposition of the plums with the gateaux is perfect!

I've had my eye on that cake all year, too! I'm hoping the plum season doesn't run out before I can make it... Your photo has me drooling!

I just got some plums from my Grandma's tree and I think I need to make one or both of these recipes!

I just made the cornmeal plum cake with some lovely pluots I found at Whole Foods. I cannot wait until it comes out of the oven! It's going to be lovely:) I know this because the batter tasted so good...

Those plums are positively adorable! I have never seen them before but they look and sound so cute! A cornmeal cake sounds fantastic for them.

OMG! another winning piece. A really healthy cake!

i LOVE elephant plums! what a gorgeous way to present them in all their glory. and congrats on publishing this post on the two sites, too! you're always an inspiration to start actually using my cookbooks, anita

Absolutely mouth-watering Anita. And truly lovely pictures! I bought some plums today (to make brioche plum pudding since I made a brioche yesterday), but I think I will also make this!

They are the cutest plums, really! And so good to eat, too!

Thank you! They worked really well in both recipes!

Glad to find another fan of the plums! I think they work really nicely in the cake!

Thank you! I agree, finding new things is one of the best parts of going to the farmers' markets!

You know, I think I read that elephant heart plums were bred from Japanese plums - so maybe you have something similar over there!

Mmm...pluots are one of my favorite fall fruits too! I agree I love the color!

Thank you! These plums do remind me a lot of pluots - they taste just different enough from other plums to be exotic!

Thank you! I think this is a really nice cake to show off the plums - but canning them sounds great too, I haven't done that!

Thank you! I finding new things at the market and this one was a real beauty!

Thank you! Those plums are really lovely - almost don't want to bake with them, just eat them!

Thank you! The color of the plums reminded me of your watercolors...:)

Thank you! It is a great recipe - hope you get to try it, I think you'll like it!

Yay for grandmas and their fruit trees! I think these recipes were really nice, hope you like them!

Leslie Ann,
Hope the cake turned out well! Thanks for the compliments!

Thank you! They really are a cool little plum, hope you get to try them! But I think the cake would be good with any plum!

Big Boys,
Thank you! I guess it's not too unhealthy, unless you eat the whole thing!

Thank you! Happy to know you're a fellow fan!:) I try to bake from my cookbooks as often as I can so I don't feel guilty about buying so many!:)

Thank you! Ooh, the brioche plum pudding also sounds divine, can't wait to see it!:)

Seriously, I am hooked on to your desserts!!! each creation of yours beats the previous one!!

Its like a dessert heaven!!!

Thank you for this recipe! I made both and the cake is delicious! I am enjoying a piece right now with my coffee. So easy and soooo good! I haven't tried the sorbet yet. Question...why must you freeze the sorbet twice? why not just puree it and then freeze it?

What if you don't have an ice cream maker? Could you just freeze the sorbet mixture instead?

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