I love prunes. They’re sweet and chewy and delicious. I always travel with them (for obvious reasons). I once brought a huge bag with me on a trip to Sri Lanka. My adorable grandmother tasted a prune, presumably for the first time, and then asked me if she could keep the entire bag. I said yes because I also love my grandmother. I realized that if prunes didn’t have such a stigma everyone would be eating them all day like candy. That was my grandmother’s plan. I get it.
I was flipping through my cookbook the other day, trying to imagine strangers reading it, when I got to a recipe for Custard Cake with Chocolate and Prunes. It’s one of my favorites. It’s a butter cake studded with chopped prunes and chocolate and swirled with a ribbon of vanilla custard. I know it sounds a little strange. But I think it’s lovely. And I’m afraid that no one is ever going to make it. I fear that prunes will freak people out. I realized that this recipe is my cookbook underdog. The last kid picked in gym class. How is she ever going to compete against the much more obvious Apple Danish, Chocolate Cake, or the Gingered Strawberry Rhubarb Pie? She’s the nerd in a sea of popular kids.
So I wanted to give her a proper spotlight. Custard Cake with Prunes and Chocolate was this week’s blog plan. Then I went over to a friend’s house. And her apricot tree was swollen with fruit. She begged me to take some home. And just like that, the prunes got kicked to the curb. Poor prunes. They can’t win.
This week I give you an adaptation of the Custard Cake with Chocolate and Prunes from my upcoming cookbook, made not with chocolate and prunes but with seasonal apricots. It’s nice with apricots. And it’s also nice with prunes. Let’s enjoy summer fruit for now. Come December, when the snow is swirling and the plums and the people have all shriveled, we’ll make this cake again and Prune will have her day.
PS. My cookbook seems to be on super sale right now! I can’t tell if I should be concerned or pleased, but either way the thing is cheap. It’s a good time to buy! Check out the links on the right. September 8th is only a month away.
P.P.S. I want to give a shout out to my tech-savvy friend Juliet! She helped me add that nifty search bar on the right and create a beautiful recipe index. Search away, friends.
Apricot and Custard Cake
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1 3/4 cup (7 7/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 ounces small apricots, pitted and coarsely chopped
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
1. To prepare the custard, stir together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium bowl until smooth. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer over medium heat. Add a little bit of the warm milk mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk to combine. Repeat this process a few times until all of the milk mixture has been incorporated into the yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the pan.
2. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and making sure to get the edges, until the mixture begins to thicken, 2 to 4 minutes. (It’s helpful to have both a spatula and a whisk handy while making the custard. Switch between the two.) Let it come up to a very slow boil and cook for 1 minute more. Strain the custard through the sieve into a clean bowl, and stir in the butter. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream and refrigerate until cooled completely.
3. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Line the pan with parchment leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides.
4. To prepare the cake, stir the chilled custard to loosen it a bit. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at time, scraping down the bowl in between. Beat in the flour mixture then milk and the vanilla extract. Fold in the 2/3’s of the apricots. The batter will be thick.
5. Using an offset spatula, spread half of the cake batter evenly in the prepared pan. Top with the custard in dollops. Using the spatula, swirl the cake batter and the custard a few times to intersperse it. Top with dollops of the remaining cake batter and spread it out, covering the custard layer as best as you can. Top with the remaining apricots.
6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour. Cool slightly on a rack and then lift the cake out of the pan. Dust with confectioners’ sugar to serve.