“Vor jeden pot passt ein deckel” Man, that is so true. What? Don’t speak German? Basically it means for every pot there's a lid. You know, like for every shoe there’s a mate. Seems appropriate that this saying has been rolling around my head for most of my adult life. It’s a message to have hope that somewhere out there is my job, my guy, my right fit. My Oma, (Tante Betty to most who knew her) firmly lodged that little nugget in my brain about 30 years ago, and it still holds today. Of course that doesn’t stop me from wanting to yell in a very loud and whiney voice I WANT IT NOW! Unfortunately, some days I’m filled with less of life’s wisdom than others. And to that Oma would say, “This too shall pass.” I wish just once she had said “Ach Schatzie, zee BIG bag of money ees hidden in zee strudel." No such luck. But her pearls of wisdom really are true. Hope is essential to get through the rough times; it’s just that some days you really have to work hard to find it. She seemed to find it though. She came to this country at 19, trained as a cook, but really wanted to be a movie star. Add to that she didn't know the language, but did know somehow that here things would be better. Now that’s a serious case of hope for the future! Oma was quite a wonderful force of nature. And I truly believe she thought if she wanted something done and told you to do it, it would happen … because she said so. Years ago, at another time in my life of joblessness (and manlessness), she took me aside, looked me firmly in the eye and said: You know vat you zhould do? You zhould find a job, und find a husband.” Now why didn’t I think of that?! She probably figured I hadn’t so she would just set me straight. And for years I have been sharing her “passt ein deckel” wisdom to my friends, colleagues, and anyone else who looks like they could use a little boost of hope. I’ve even heard a few tell their friends “passt ein deckle.” What do you know Oma, you are a STAR after all! Ja, dat vould haf made her veery happy. Now I have to stop writing, because I have to find a job and a man. Look out Mr. Clooney, here I come. Oma said so!
My grandmother’s culinary prowess was legendary, and her baking was the best. I’ve decided to share one my family's favorite. If she were still around, I know Oma would approve (although she surely would have said “Ein blog??? Vat is dat?) The proper name for this cake is Zwetchken Kuchen, but for those of you who are umlaut-challenged or dry of mouth (it requires an abundance of spit to speak German), I’ll give it to you as Tante Betty’s Plum Cake. The pastry is called müerbeteig, so if you are feeling adventurous, feel free to wrap your mouth around that one!
Tante Betty’s Plum Tart (Zwetchken Kuchen)
Makes two nine-inch tarts (If you don't have two tart pans, you can make this in nine-inch layer cake pans. It works fine.)
For the fruit
- 4 lbs ripe Italian prune plums cut into quarters lengthwise (also called damson plums – they are the ones that are small and egg-shaped)
- 1/3 cup sugar or a little more, depending upon the ripeness of the plums
- 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
- a pinch of salt (or a messerspitze which means the amount the fits on the tip of a knife)
For the müerbeteig (the pastry)
- 2 cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 stick of cold butter, cut in ½ inch cubes
- 1 TBSP lemon juice (you may not need it all)
- 3/4 cup crushed amaretto or other hard almond cookies
- 2 TBSP slivered almonds
- ¼ cup currant or seedless raspberry jam, plus 1 tsp water
- 1 1/2 TBSP butter
- sugar in the raw for sprinkling over the plums (about 1-2 tsp)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix the sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a bowl, then toss with the plum quarters and let sit while you make the pastry.
Make the pastry base: (Oma made this by hand so that’s the way the recipe is written. There’s no reason why you can’t make the pastry in a food processor if you prefer.)
Mix 2 cups flour, ½ cup sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Pour out onto a board in a mound. Make a well in the center and put in the beaten egg, cold pieces of butter and half of the lemon juice. Mix the ingredients together with your hands until it just comes together (careful not to over knead). If it’s a little too dry, add in the rest of the lemon juice.
Divide the dough between the two cake pans and pat into place with floured hands. Make sure to bring the dough up the sides about a 1/2 inch or more. Sprinkle the crushed cookies over the dough evenly (this will sop up the juice from the plums as the bake and add a nice almond flavor.)
Lay out the plums “snazzily” (I swear, that’s how my mom wrote it down) in concentric circles in the pans. They should go in skin side down. Sprinkle the slivered almonds evenly over, tucking into some of the spaces between the plums. Drizzle over the juices left in the bowl (if there is a lot, don't use it all - 2-3 TBSP should be enough). Dot the tarts with tiny pieces of butter (about 3/4 tablespoon per tart), then sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar in the raw over the fruit.
Bake at 350°F for 25-35 min or until the crust edges are lightly browned and the plums are soft. Heat the jam and teaspoon of water until the jam is melted – I do this in the microwave. Brush the glaze over the finished tart to give it a nice shine. Serve with a good dollop of schlagsahne (whipped cream)– Oh mein Gott - that’s good eating!
Calories: Here, I’ll tell you exactly what Oma would have said: "It’s JUST FRUIT!"
Substitutions: You can substitute peaches or another type of plum, and other cookies such as ginger cookies, biscotti, graham crackers, or even leftover cake crumbs work just fine too.