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The Sisterhood of the Zwetchgenkuchen

One of the joys of becoming an author is the opportunity to meet and befriend other authors. Early on in my publishing process with She Writes Press, the group of authors who published in Spring of 2015 began a Facebook group to expand the opportunities to share information and support. One of those She-sisters was Betsy Teutsch, whose wonderful book 100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women is an inspiration. It also turns out that Betsy’s husband and I share a German background. Just a few Facebook posts into our relationship, Betsy added me to her list of friends sharing the very German recipes for plum cake- aka Pflaumenkuchen or if you’re from the south of Germany, Zwetchgenkuchen. As Betsy says, it’s entertaining just to try saying Zwetchgenkuchen. (My speech pathologist background is only somewhat helpful, but here goes, Betsy: Tsvetch-ghen-koochhen.) However you pronounce it, this seasonal favorite is made with prune plums and one of several types of dough and is frequently made for Rosh Hashanah. Everyone’s grandmother (and both of mine) swore by her own recipe, but basically, one camp believed in a lighter more cake-like dough into which the cut plums nestle and send juice into the batter, while the opposing camp insists that the dough should be more cookie like (muerbeteig) with the plums arranged beautifully on top in their purple sugared finery. I had great bakers on both sides of this divide in my family, so I remain agnostic. Recently, brought to my attention by wonderful food author Rabbi Deborah Prinz, the NYTimes reprinted their classic recipe, which I made with fresh plums from our farmer’s market. Two other recipes collected from rabbi friends of Betsy’s will also make the Rosh Hashanah bake fest underway next week. With thanks to Rabbi Sharon Stiefel and Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, (whose wonderful acquaintance I noted in another blogpost!).

Wishing all who celebrate a Shana Tova and happy baking to the Sisters of the Zwetchgenkuchen!

The recipes…

Purple Plum Torte – most requested recipe at NYTimes!

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

Salt to taste

2 eggs

12 purple plums, halved and pitted

1 T sugar, more or less depending on tartness of fruit

2 teaspoons lemon juice, more or less depending on tartness of fruit

1 T cinnamon.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream sugar and butter until light in color.

3. Sift flour with baking powder and salt to taste. Add with eggs to sugar-butter mixture.

4. Spoon mixture into 9-inch springform pan. Cover top of batter with plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice, adusting to tartness of fruit. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

5. Bake for 1 hour.

Yield: 8 servings.

NOTE: This is best served warm; it can be frozen and reheated.

Zwetschgenkuchen or Pflaumkuchen. Rabbi Shareon Stiefel

Uses 'Muerbeteig' or shortcrust pastry.

5 Tbs sugar, divided

2 tsp baking powder, 3/4 c. margarine or butter 1 large egg 3 lbs ripe Italian plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375. Spray an 11 x 16 jelly roll pan with cooking spray.

In a food processor process the flour, 2 tbls of the sugar, and baking powder for 10 seconds.

Cut in the margarine or butter and process until finely crumbled.

Add the egg and process until the mixture forms a ball around the blade.

Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Arrange the plums, cut side up and slightly overlapping, in 6 lengthwise rows on top of the dough.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the crust is golden and the plums begin to juice.

Mix the remaining 3 tbls of the sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle the top of the cake with this mixture while the cake is still warm.

The cake is delicious even without whipping cream.

Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus‪ My recipe comes from my mother's family in southern Germany, on a hand-written index card. I've never used cinnamon, and our special touch is that the plums soak in a little brandy before they go onto the dough.

Here it is:


1. Cut almost 4 pounds of prune plums in half, and place in large bowl, and sprinkle with sugar (half a cup? - enough so they're "sugared".) [I always wear disposable gloves when I’m cutting & pitting the plums so my fingers don’t turn purple.]

2. Add 2 Tbsp. brandy to the plums and let sit.

3. Mix together 2 cups flour & 2 tsp. baking powder. Set aside.

4. With mixer, blend 1 stick softened butter (or margarine to make it pareve) with 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, then add flour mixture.

5. Spread dough on greased jelly-roll pan (a cookie sheet with sides). It will be very sticky and hard to spread, but use the heel of your hand & fingertips to spread it evenly over the entire pan.

6. Place plum halves, open-side up, on dough.

7. Mix together (some of) the juice left from the plums with chopped nuts (I use walnuts, but you could try others) and breadcrumbs, until it's a consistency that you can crumble over the top of the plums.

8. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes. Cool, then cut into squares. Yum.

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