Welcome to issue #29 of Susanality, a free weekly newsletter. Thanks for being here! If you’re loving this newsletter, please consider a paid subscription. Having your support would mean a lot to me, as I continue to work hard to bring you fresh content on a weekly basis with additional posts and recipes going out to paid subscribers at least twice a month. Thanks again!
As I sit here writing this on the last day of summer (boohoo) which also happens to be my birthday, I find myself feeling wistful, as I always do about the passing of my favorite season. I’ve often wondered whether the timing of my birthday makes this moment especially poignant for me. I Love Summer—the freedom of throwing on a dress instead of bundling up against the cold, going to the beach (which I have been doing as often as possible before “that day” arrives), and of course the endless barrage of summer produce. And those are just a few of my favorite things about summer.
The barrage continues, somewhat, until everything freezes over (in the Northeast anyway—if you live in California, I’m jealous), but I do get a little panicky when I go to the farmstand and see pumpkins where the watermelons were just yesterday (this actually happened!). A few weeks ago, I wrote about freezing the tomato moment both literally and figuratively, and now I am trying to do the same with plums.
Plums are the last stone fruit of the season, and they usually wrap up with the tiny Italian prune plums that are so perfect for baking. I posted a photo of the famous Marion Burros Original Plum Torte from the New York Times on my Instagram last week, and so many people shared their own love for this simple cake. It is a very riffable and easy recipe, and a perfect use for these little plums, which are meant to be cooked, rather than eaten raw. Figs are a nice addition to the Italian plums in this cake.
I happened to have a bag of assorted plums that I had bought in the Union Square greenmarket a few weeks ago and had stashed in the fridge, and something needed to be done with them. A few of them were getting a little soft despite my best intentions to eat them out of hand, so I decided to make the Plum Buckwheat Bars from my book Open Kitchen, but I wanted to make a few revisions to the recipe. If you already have my book and want to make these, follow these slightly modified instructions. You can use any kind of plums for the recipe, including Italian plums (I threw a few in for fun). Just make sure you have about a pound and a half or a bit more. Since plum sizes can vary so much, it’s important to get a weight here.
Someone posted on Instagram the other day that they made these and said that were the best dessert they had ever tasted. Wow, such a high compliment! I do strive for that kind of reaction in my recipes, especially desserts. If you haven’t tried the recipe before, now is the time! You can even make the filling and keep it in the refrigerator for a few days or even freeze it to make the bars later, if you are trying to hold onto summer like I am. I have a full tray in the oven right now, and it smells amazing. I will cut them up and freeze them, so there will always be a sweet treat for my husband Steve when he goes rummaging for a dessert on a cold winter night, when they will taste twice as good.
I modified the order of operations in this recipe. Originally, I had you make the dough first and chill it while you made the filling. There are so many moving parts when you write a cookbook, that somehow it escaped my notice that this was not the best way to execute this recipe. It totally works the way it’s written, I just think it’s a little better if you make the filling and let it cool, or even chill it, before spreading it on the bottom layer of dough.
I also wanted to try it with gluten-free flour this time, which I never have before. I have little experience with gluten-free baking, but so many of you ask about it, so I thought I’d give it a try. There’s only one way to find out, right? Since this recipe is very forgiving, and the flour is not lending any structure at all, I figured it would be a good candidate for a swap. I used Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 flour. The buckwheat flour is already naturally gluten free, and the sandy crumbliness is a positive feature of these delicious jammy bars.
Update: Once these came out of the oven and we tasted them, I would say the gluten-free swap made very little difference. They may have been just a little softer overall, and definitely needed to be eaten on a plate with a fork, just like the regular recipe. They are more like a crumb cake than a cookie bar. The plum filling was absolutely delicious. I hope you’ll try them!
PS - I wanted to remind you that all of the recipes in my newsletters live permanently here. You can also scroll through public recipes on my site or keep up with me on Instagram. Or better yet, you can support me by ordering my book, Open Kitchen.
Plum Buckwheat Bars
Makes 24 bars
These fruity, nubby, grainy bars can be made almost any time of year. Although out of season Chilean fruit (the kind you can get in the winter) may not be much good for eating out of hand, when cooked, it is surprisingly delicious. The thing is, out-of-season plums will take considerably more time to cook than juicy summer plums, so use your judgment, and cook just until the fruit has mostly broken down with just a little texture remaining. This could take anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour.
For the filling:
1½ to 2 pounds black or red plums, pitted and cut into 1½-inch chunks
1 heaping cup plum preserves (one 12- or 13-ounce jar)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Juice of ½ lemon
For the crust:
2¼ cups/288 g all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend
¾ cup/116 g buckwheat flour
½ cup/101 g granulated sugar
½ cup/110 g light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving 1 inch of overhang over the edge of the pan on the two long sides.
To make the filling: Combine the plums, preserves, cornstarch, and lemon juice in a small skillet. Cook over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has broken down, 15 minutes to 1 hour (see headnote). Transfer to a bowl to cool completely or stir over a bowl of ice to cool quickly if you are rushing. Chill overnight if you want or freeze until needed.
To make the crust: Combine the all-purpose (or gluten-free) flour, buckwheat flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and cardamom in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine thoroughly. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg and pulse until well distributed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and continue to mix and work with your fingers until clumps form. It should look like crumb topping at this point. Chill briefly until firm, at least 15 minutes.
To assemble the bars: Press half of the dough into the prepared pan, patting with your knuckles to an even thickness. Pour the plum mixture over the dough and distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the remaining dough evenly over the top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is golden brown.
Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cut into 24 squares. Dust with confectioners’ sugar (if desired).