Damson Cake {Zwetschgenkuchen}

I’m one of those people who keep forgetting what the difference between a damson and a plum is, so every once in a while I have to look it up, as was the case for this post. One reason I keep forgetting is that I don’t really care ๐Ÿ˜€ and the other is that both varieties are often called the same here in Southern Germany.

Technically, a plum is a Pflaume in German, whereas a damson is a Zwetschge (if you’re interested in the pronounciation, click on the loudspeaker sign here). The plum is the rounder, sweeter version, and the damson is the more oblong, sour-sweet variety. The latter is the one mostly used for cake here. Zwetschgenkuchen is very popular in Germany, and I remember that I really didn’t like it as a kid because I hated the soft, squishy damsons after baking. My cousin loved them, so he would eat the damsons while I ate the cake bottom that had a bit of the damson juice on it.

I wanted to stock up on berries at the Friday market last week before the season is over, when the damsons caught my eye, so I spontaneously decided to make damson cake. Then I called my mother to see if she also was at the market, she was, and I met her and my godmother for a coffee. I took the opportunity of having them both there to take notes of how each of them made their damson cake.

While both used the same ingredients, the ratio differed. What they both insisted on was using margarine instead of butter because it supposedly makes the dough more pliant while butter makes it drier. My mother also tops her damson cake with streusel/crumble topping, which I also intended to do, because a good topping is the highlight of a damson cake for me. Here she also insisted on using margarine. Because I definitely wanted to use a streusel topping, and the amount of sugar felt too much for my taste in my godmother’s recipe, I used my mother’s.

I can’t say why, but I never cook or bake with margarine, I simply prefer butter. Maybe because margarine has ingredients I don’t much need or want in my food. However, I decided to heed the advice of my elders and use margarine this time. I could definitely see a difference – the baked dough was softer than my usual butter dough, it came apart at the touch of the fork and didn’t crumble much. The streusel topping, too, was nicer to chew. Lesson learned!

I’ve made damson cake only once before but can’t remember the recipe I went with, I think it was off the internet. What I do remember, though, was adding a pinch of cardamom powder to the topping mix; I think the two go really well together. This time, though, I didn’t want anything to distract from the general taste of the cake so didn’t add cardamom. If you like to experiment, though, it’s well worth giving it a go.

This cake turned out fabulous, I love putting a fork to it for the first bite and encountering the juicy sour-sweet damsons mixed with the sweet-ish streusel topping. Due to the dough being so pliant, it was really quickly done, to my surprise. Shortcrust pastry has never been a favourite to make, but I think this kitchen will see more damson cake this season.

Damson Cake {Zwetschgenkuchen}

  • Servings: 26 - 28 โˆ… cake tin
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200 g flour
75 g sugar
1 level tsp baking powder
125 baking margarine
1 egg
approx. 1 kg damsons
fine breadcrumbs
slivered almonds
28 cm โˆ… cake tin / springform tin, or rectangle

75 g butter
75 g sugar
75 g flour

For the dough, whip margarine until creamy, add sugar and keep whipping. Next add flour and baking powder, mix well, then add the egg and keep mixing until the dough starts coming together and forming a solid mass. If dough is still cool enough to handle, proceed – otherwise refrigerate it until cooled.

Roll dough on a floured surface into round or rectangle shape, depending on the shape of your cake tin.ย Refrigerate remaining dough until needed. [You’re baking the bottom only. Leftover dough will be used for the rims.] Dough shouldn’t be thicker than 3 – 5 mm. Place bottom of cake tin on the dough and cut out the shape. Butter inside bottom of cake tin and place dough on top. Prick dough with a fork and sprinkle with some fine breadcrums [These will absorb some of the damson juices during baking so the bottom won’t get soggy.] Bake at 180ยฐC / 350ยฐF (fan oven) on middle shelf for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to cool a little.

Wash the damsons, quarter them and remove stones. Set aside until needed.

Once the baked cake bottom has cooled down a little, roll the refrigerated remainder of the dough into the shape of your cake tin rim, butter the rim and put dough in place. Arrange the quartered damsons on cake bottom peaks up, round by round or row by row, depending on shape of your tin. Sprinkle damsons with slivered almonds and refrigerate until topping is made.

For the topping, mix together margarine, sugar, and flour until you get fine crumbles. Sprinkle on top of the damsons, covering them completely.

Bake at 180ยฐC / 350ยฐF (fan oven) on middle shelf for up to 45 minutes, checking after 35 minutes. [My rectangular cake was done after 35 minutes.]

Serve warm or cold with whipped cream.