Friday, May 18, 2012

Prajitura Cu Caise or Romanian Cake

There are only a few things I know about my maternal Grandmother. She was from a small town in Minnesota. She came from a  very large family (13 kids!). After high school she left home to go to Washington D.C to work as a secretary in the Pentagon. She played the guitar. She looked a lot like my Mom. My name is the Spanish translation of her middle name, Alice. And her father, my Great-Grandfather, was Romanian. I talk a lot about my South American heritage, namely because I grew up thoroughly entrenched in it, as much as a 2nd generation American can be, thanks to my paternal Grandmother. But with my Grandmother on other side there’s a sort of missing space, all kinds of unknowns. Language, religion, traditions, family history… and of course food.

Outside of the food portion though this post has taken me a very long time to put together. The amount that I write and erase and repeat the process is so much more than I’ve done with any other post. And I guess it’s just harder to write about a someone you never knew, especially one who’s been gone for over half a century. I don’t want to make assumptions, to finish thoughts that aren’t my own. I never knew this Grandmother, she passed away when my Mom was barely 2 after battling a terminal illness she was diagnosed with when she was 16, so even my Mom has not much of an idea. But I imagine she had to have been very strong, to be faced with such crushing news at such a young age, then to leave her family and her home to go to Washington D.C. She must have been a bit ambitious, she was a secretary at the Pentagon for goodness sakes! And she must have been pretty willful and stubborn, to defy the odds and her illness in so many ways, but especially in choosing to have a baby (my Mom) when all her doctors warned her with her condition that it would kill both herself and the child. All those traits I see in my Mom, in my sister’s and in myself, for better or worse. I can't say if these traits are particular to the Romanian people or if my Grandmother was just a very strong woman, who knows.
The fig cake
What I do know was that when my Saveur came a few months ago with an article on  a Transylvanian dinner I was intrigued. Did my Great-Grandfather eat this food on a regular basis in his homeland? Did he ever have his wife make it? Was my Grandmother familiar with any of these recipes? But even further, it gave me a small bit of insight into my heritage. This was food from my ancestors, dishes that nourished them and in some ways helped to make them into the people they were, so they could pass those little parts of themselves on through generations, and eventually, to me. At my office we do a quarterly heritage potluck, and though I usually do a Peruvian dish, I decided this time to embrace my Romanian background and make this cake, Prajitura Cu Caise.
The plum cake
This is a sour cream cake that's normally dotted with little apricots, but since I couldn't locate any apricots I decided to use figs and plums. We have a fig tree at home back in San Antonio, so the fruit always reminds me of my home, my immediate heritage, along with cakes, as my Mom is a baker. It's not too sweet and not too heavy, perfect for tea, or as a light end to a big meal served with some freshly whipped cream. So I really don't know if anyone I can name on a family tree ever ate this, but surely at some point, someone did.

Prajitura Cu Caise
Adapted from Saveur
2 3/4 c. AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 Tbl. raw sugar- for sprinkling over the cake
1 tsp lemon zest
4 eggs
3/4 c. canola oil
3/4 c. sour cream
1/2 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 plums, apricots, figs

1. Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour 2 medium round pans and set aside. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In another large bowl, beat 1 ½ cups sugar, zest, and eggs on medium-high speed of a mixer until pale and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Add oil, sour cream, milk, and vanilla, and fold in together until smooth. 

2. Add dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top and shake to remove any air bubbles. Place fruit halves, cut sides up, evenly over batter. Sprinkle top of cake and fruit with raw sugar, and bake until a toothpick inserted into middle of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool and slice into squares to serve, with fresh whipped cream if you have it.

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