This is cake without an occasion. I made it for no reason whatsoever. This isn’t like me. I like to bake but I rarely bake without a purpose. I’m not really a dessert person, I’m far more of a salty snack person. So when I whip up a dessert, I better have mouths at the ready to help me eat it. But this Chocolate Plum Cake with Mulled Wine Caramel is a rare exception. I dreamed it, I wanted it, and I made it. There are so few things in my life that I have actual control over, so it’s nice to be able to conceive of something and bring it to fruition in a more or less fuss-free fashion. And it’s a chocolate cake. Dessert lover or not, I think we can all agree a chocolate cake is worthy of a celebration.
There is finally a bit of a chill in the air here. And with the cold comes a few seasonal shifts in my palette. My mezcal has turned into single malt scotch, I’ve exchanged my burrata habit for a noodle soup dependency, and my taste for chilled rose has shifted to mulled wine. And it was that ache for both the mulled wine and the amazing aroma it produces, that gave me the idea for this cake. I also seem to be on a poached fruit jag, so it only seemed natural to toss some plums in for good measure. And this Chocolate Plum Cake was born.
So what exactly are you getting yourself into here? Well, this cake can be broken down into three major components. The first is the mulled wine and the mulled wine poached plums. Now, because I had a mind to transform this mulled wine into a caramel eventually, I made a sort of wine simple syrup. A traditional unflavored simple syrup is a, well, simple mixture of water and sugar in a 1:1 ratio. The mixture is then cooked until the sugar dissolves. I took the same approach with the mulled wine, subbing the water for red wine and adding the same amount of sugar. Now, wine obviously has more sugar than water, so that does skew the ratio. But again, we’re aiming to eventually turn this concoction into a caramel, so the more sugar the better.
To the wine and sugar concoction, I added the usual mulled wine suspects. A cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, ginger slices, and a few star anise pods. This is what I poached two plums’ worth of slices in. It practically candied them, which I’m on board with. And even though the plum slices came out tasting quite sweet, they still had a hint of earthy bitterness from the wine.
With the plums poached and chilling, it’s time to tackle the cake. Now, this is a very simple chocolate snack cake, that I’ve made a million and one times. It is very airy and delicate. In fact, I reasoned it might be too delicate to carry mulled plums and frosting. So, I decided to experiment with whole wheat flour. I don’t generally bake with whole wheat flour because I tend to like fluffy, airy desserts. And yes, I know it’s not always a healthy choice. But generally, when I’m going to town on a slice of cake, my health is not at the front of my mind. But in the instance of this Chocolate Plum Cake, whole wheat flour just seemed to make a lot of sense.
The dessert was off to an earthy start with the mulled wine and whole spice aromatics. And I felt that a cake with a nutty quality as well as deep chocolate notes would complement the plums well. And I was right. First time for everything. The cake still had a light crumb but a little more heft, which helped it hold its ground alongside those potent plums. It was also durable enough to withstand stacking and balance an entire plum as decoration. I’m not convinced the original recipe could have handled it. Even with the impeccable mortar that is a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. And speaking of buttercream, let’s talk about it.
The buttercream is the final component of the cake. Well, I suppose the caramel is the final part, but we got that rolling with the poached plums in part one. Are you confused yet? Don’t worry it will all make sense eventually. But yes, Swiss meringue buttercream. This frosting is more high-maintenance than American buttercream. Just thought I’d rip that BandAid off quickly. Yes, Swiss meringue buttercream is more work but it more than makes up for the additional labor when it’s time to frost the cake. Nothing goes on smoother than Swiss meringue buttercream, so it’s worth getting to know. And yes, there is a lot to know. If you’re keen to master it, I recommend checking out Sally’s Baking Addiction’s comprehensive guide to all things Swiss meringue buttercream.
Once your buttercream is lighter than air and ready to grace your cake, the fun truly begins. Now, I don’t like a ton of frosting, so I opted for a naked cake look. The frosting recipe below makes enough for another layer if you’re so inclined. But for me, this was more than enough frosting. So, here’s the cake assembly order: cake, border of frosting, plums, cake, border of frosting, plums, cake. Easy peasy.
When the cake is coated to your liking, it’s time to chill it and make the caramel. The caramel starts with the mulled wine, we poached the plums in. You want to heat it to nearly the softball stage, about 225°F. Then we’re going to whisk in a bit of butter and a bit of cream. And that’s it, really. Caramel has a reputation for being difficult but really all it is is temperamental. Hot sugar is scary and when you add cream to it, it bubbles like mad. But it’s not actually hard to make. It just throws a little tantrum is all.
Once the caramel is done, all you have to do is set it aside to cool. And we want to give it some time. It has to be room temperature before it comes into contact with the cold cake, or else it’ll just run off of the cake and, well, everywhere. When the caramel reaches room temperature, pour it onto the cake and don’t force the drips, they will form on their own. Just be patient and wait for the caramel to do its thing. And from there, it’s a simple case of decoration.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Chocolate Plum Cake. A fully fluffed loaf cake with no purpose or occasion. It just tastes dang good and I suppose that is purpose enough.
Chocolate Plum Cake with Mulled Wine Caramel
- Loaf pan
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 green cardamom pods
- 4 slices fresh ginger
- 3 star anise pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 red plums cut into wedges
Chocolate Loaf Cake
- 1½ cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa sifted
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup strong coffee cooled
- ⅓ cup neutral oil I used canola oil
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 3 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened, cut into cubes
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
Mulled Wine Caramel
- 1 batch plum poaching liquid see above
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter cut into cubes
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
For the Poached Plums
- Pour the wine and the sugar into a large skillet. Add the ginger slices, cardamom pods, star anise, and cinnamon stick. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer.1 cup dry red wine, 1 cup sugar, 5 green cardamom pods, 4 slices fresh ginger, 3 star anise pods, 1 cinnamon stick
- Add the plums to the simmering liquid and cook for 20 minutes or until the plums can be easily pierced with a fork. Pour the contents of the skillet through a fine-mesh strainer. Remove and discard the ginger and the whole spices. Place the plums in a resealable container and the poaching liquid in another container. Transfer to the fridge and chill until cold.2 red plums
For the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Set it aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set it aside.1½ cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup sugar, ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp kosher salt
- In a separate bowl, whisk to combine the oil, coffee, vinegar, and vanilla. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the coffee mixture. Stir to combine.1 cup strong coffee, ⅓ cup neutral oil, 1 tsp cider vinegar, ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and place it in the oven. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick can be inserted in the center and removed cleanly. Set the cake aside to cool.
For the Buttercream
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugar. Whisk to combine.3 egg whites, 1 cup sugar
- Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the surface of the water. Whisk the egg whites constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture registers 160°F on a candy thermometer.
- Transfer the bowl from the pot to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk the whites on high until stiff peaks form. The egg whites should be at room temperature at this point. If they are not, leave them to cool before proceeding with the next step.
- Exchange the whisk attachment for a paddle attachment. Beat the butter into the egg white mixture, a couple of cubes at a time. Wait for each addition to become fully integrated before adding more. Once all the butter is in, add the vanilla and salt and beat for 30 seconds more. Transfer the finished frosting to a bowl and keep it at room temperature until you're ready to frost.**¾ cup unsalted butter, 1 tsp vanilla extract, ¼ tsp kosher salt
For the Caramel
- Pour the plum poaching liquid into a large skillet and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue to cook until it registers 225°F on a candy thermometer.1 batch plum poaching liquid
- Take the caramel off of the heat and whisk in the butter until it melts. The caramel should sputter like mad. Finally, whisk in the cream. Transfer the finished caramel to a container with a spout and set it aside to cool to room temperature. ***2 tbsp unsalted butter, 2 tbsp heavy cream
- Carefully remove the dome of the loaf cake using a serrated knife. Slice the remaining cake into three even layers. Set them aside.
- Place the largest layer on a cake turntable and pipe a border of the buttercream around the edges of the cake. Fill the center with plum slices and top with the second layer of cake. Pipe another boarder and fill the center with plum slices. Top with the remaining layer of cake.
- Apply a thin layer of buttercream all over the cake and transfer to the fridge. Chill for at least an hour. Once the cake is thoroughly chilled and the caramel is at room temperature, pour the caramel over the top of the cake and let it settle for 30 minutes. It's best to return it to the fridge for this.
- Once the caramel has settled, decorate the cake with fresh plums and sage leaves. Slice and serve.